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Australian Classics Library

August 25, 2009

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 (SUP website, applying their fair dealing statement)

The commandant, by Jessica Anderson (SUP website, applying their fair dealing statement)

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?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2009 13:22

    Now this is a collection I’d love to review on the blog. Wouldn’t it be nice if they send us half each and we worked our way through them!

  2. whisperinggums permalink*
    August 25, 2009 13:42

    Now there’s an idea – but I’ll fight you for the Anderson!

  3. August 26, 2009 09:30

    These 12 titles is just a beginning of more things to come … I must admit we haven’t even thought of Penguin when designing the new covers. Red and yellow are the colours of the University of Sydney, they feature in SUP Classics series and the new covers are an updated version of those. With regards to the price, unfortunately, the printing cost is to be blamed. These books are printed digitally. The minus – high cost per unit, the plus – they will never go out of print.

  4. whisperinggums permalink*
    August 26, 2009 14:24

    Thanks Agata for explaining the cover and price. Re the cover, it’s amazing how we can make different and sometimes wrong connections isn’t it? And maybe in real life they look more red than the more orange colour that appears on the screen. The prices aren’t horrendous – but it is good to understand a bit the facts behind them. We bookbuyers are used to seeing many (though not all) classic reprints being quite a bit cheaper than the usual fare.

    I was rather hoping that this set would not be the end of it, so it is good to hear that that is so. We will all wait with baited breath to see what the next selection is.

  5. July 25, 2010 10:21

    These do look like a great collection of books-I am very interested in early Australian writers-I do not understand why at least Barbara Baynton is not widely read now-I concur the books are a bit expensive-with a little google research at least a few writings by most of these authors can be found on line but it is great to see them come into print

    • July 25, 2010 11:16

      Again, thanks for your comment. Yes, many are, as you say, available online. One of the nice things about this series is that they have some nice value-adds including useful and interesting introductions. Glad to meet someone else interested in reading some of these older works!

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