Monday musings on Australian literature: The Australian Novel, 1945 style
Every now and then I like to delve into the newspapers digitised by the National Library of Australia and made available via its website. Last week, I was pottering around researching another topic for Monday Musings (for which you’ll now have to wait) when I came across an article written in 1945 about a series of books,”arranged” by Colin Roderick, being published about Australian prose. The series aimed “at introducing to students the work of Australian writers of prose fiction” but another article suggested that it would be of value to adult readers interested in the subject.
The first volume is titled The Australian novel and was published in 1945. It’s an anthology containing précis and excerpts from the selected works, and some critical analysis, and has a foreword by Miles Franklin. She wrote that:
People settling in new lands need novels and dramas closely concerned with their own time, place and community to support and lighten the great classics and world masterpieces in literature. Certain stories relate us to our own soil, and when such works find universal acceptance, they still retain greater significance for the people of their origin than for other readers by imparting a comforting glow which springs from the intimacy of home … writings, redolent of our own land and our life in it, thus fulfilled one of the functions of imaginative literature by heightening and illuminating everyday life in familiar surroundings.
I love her description of “writings redolent of our own land and our life in it” and their importance to “illuminating everyday life”.
The 19 (strange number, eh?) works were presented in order of their age:
- Henry Kingsley Geoffry Hamlyn
- Marcus Clarke For the Term of His Natural Life
- “Rolf Boldrewood” (T. A. Browne) Robbery Under Arms
- Ada Cambridge A Marriage Ceremony (My Monday Musings on Cambridge)
- “Steele Rudd” (Arthur H. Davis) On Our Selection
- “Tom Collins” (Joseph Furphy) Such is Life
- Mrs Aeneas Gunn (Jeannie Gunn) We of the Never Never
- William Hay The Escape of Sir William Heans
- Katharine Susannah Prichard Working Bullocks (My review of Prichard’s The pioneers)
- “Brent of Bin Bin” (Miles Franklin) Up the Country
- Martin Boyd The Montforts (My review of Boyd’s A difficult young man)
- “Henry Handel Richardson” The Fortunes of Richard Mahony
- M. Barnard Eldershaw A House is Built
- Vance Palmer The Passage
- Frank Dalby Davison Man-shy
- Brian Penton Landtakers
- Eleanor Dark Sun Across the Sky
- Leonard Mann Mountain Flat
- Eve Langley The Pea Pickers (My review)
It’s an intriguing list for me. Some of these works and authors I’ve read, and some have been on my list to read for a long time. But there are some here that I have never heard of – such as Brian Penton and Leonard Mann. It makes me wonder which writers from our last half century or so will be no longer well-known in 60 or 70 years. Longevity in the arts is such a fickle thing really, isn’t it?
Next week, I’ll write on the second volume in which Roderick presented 20 significant novelists.