Am I the last to know? I have just discovered that Sydney University Press is publishing a new set of Australian Classics, using a grant from the CAL Cultural Fund. Each title has a newly written critical introduction and, in a nice bit of collaboration, some biographical and bibliographical information from AustLit.
The titles – an interesting lot really – were selected from over 80 titles already sold by the Press and were chosen for “their importance in the canon of Australian literature and their applicability to the education market”. They are:
- The commandant, by Jessica Anderson
- Bush studies, by Barbara Baynton
- A difficult young man, by Arthur Boyd
- Oh lucky country, by Rosa Cappiello
- The moods of Ginger Mick, by CJ Dennis
- Tales of the Austral tropics, by Ernest Favenc
- The workingman’s paradise, by William Lane
- Joe Wilson and his mates, by Henry Lawson
- Inland, by Gerald Murnane
- The man from snowy river and other verses, by AB (Banjo) Paterson
- Maurice Guest, by Henry Handel Richardson
- Tales of the early days, by Price Warung
The prices, ranging from around $22.95 to $32.95, are a little high I think. Some (though by no means all) of these are still in copyright so that makes a difference, and there’s also the additional editorial material (but presumably that has been covered by the grant?). However, with the recent and very cheap original-look Penguin Classics range, the comparison may put people off, particularly when the covers of these, with their orange and white theme, appear to riff a little off those Penguins.
Anyhow, back to the selection. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve read almost none of these books though I have owned the Cappiello for quite a few years, and bought Maurice Guest a few years ago to fill a gap in my reading. I have read and do like Jessica Anderson – just not The commandant. It’s encouraging, in fact, to see a decent, well 33% anyhow, proportion of women in the list. Oh, and I must admit that I haven’t heard of Price Warung (apparently, according to Wikipedia, a pseudonym for one William Astley, 1855-1911).
The advertisement (and I have to remember that it IS an advertisement) that drew my attention to this new series described it as “12 best-known and loved works of Australian literature”. Hmmm…I have no serious quibble with the selection – after all, it is encouraging to see such support for our classics and any selection is going have a large degree of subjectivity. However, I’m not sure that I’d quite describe this set – fine as it is – as our “12 best-known and loved”. Would you?