Lesbian Coming Out: “All That False Instruction” by Kerryn Higgs

When an author publishes a book under a pseudonym, it’s usually to protect their identity or to explore a different genre. In the case of Kerryn Higgs’ “All That False Instruction”, the reason for using a false name was family pressure and the threat of a lawsuit. The novel, which was published in 1975 under the pseudonym Elizabeth Riley, tells of a young woman’s struggle to find herself and find acceptance in a society that values conformity. Higgs later reclaimed her story and published it under her real name in 2002 with revisions that emphasized the original setting in Melbourne and Victoria. Let’s delve into the story behind this remarkable piece of literature.

Maureen Craig, the protagonist of All That False Instruction, longs for a life beyond the repressive norms of her small-town upbringing in 1950s Australia. She rebels against her angry mother, the privileges of her favored brother and the endless conformities of her time. She flees to Melbourne in search of the freedom and diversity of university life in the 1960s. However, she quickly discovers that conformity and tradition have the upper hand even in supposedly progressive circles. On the way to finding her own sexuality, Maureen encounters resistance from society, her fellow students and even her own family. Her journey to find herself and her place in the world is poignant and relatable, especially for anyone who has also struggled with societal expectations.

When “All That False Instruction” was first published, Higgs’ family objected to the novel’s content, which included lesbian relationships. At the time, homosexuality was still illegal in Victoria, which made the book controversial. To avoid conflict, Higgs published it under the pseudonym Elizabeth Riley. In 2001, however, Higgs managed to reclaim her story and publish it under her real name, including revisions that returned the story to its original setting in Melbourne and Victoria. These changes only enhanced the novel’s effective message. Higgs’ courage and commitment to her story demonstrate the importance of standing up for oneself and for artistic integrity.

“All That False Instruction” is one of the first novels to deal in depth with the coming out of its protagonist and in this respect is a literary milestone of the LGBTQ movement that tells of perseverance and the power of the voice. Kerryn Higgs’ decision to publish her story under her real name emphasizes the importance of authenticity and artistic integrity. The novel’s exploration of sexuality and gender offers valuable insight into the complexities of identity and societal expectations. Overall, “All That False Instruction” is a remarkable literary work that deserves to be read and celebrated.

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