Rose Summerfield's gospel of discontent

a narrative of radical identity in late nineteenth century Australia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Rose Summerfield (1864–1922), feminist, labour activist and radical, spread 'the gospel of discontent' amongst the Sydney working class in the 1890s. Discontent was a defining metaphor of fin de siecle radicalism, a condition of restless proselytising expressed in a range of experimental political, religious and cultural organisations and movements. Rose Summerfield fitfully embraced secularism, women's suffrage, temperance, labour mobilisation and radical politics. In key texts and performances such as the 1892 Master and Man lecture Summerfield dramatically personalised the sufferings and fears of the working class. Summerfield's radical texts and performances represented an expression of narrative identity, identifying her subjective sense of self and alienation with the injustice inflected upon women and the working class. Summerfield's strident racism reflected a need for self definition and social integration, a vilification of the other designed to secure the self in a racially homogeneous and economically stable society. Yet race reflected the turbulent and destabilised nature of Rose Summerfield's gospel of discontent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-82
Number of pages18
JournalLabour History
Issue number87
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • fin de siecle radicalism
  • labour biography
  • narrative theory
  • first wave feminism
  • labour history

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