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Sarah Wales

Skylarking text response

Skylarking, by Kate Mildenhall, explores the hardships faced by women in the 1880’s, who encountered difficult situations concerning friendship and resentment, that forces some characters to “swallow their bitterness”. Through her narrative decisions, Mildenhall emphasises that although McPhail influences Kate to become envious, neither he nor Kate is responsible for the end of the girls’ relationship, as Harriet’s death was purely a tragic accident. Undoubtedly, Mildenhall highlights that gender expectations can lead to insecurities that have a negative impact on personal relationships. However,  while also revealing that friendship is stronger than  jealousy and rivalry. Through Kates grief, Mildenhall explores how memory has the ability to reveal one’s true intentions.

Mildenhall recognises the “burden carried by women” in the 1880s to fulfil gender expectations, and how the pressure to live up to these expectations can manifest in harmful ways, like seeing other women as rivals. When Kate and Harriet are getting fitted for new dresses, Kate feels “somehow unrecognisable” while noticing that Harriet has become “more elegant”. While Kate feels insecure if her new more feminine appearance, Harriet embraces it effortlessly. Through this scene Mildenhall accentuates the restrictive gender expectations for women, and how the pressure Kate is put under to fulfil those expectations can betray her friendship to Harriet, who she now views with a sense of rivalry. Mildenhall suggests that Kates envy for Harriet’s appearance and characteristics stems from the fact that Harriet has always been “marriage material” while she has always been seen as “wild and untameable”.

Kates frustration and jealousy is portrayed by Mildenhall again as when the girls are at Christmas dinner, Kate observes how Harriet is usually “well versed in table manners”, after watching her seductively lick honeycomb of her wrist. This moment elicits a strong sense of envy and rivalry in Kate as she is always frowned upon for her “unladylike behaviour in general”, while unfair gender expectations seem to encourage Harriet to be unladylike only when it is desired. Mildenhall examines how Harriet’s ability to still be seen as “ladylike” despite her behaviour influences Kate to feel extremely jealous as Harriet manages to fit the unfair gender expectations without trying. The portrayal of the differences between Kate and Harriet illuminate how gender expectations can have a negative impact on an individual’s relationship with someone else.

Through the theme of friendship, Mildenhall highlights how a strong bond can overshadow the toxic and shameful characteristics that can be present in friendship. This is displayed as when Harriet leaves for Melbourne, Kate finds herself feeling troubled as she “misses Harriet dearly” despite the fact that Harriet is the cause of her jealousy, and her rival. Through this scene, Mildenhall accentuates the fact that although Harriet is Kates rival and the cause of most of her problems, she still loves and appreciates Harriet presence in her life. Mildenhall explores this notion further as Kate wished she was on the boat with Harriet as she leaves, symbolising how this is the first time Kate is without Harriet by her side, as they always believed they “did not fully exist without each other”.

Mildenhall elaborates on the theme of friendship (or possibly something endeavouring into something more for Kate) being able to overshadow toxic traits. While Harriet and Kate are laying on the beach together discussing Harriet’s kiss in Melbourne, Harriet suggests to Kate that “she [Kate]… could kiss her [Harriet]” provoking a strong emotional response from Kate as her heart was “somersaulting” as she comprehended Harriet’s comment. Mildenhall deliberately put Kate into a vulnerable position so she could confront her underlying feelings of “love” towards Harriet so that the readers can comprehend that she sees Harriet as more than a friend. Mildenhall makes it clear that despite Harriet being the cause of Kates insecurities, she still finds a way to love her.

Through the themes of grief, truth and memory, Mildenhall accentuates the fact that Kate “did not mean” to kill Harriet. At Harriet’s’ funeral, Kate experiences grief as she sees Harriet “without animation” and “without life” again after the accident. Kate describes her to be “unfamiliar” as she could not see “her [Kate’s] Harriet”, and through Mildenhall’s narrative choices she reveals how Kate feels deep regret as she has killed her best friend and secret lover. Mildenhall proves Kate’s innocence as while she is at McPhail’s hut, where the accident took place, she tells him “It was an accident”. Kates grief and shame is revealed again in that moment by Mildenhall as she begins to cry, not being able to “stop” as she felt like she was “bursting, falling and dying”.

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