Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ray Lawler's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ray Lawler

Lawler was the second child of eight of a Melbourne council worker. When he was 13 he left school to work in a factory, though he continued to attend evening classes. He wrote his first play when he was 19 years old, but didn't attract much attention until he presented Cradle of Thunder at a theatre competition in 1952. The premiere of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll three years later catapulted him to fame as an Australian playwright, and he played the role of Barney in the premiere and in the London production. After that, he lived in various European countries and married his wife, actress Jacklyn Kelleher, in 1956. They had three children together. In 1975, Lawler returned to Australia to fill the role of associate director at the Melbourne Theatre Company. He agreed to complete a trilogy centered on Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, which resulted in Kid Stakes and Other Times. In 1980, he was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, and a small theater in the Melbourne Theater Company's theater is named for him.
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Historical Context of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is widely heralded as the first play that signifies Australia's maturity and ability to produce dramatic works that were engaging and successful on an international stage. It was the first Australian play to receive critical acclaim in London, in part because it was believed to truly capture both the Australian dialect and a unique national psyche. It was written at a time when many other Australian plays focused on men of the outback and glorifying the conflict of man versus nature—a lifestyle and a conflict that was by that point giving way to rapid urbanization and development. In terms of dramatic staging, the bush lifestyle was also notoriously hard to bring to life onstage if only because of the set requirements. Though Doll still holds up men of the bush, by bringing men like Roo, Barney, and Johnnie into an urban setting, it mirrors the real-life shift in Australian culture to the cities. Similarly, the advancing age of Roo and Barney suggest that the bush lifestyle itself, though compelling and culturally glorified, is on its way out.

Other Books Related to Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is part of what's known as "the doll trilogy": Kid Stakes tells how the tradition of the layoff season began for Olive, Nancy, Roo, and Barney in 1937, while Other Times takes place in the mid-1940s. Doll is often compared critically to Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play A Doll's House because of similar themes of youth, particularly as it pertains to the plays' female characters. Similarly, Olive in particular shares many qualities with J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan in her desire to maintain her youth, even when doing so is practically impossible. Finally, the close, egalitarian friendship between Barney and Roo is part of an Australian literary tradition of "mateship," or close male friendship based on loyalty and shared experience. Henry Lawson explores this idea in his short story "A Sketch of Mateship."
Key Facts about Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
  • Full Title: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
  • When Written: 1955
  • Where Written: Melbourne, Australia
  • When Published: The play premiered in 1955 in Melbourne and toured in London two years later
  • Literary Period: Australian Postmodernism
  • Genre: Drama
  • Setting: Carlton, Victoria, Australia; 1952
  • Climax: Roo and Barney’s fight
  • Antagonist: Advancing age is the enemy of many of the characters; Roo believes that Johnnie is his enemy
  • Point of View: Theater

Extra Credit for Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

There's an App for That. In 2013, Currency Press released an iPad app detailing the history of Doll. It includes archival material from Australian productions as well as interviews with Ray Lawler, several prominent theatre critics, and actors from more recent productions.

The American Movie. In 1959, Leslie Norman, an English film director, adapted Doll for the screen. His adaptation has been criticized for rejecting the Australian character of the original. Norman didn't deny the criticism; he's quoted as saying he wanted "to keep it Australian, but unfortunately the Americans...couldn't understand the Australian accent and [he] had to cut out all the Australianisms." In the film, Roo is played by American actor Ernest Borgnine, who speaks with an American accent.