Patagonian Sojourn. "Bluestocking in Patagonia" by Anne Whitehead. [review]
In "Paradise Mislaid", Anne Whitehead captivated readers with a nicely judged blend of elements. Here was a documentary that interwove two travellers' tales, each with the resonance of quest narratives. Those 'peculiar people' who went off to Paraguay as part of William Lane's experimental Utopian settlement were seeking a just community where the labourer would not only be worthy of his hire, but actually receive it; while Whitehead was pursuing the historian’s endless quest to bring back into present memory the always receding reality of the past. "Bluestocking in Patagonia" adds a much stronger and more focused biographical element, enabling its Australian distributor, Allen & Unwin, to advertise it as 'The true story of Australian national icon, Dame Mary Gilmore’s adventures in South America'. The core of Whitehead’s narrative consists in following the steps of the Gilmore family from Paraguay southwards into Patagonia, but each step, either through location or event, allows a branching out into Argentina's past history and its present condition. At one level, Whitehead's book has the engagingly tangential quality of lively gossip (including family photographs), but its layering of material and the quality of research and observation make it something more complex and significant.