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Morris, Myra Evelyn (1893–1966)

by D. J. Jordan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Myra Evelyn Morris (1893-1966), author, was born on 15 May 1893 at Boort, Victoria, daughter of English-born Charles William Morris and his Victorian-born wife Bessie Lily, née Sydenham. Her father owned a series of grocery and produce stores at Allansford, Warrnambool, Rochester, Maldon, St James and Camperdown. Growing up in bush towns, the five Morris children shared their mother's delight in the natural world; she, rather than her husband, nurtured Myra's literary abilities. Myra was educated at Rochester Brigidine Convent where, lively and vibrant, she was encouraged by her English teacher and published verse in the Bulletin.

Without further formal training Myra embarked on a career as a freelance writer, publishing her first selection of poetry, England, and other Verses, in 1918. In 1922 Us Five, a children's novel, was published after being serialized, and Myra with her youngest sister moved to a flat in Melbourne. In 1927, with her parents and elder sister, she moved to Frankston, where she lived for the remainder of her life. It was an easy-going, sociable household and the family was relatively well-off but Myra, staunchly independent, paid board and did her share of housework and entertaining. She described herself as a 'lazy, vagabond sort of person who has no aesthetic fancies, no neurotic leanings and no secret sorrows'. She published her steady output of short stories and verse in major Australian journals, newspapers and popular magazines. Many were included in the main anthologies. She did some book-reviewing and editing and wrote essays, but her preference was for short stories.

In 1930 Myra travelled to England, where she had an affair with the ship's captain. On her return to Frankston she became increasingly involved in literary, journalistic and artistic circles. A person of 'boundless energy, swift enthusiasms and great vivacity', she had diverse interests: she studied art for two years under Alexander Colquhoun, was a talented woodcarver, a dedicated gardener, and a bushwalker and swimmer. In 1938 her novel, The Wind on the Water, was published and she was active in founding and organizing the Melbourne branch of P.E.N. International. In 1939 she completed her novel, Dark Tumult.

Myra Morris has been acclaimed as one of Australia's best short-story writers. Her clear pictures of life in country and town contain a wide range of characters and reveal her tolerance and understanding of humanity in its struggles. Like her novels, her stories combine earthy realism, poetic imagery and a broad humour. Sometimes her plots are marred by the demands of the popular market, but her often beaten-down and defeated people always contrast with her lyrical evocation of landscapes. In her poetry (a second volume, White Magic, was published in 1929), there is an occasional haunting melancholy, but more often she celebrates the individual's spiritual connexion with the land, equating it with the search for God.

Myra's later years were difficult. Katharine Prichard recalled her unassuming and undemanding ways with friends and family, but sensed her frustration; in the mid-1940s she had a nervous breakdown, but was awarded a Commonwealth literary fellowship. In 1947 The Township, a selection from her innumerable short stories, was published, and her work was broadcast on Australian and British radio and on Australian television. Translations were published in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Crippled with Paget's disease, Myra Morris died at Frankston on 18 August 1966 and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Roderick, 20 Australian Novelists (Syd, 1947)
  • Australian Woman's Mirror, 19 July 1927
  • Book News, Oct 1947
  • Bohemia, 1 Dec 1966
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 Aug 1961, 19 Aug 1966
  • International P.E.N. Club papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • Lavater papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

D. J. Jordan, 'Morris, Myra Evelyn (1893–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morris-myra-evelyn-7660/text13399, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 28 September 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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