Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910) was hailed at the end of her long life as ‘The Grand Old Woman of Australia, known for her achievements as a social reformer, essayist, journalist, preacher and advocate for electoral reform. Her philanthropic work has been justly praised, while her literary achievement is still overlooked, although her eight novels reflect a most interesting exploration of the nature of fiction. Born in Melrose, Scotland, the fifth of eight children, Spence was the daughter of lawyer David Spence (the son of a naval surgeon) and Helen (née Brodie) who came from a long line of East Lothian tenant-farmers. A prosperous existence, with cook, housemaid and nursemaid, abruptly ended when her father’s disastrous speculations in foreign wheat left the family bankrupt and in social disgrace.
A Week in the Future, a utopian novella, first appeared in The Centennial Magazine (Sydney) of 1888-89 and speculates about life 100 years into the future.
In A Week in the Future, quite implausibly, a sixty-two-year-old Adelaide spinster called Emily Bethel (recognisably Spence) is mysteriously transported to the London of 1988 by the aid of her doctor s hypnotic powers and an unidentified potion.
The narrative is enclosed within the convenient framework of a week, allowing Spence to connect a series of disparate ideas. The seven precious days and nights are filled with observations on the new social order, each being devoted to a different aspect. On the first day Emily studies the development of Associated Homes’, the new communal dwelling, and on subsequent days, ‘Cooperative Production and Distribution; ‘Childhood and Education’; 'Marriage and the Relations of the Sexes’; ‘Government and Laws’; ‘Literature and Art; Music; the Drama and Sport’. On Sunday, she studies ‘Religion and Morality'.