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Hearing Maud

2020 -

Judges' Comments 

Hearing Maud is a skilful combining of the genres of biography and memoir. Jessica White tells the tragedy of Maud, the daughter of expatriate Australian colonial novelist Rosa Praed. Maud’s profound deafness deeply affected her life’s trajectory, as a clever and accomplished young woman ends her life lonely and paranoid in Holloway Sanatorium. White brings to her account careful research, an excited sense of discovery and, above all, her own experience of deafness after contracting meningitis at the age of four.

The writing, unsentimental and unobtrusive, beautifully evokes White’s life: a sunny Australian farm childhood, miserable London winters, the challenges of her journey to understand Maud. There are shrewd insights into the history of deafness and its treatments, the ideological battles between signing and oralism and sign language’s relationship to the emergence of the telegraph and the fad of automatic writing. But we are also left with a sense of exhaustion: how gruellingly hard it is to be deaf, an often invisible disability in a hearing world. This is simultaneously a contribution to the history of nineteenth-century women’s lives, a revelatory study of deafness, and a fine work of Australian life writing.

About the author

Jessica White

Jessica White is the author of Hearing Maud (2019, UWAP), Entitlement (Penguin, 2012) and A Curious Intimacy (Penguin, 2007), for which she was named a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelist. She has been recognised by the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, the Calibre Prize, the Elizabeth Jolley prize, the Peter Blazey award for life writing and the Western Australia Premier’s awards. Jessica’s short stories, essays and poems have appeared in journals including Meanjin, Southerly, Overland, Griffith Review and Sydney Review of Books. Jessica is currently an Australia Research Council postdoctoral fellow at The University of Queensland. Hearing Maud is her first full length work of non-fiction.