Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Langley, Eve (1904–1974)

by Joy Thwaite

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Eve Langley (1904-1974), novelist, was born on 1 September 1904 at Forbes, New South Wales, and registered as Ethel Jane, elder daughter of Arthur Alexander Langley (d.1915), carpenter, and his wife Myra, née Davidson, both from Victoria. By 1914 her mother was a hotelkeeper at Crossover, Gippsland; in 1916 she married Patrick Cullen. 'Eve', as Ethel called herself, attended Crossover, Brunswick Central and Dandenong state schools and Dandenong High School before working as a domestic servant and later as a printer's devil. During the late 1920s she and her sister 'June' (Lillian May, b.1905) defiantly dressed as boys and wandered about the countryside, picking peas and hops.

In 1930 Eve tried share-farming at Metung, Gippsland, but by 1932 had followed her family to Auckland, New Zealand. With Douglas Stewart, Gloria Rawlinson and Robyn Hyde, she built up a considerable reputation for verse in New Zealand's little magazines. On 6 January 1937 at the registrar's office, Auckland, she married Hilary Roy Clark, a 22-year-old art student. By 1941 they had a daughter Bisi Arilev, and two sons, Langley Rhaviley and Karl Marx. Eve's husband had her admitted to Auckland Mental Hospital in August 1942 when she was emotionally disturbed. She was released into her sister's care in March 1949 and divorced in 1952.

Langley had published a semi-autobiographical novel, The Pea-Pickers (Sydney, 1942), narrated by the central character Steve. The book was fashioned from journals, letters and memories of the time she had spent in Gippsland. In full control of her material, she evoked a landscape and an era through highly charged, intensely imagistic prose. The Pea-Pickers was the novel upon which the Langley legend was founded. Its author was hailed by Stewart as 'the Judith Wright of New Zealand' and awarded the Prior memorial prize. This early potential was strangely thwarted. Eve was already equating creativity and artistic freedom with masculinity, while yearning constantly for sexual fulfilment. White Topee (Sydney, 1954) was a more loosely structured novel, an impressionistic diary recording Steve's reincarnation as Oscar Wilde. (Langley changed her name by deed poll to Oscar Wilde in 1954.)

In 1950-55 Langley worked as a book-repairer at Auckland Public Library. She visited Australia in 1956-57 and travelled as far as Cairns. In 1960 she returned to New South Wales where she remained, apart from one abortive trip to Greece in search of inspiration in 1965. Penniless, and spiritually and physically debilitated, she was bailed out by Stewart. She lived her remaining years in a lonely hut, Iona Lympus, at Katoomba, with her numerous dolls and a clutch of cats for company.

Still she wrote and painted tirelessly. Indecipherable novels were found on hoarded brown paper and Weeties packets. Langley sent over 4000 pages of single-spaced typescript on rose-coloured paper to Angus & Robertson Ltd. None of it was published. The material was repetitive, difficult, at times inaccessible. She increasingly dwelt on her constant wish to be a man, and habitually wore her sola topi and a long fur coat over a gentleman's pinstripe suit in winter, and over white shorts and a singlet in summer. Eve Langley-Clark died alone between 1 and 13 June 1974 at Katoomba and was buried in the local cemetery with Anglican rites. Her body had lain undiscovered for a month, the face gnawed by rats. Her children survived her. The sheer lyric detail and impassioned textural density of Langley's prose is rare in Australian fiction.

Select Bibliography

  • J. L. Thwaite, The Importance of Being Eve Langley (Syd, 1989) and for bibliography
  • Langley papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Joy Thwaite, 'Langley, Eve (1904–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/langley-eve-10784/text19125, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 23 October 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Langley, Ethel Jane
  • Clark, Eve
Birth

1 September 1904
Forbes, New South Wales, Australia

Death

June 1974
Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence
Occupation