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Rosman, Alice Trevenen (1882–1961)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Alice Trevenen Rosman (1882-1961), writer, was born on 18 July 1882 at Kapunda, South Australia, daughter of Trevenen Rosman, accountant, and his wife Alice Mary Bowyer, née Varley, and great-granddaughter of Henry Mildred, pioneer and politician. Alice built card-houses and invented tales of their inmates for her sister Mary. Although not Catholic, they attended St Mary's convent, Franklin Street, Adelaide, and boarded at St Mary's Dominican convent, Cabra, Alice until 1899. Early stories appeared in the Observer, Chronicle and Southern Cross. In 1901 she began an Adelaide branch of the Girls' Realm Guild, which published a magazine she edited, the Young Queen.

A journalist, with her own page on C. J. Dennis's Gadfly in 1906-09, later she worked on the Evening Post. She was weekly columnist for the Daily Herald in 1910 and, as 'Rosna', provided Adelaide gossip and reviews for the Bulletin in 1908-11. She published in Lone Hand, the Australasian, Sydney Mail and Steele Rudd's Magazine. Her 'Tale of a Kiss' in the Bulletin indicates her style: 'A wonderful smile trembled upon her lips, and in her deep, cool eyes … there was an eloquence that made me half afraid'.

In 1911 the Rosman women went to London. Mrs Rosman dedicated her sentimental collection of lyrics, An Enchanted Garden (London, 1916), to her daughters; she wrote the words of the song 'May God be with You' popularized by Ada Crossley. Mary compiled a book of music for classical dancing and taught piano at Malvern Girls' College. Alice contributed to Australian, English and New York publications and worked on the British Australasian in 1915-20. In 1920-27 she was an assistant editor at the Grand Magazine. Her friends included Mary Grant Bruce and Margaret Preston.

Alice Grant Rosman's first novels, Miss Bryde of England (1915) and The Tower Wall (1916), made no money; both compared English to Australian ways, to the latter's advantage. In 1927 she retired to write novels: three in ten months resulted. She was taken up by the American firm, Minton, Balch & Co. The Window (1926), published in the United States of America and Britain, saw twelve editions in five months; serial and translation rights were sold. This pattern continued with seventeen novels throughout the Depression until 1939, many selling about 100,000 copies. Two more contained Australian characters—The Back Seat Driver (1928) and The Sixth Journey (1931). Rosman novels were among the top best-sellers in Canada and U.S.A. for four successive years. In 1932 she published a translation from the French of Maurice Genevoix's Rrou. In 1934 she toured America.

Her mother had died in 1931. 'Allie' and Mary relished being Bloomsbury hostesses in their flat with roof-garden. They followed the cricket, and Alice enjoyed bridge and motoring holidays abroad. A dark, vivacious woman who enjoyed clothes, she attended a royal garden party wearing red, white and blue flowered crêpe de Chine. From the late 1930s she suffered severe arthritis.

Rosman's romance-fiction sold best beyond Britain, where Mills & Boon were her publishers. She depicted an élite English world and catered for class and colonial nostalgia: jolly brides went out to India; London was veiled in delicate mist; primroses and bluebells carpeted the woods. Rosman understood the clash between generations—the impatient 'self-dependent' (a favourite phrase for girls) young, and the conservative old. She reversed the stereotype of the spinster as frump; the single woman as fairy godmother frequently resolves her plots. Sometimes a good wife forgives infidelity, but matrons were her preferred villains—either as domineering manipulator, or as extravagant child-wife. Rosman provided the frisson of romance, laced with malice, for those many women between the wars who lacked fulfilment.

Survived by her sister, she died at Highgate on 20 August 1961 and was buried at East Finchley. Her estate was sworn for probate at only £1131.

Select Bibliography

  • L. W. Matters, Australasians Who Count in London and Who Counts in Western Australia (Lond, 1913)
  • L. Brown et al (eds), A Book of South Australia (Adel, 1936)
  • P. Depasquale, A Critical History of South Australian Literature 1836-1930 (Adel, 1978)
  • Critic (Adelaide), 22 Nov, 20 Dec 1902
  • British Australasian, 18 May 1911
  • Lone Hand, 1 Apr 1914
  • Australian Woman's Mirror, 11 Feb, 11 Dec 1930
  • All About Books, 1 Dec 1931
  • Bulletin, 6 Feb 1908, 15 Oct 1930
  • Saturday Journal (Adelaide), 24 Sept 1927
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 27 Mar 1930
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 5 Sept 1930, 20 Mar 1934, 23 Sept 1961
  • West Australian, 2 May 1931
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Oct 1931
  • H. M. Green papers (privately held)
  • letters from A. G. Rosman to Mrs S. A. Cruikshank, Manning, Western Australia
  • private information.

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Rosman, Alice Trevenen (1882–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rosman-alice-trevenen-8269/text14485, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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