Monday musings on Australian literature: The Australian Novel, 1945 style

Joseph Furphy (Tom Collins)

Joseph Furphy (Presumed Public Domain, from the State Library of New South Wales, via Wikipedia)

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:

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.

23 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: The Australian Novel, 1945 style

  1. A great post, Sue. On Sunday at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Thomas Keneally said that as a young man he used to carry a copy of ‘The Fortunes of Richard Mahony’ in his suit breast pocket in the hope that it would attract women! When asked whether this worked, he ruefully replied, ‘No.’ Very funny. Comments like that and posts like this make me want to delve into those Aussie books and authors I’ve never heard of before. I walked out of the Classic! session still wondering about a more definitive list – well here’s a great start. Cheers, John.

    • Thanks John. We have a treasure that we just don’t promote our older “stuff” enough. Next week I’m going to do a little more on this topic. It goes well with the various publishers doing Aussie classics now I think.

    • Oh, you, Lisa! Don’t you think they were simply trying to interpret her meaning for a different century? BUT I’m not going to engage further in the debate … LOL … because I love the fact that she, a woman, endowed the award.

  2. Thanks Gummie: I was thinking about you yesterday and the fact that I need to pick up another Aussie read soon. I have one Cambridge here and I’ve heard of a couple of the others, but that’s about it.

  3. So who is the distinguished and handsome gent in the photo? That the list is only 19 long is kind of funny. It’s like they tried to get to 20 but just couldn’t make it or maybe there was so much to choose from there were fist fights in the editorial room over who number 20 should be and the spot wa left unfilled just to spite all those invovled in selecting. 🙂

    • Love your speculation Stefanie. You’ve been to too many meetings!

      The gent is Joseph Furphy, author of “Such is life”. He wrote under the pseudonym Tom Collins, which is also slang for a “tall” story. In Australia, “furphy” is also slang for a “tall” story. The Wikipedia article describes its origin.

      • I love it! I wish I could use “furphy” here but no one would know what I meant. I’ll h ave to keep it stored away should I ever manage to visit your neck of the woods 🙂

        • Or, Stefanie, you can use it next time you want to tell your boss you know they’re putting something over you but you don’t want them to know you know, if you know what I mean!

  4. oh I ve only heard of one of those books the Clarke which I download after it was picked as a classic by abc book show a couple of years ago ,all the best stu

  5. I know most of the authors mentioned, but like you Sue, I have never heard of Brian Penton or Leonard Mann; nor do I know anything about William Hay. I do wonder why this is so! I gather they were never given the same consideration as the other novels were given either at school or by book reviewers (or should I say bloggers). It will be interesting next week to read Roderick’s 20 significant novelists.

    • Ah Meg, I was nearly going to add Hay to my list but felt that his name did ring a bit of a bell whereas for the other two I’ve got nothing (as my son would say!).

      I think you’ll be interested in his 20 … and I plan to make a couple of comments re what the critics were saying about style then too.

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