Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stonehouse, Ethel Nhill Victoria (1883–1964)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Ethel Nhill Victoria Stonehouse (1883-1964), writer, was born on 1 August 1883 at Nhill, Victoria, fourth of twelve children of Robert Stonehouse, blacksmith, and his wife Jane, née Hardingham. Educated until she was 14 at Charlton State School, she claimed to have considered entering a convent. From 1894 Ethel published verse and short stories; she later worked at journalism in Melbourne and joined the Australian Modernist Society of Enlightened Roman Catholics. Her first novel, Smouldering Fires (Melbourne, 1912), concerned the seduction and desertion of a young Catholic woman by a priest. Its controversial theme was to be repeated so often and so violently in her writing as to seem personal and obsessive; she also published the epistolary Love Letters of a Priest (1912).

In London in 1911 she joined the International Modernist Association and the Jeanne d'Arc League; by 1913 she asserted, 'I have only read three books in my life, and have written five'. Stonehouse used pseudonyms, the most frequent being 'Patricia Lindsay Russell'. Her style was polemical, prolix and clichéd: 'There was a long moment, red with pulsing flame'. But it was popular. Smouldering Fires sold 100,000 copies in Australia alone; it ran to eight editions. That year she was in Melbourne, announcing a four-figure income and large publishers' advances for her next romance, Souls in Pawn.

A fair, blue-eyed woman who at 30 still wore long braids that framed her oval face and 'winsome smile', 'Pat' affected a 'child-like simplicity' which could switch to the 'pensive melancholy' evident in her photographs. On 23 September 1914 at St Ninian's Church, Stonehouse, Lanarkshire, Scotland, she married John McNaught Scott with the forms of the Established Church of Scotland. A Harley Street specialist who had treated her consumption, he was then a member of the Australian Army Medical Corps; Web Gilbert sculpted a bust of him. Mrs Scott spent some of the war years in Ireland writing nine more novels. In 1918 she published Earthware in which plot and characterization are more subtle and complex. Much of it again seems autobiographical: a talented authoress, crushed by her insensitive Scottish husband, finally renounces ambition and preserves her marriage. Stonehouse never published another novel.

After the war she and Scott settled at Mortlake, Victoria, a country town in which her early work had been banned. Her last publication was a collection of sentimental poetry, The Caravan of Dreams (1923). People in the district believed that the childless marriage of the Scotts was unhappy. 'Pat' was eccentric: it was said that she fed pet rats and collected chamber pots. After her husband's death in 1942, she lived as a hermit. Seven years later she entered Royal Park psychiatric hospital suffering from 'mental enfeeblement' caused by neglect, a sad outcome for someone who had written, 'O, the trim paths, the prim paths, these are not for me'.

Most of her novels were about women rebelling—against Catholicism, Calvinism, marriage, the English class system—and their settings covered Australia, Britain, India and Indonesia. In her prime, her work had been praised by K. S. Prichard and by the Sydney Morning Herald. While her novels were hastily executed and their reputation did not endure, they had earned her brief fame as 'the Australian Marie Corelli'. Stonehouse died on 1 May 1964 at Mont Park mental hospital and was buried in Footscray cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Hay (ed), Meeting of Sighs (Warrnambool, Vic, 1981)
  • British Australasian, 20 Mar 1913, 29 Oct 1914
  • Everylady's Journal, 6 July 1913
  • Book Lover, Sept 1913, June 1917
  • East Charlton Tribune, 26 Feb 1898
  • Mortlake Dispatch, 4, 7 June 1913, 23 June, 25 Aug 1920
  • Punch (Melbourne), 5 June 1913
  • Table Talk, 5 June 1913
  • Bulletin, 26 June 1913
  • Herald (Melbourne), 18 Aug 1914
  • private information.

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Stonehouse, Ethel Nhill Victoria (1883–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stonehouse-ethel-nhill-victoria-8680/text15183, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Russell, Patricia Lindsay
  • Scott, Ethel Nhill Victoria
Birth

1 August 1883
Nhill, Victoria, Australia

Death

1 May 1964
Mont Park, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence
Occupation