The Women’s Pages

By Debra Adelaide Pan Macmillan

Emily Brontë had written this novel especially for her. For her benefit she had sat alone in her narrow bed in the parsonage, her lap desk on her knees, death all around her with that graveyard right next door, the cold wind from the moors behind rattling the windows… But who had Dove written her story for?

Dove is writing a novel for herself, for her mother and for their literary heroines. It describes the life of Ellis, an ordinary young woman of the 1960s troubled by secrets and gaps in her past.

Having read Wuthering Heights to her dying mother, Dove finds she cannot shake off the influence of that singular novel: it has infected her like a disease. In grief’s aftermath, she follows the story Wuthering Heights has inspired to discover more about Ellis, who has emerged from the pages of fiction herself – or has she? – to become a modern successful career woman.

The Women’s Pages is about the choices and compromises women make, about their griefs and losses, and about the cold aching spaces that are left when they disappear from the story. It explores the mysterious process of creativity, and the way stories are shaped and fiction is formed. Right up to its astonishing conclusion, The Women’s Pages asserts the power of the reader’s imagination, which can make the deepest desires and strangest dreams come true.

Debra Adelaide

Debra Adelaide is the author or editor of over twelve books, including The Hotel AlbatrossSerpent Dust and the best-selling The Household Guide to Dying. In 2013 she published her first collection of short stories, Letter to George Clooney, which was longlisted for the 2014 Stella Prize. Her most recent novel, The Women’s Pages, was longlisted for the 2016 Stella Prize. She is an associate professor in creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Judges' report

The Women’s Pages details two sources of attachment and constraint: maternal and literary. Dove, a writer, is haunted by Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights, which she read to her mother, at her mother’s request, during the final stages of her mother’s illness and death. Dove’s own novel is interspersed with memories, current experiences and with her central creative task of shaping the internal novel, offering a fascinating insight into literary and personal heritage, and into the decisions of a working writer and an enthralled reader. In the process, Debra Adelaide explores women’s prescribed roles in twentieth-century Australia.

The Women’s Pages is a limpid depiction of the relationship between mother and child, seen through an intense preoccupation with literature, and an observant charting of the day-to-day experiences of individual women.

Further reading


‘Reading and writing are central to Adelaide’s work and The Women’s Pages extends into fiction the work of her collection The Simple Act of Reading, published earlier this year. In layering the lives of two generations of women reading and writing, Adelaide charts the impact of second-wave feminism on her characters’ lives…As Adelaide’s dexterous trick-box plotting opens its compartments, it exposes ideas of generation and agency with an acute, witty and playful eye.’ Felicity Plunkett, The Australian

The Women’s Pages is a novel that pays homage to words, pages and books written by women and about women.’ Annie Condon, Readings

The Women’s Pages is a technically accomplished novel, weaving together its separate threads to a conclusion in which the division between them begins to break down. It is also a sheer pleasure to read – its prose elegant and polished, rich with telling detail, and moving without being sentimental. At its heart it is a fiction of fiction-making, celebrating the entanglement of authors with their characters, and conjuring the uncanny sense that these characters exist even beyond the imaginations of their creators.’ Sophia Barnes, Sydney Review of Books