In its preliminary advertisement for its serialisation of "The Silent Sea" the Adelaide Observer made the point that this was "purely an Australian story, the scenes being laid partly in town but chiefly in the bush", but it found the novel's genre difficult to define. Noting that "the book may be said to combine the study of character with incident and adventure", the advertisement expanded on its heterogeneity with the claim that "the variety of characters, contrast of situations, and diversity of emotions appealed to may be said to form the salient characteristics of

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'The Silent Sea' "(26 March 1892, p. 24).

These "salient characteristics", however, were to occasion some adverse comment from critics, despite generally favourable reviews in England and America as well as Australia. Seven reviews have been traced. The first to appear, in the "Athenæum", praised Martin for writing "like a lady", but was somewhat puzzled by the purpose of "the strange mining story interwoven in the plot" (No. 3391, 22 October 1892, p. 550). The Academy found the novel in parts rather heavy to read, but thought its "central interest" (seen as the cave room episodes) was "decidedly strong" (xlii, 5 November 1892, p. 408). The Spectator's reviewer announced that "of the numerous recent Australian novels, The Silent Sea is decidedly the best", and praised in turn its plot, literary style and characterisations, remarking, however, that Victor Fitz-Gibbon's love-story and the story of his experiences at the mine were "rather clumsily" combined (26 November 1892, p. 775).

The novel's first Australian reviewer was Catherine Helen Spence, whose lengthy notice appeared in the Adelaide Voice. She commented on The Silent Sea's "distinctively Australian" character, and on the "humor and the pathos, the piety and the devilry, the manners, or the lack of them" that characterised its miners, remarking that, even in the "saddest picture in the book", that of Oxford Jim, "the pessimism which lies at the foundation of this writer's stories is relieved by an unfailing flow of humor" (9 December 1892, p. 2). The Observer's own review, following the completion of the novel's serialisation in that paper and the Evening Journal, described The Silent Sea as a "genuine Australian story" with a "gold robbery of a description new to fiction, and worked out with a firm hand", but declared that "it is the character sketches, the realistic talk of the miners and their wives, which will especially seize the critical student. Their Cornish dialect is not more accurately phonographed than the attitude of their minds is photographed". The character of Oxford Jim was noted as "a sketch worthy of Bret Harte". The Observer, like Spence's review in the Voice, remarked on the novel's "never-failing flow of humour" and "undercurrent of pessimism", and added that the author "does not add to the gaiety of the world by her works. She puts in a strong light all the ironies of fate, all the fading of illusions, and tears ruthlessly away the

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self-deceptions which cheat the conscience". While admitting that, as in An Australian Girl, fruit and flowers appeared in The Silent Sea "somewhat irrespective of seasons", the Observer concluded that it was "a book of which South Australians may be proud, and it is a just cause of congratulation to us that it first saw the light in our columns" (24 December 1892, p. 41).

American reviews of The Silent Sea followed its publication in Harper's Franklin Square Library series. The Boston Literary World found both the "environment" and the characterisation "unusual and interesting", and although not altogether satisfied by the conclusion, considered it "a novel of sustained interest and well worth reading" (xxiv, no. 2, 28 January 1893, p. 26). In Harper's own periodical, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Laurence Hutton gave The Silent Sea its briefest review: "The Silent Sea is a novel less of introspection than of action. It is another of the fresh, bright Australian tales which come like the breath of a west wind into the somewhat unaired spaces of English fiction" (lxxxvi, no. 513, February 1893, Supplement p. 4). It is doubtful that he had read the novel.

In her Autobiography, Spence reiterated a claim made earlier by the Observer reviewer of The Silent Sea when she stated that "so good a judge as F. W. H. Myers" had pronounced An Australian Girl and The Silent Sea to be "on the highest level ever reached in Australian fiction".note Desmond Byrne named both novels in his Australian Writers (1896) but discussed only An Australian Girl. His general survey of Australian fiction neglected The Silent Sea's account of Trevaskis' rise to political prominence when remarking on the lack of novels which told political success stories such as "the romance ... of the Cabinet Minister who started life as a gold-digger". In accounting for the lack, Byrne noted the prevailing assumption that such stories would not be well-received by English publishers but added that "the majority of the writers of fiction who continue to live in [Australia] are women, and possibly not interested in politics".note

In 1940 E. Morris Miller gave some attention to The Silent Sea, but pronounced it inferior to An Australian Girl in characterisation and setting.note Miles Franklin, whose own friendship with Spence's correspondent Alice Henry gave her a tenuous link to Catherine Martin, discussed it at some length in Laughter, Not for a Cage in 1956, naming it as Martin's "main novel" and

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quoting Spence's assessment of Martin as the only "Australian novelist of genius" she knew. Although Franklin objected that the "two currents" of the action "never reach a confluence" and described the characters somewhat impatiently as "carriage folk", she concluded that the novel was "advanced for the days of leg-o'-mutton sleeves, bustles and pinched waists".note