Monday musings on Australian literature: AustLit Anthology of Criticism

I’ve written about AustLit several times before, including their BlackWords and World War 1 in Australian Literary Culture projects. Today, I thought I’d highlight their AustLit Anthology of Criticism which was published online in 2010. AustLit, as I’ve mentioned before, is primarily a subscription service, but not all of the content is behind their paywall. Of course, I only discuss freely available content. What would be the point otherwise!

The AustLit Anthology of Criticism was funded by AustLit and the University of Queensland to be “a resource for students and their teachers at secondary and lower tertiary levels”. It contains 18 writers who, on first look, seem an eclectic bunch, with well-known people like Peter Carey, Les Murray, Patrick White, Tim Winton and Judith Wright represented alongside the less widely known like, say, Jack Davis, Michael Gow or Hannie Rayson. The choice of writers, editors Leigh Dale and Linda Hale say, “took into account [those] whose work was currently being studied in the senior secondary school English curriculum in all Australian States and Territories”.

The anthology contains a link to a brief biography for each author on the AustLit Database, followed by a small list of selected articles with links to the online content itself. The chosen articles are “criticism”, which the editors describe as “interpretation” and to be differentiated from “reviews” which they define as focusing more on “evaluation”. These “critical” articles they link to in their anthology can, they say, represent opposing points of view, and mostly come from academic or literary journals like Australian Literary Culture, Australasian Drama Studies, Southerly, and Westerly, or collections of critical essays. For novelists and playwrights, they have mostly chosen one work, but for poets, the articles can deal with a wider body of their work. 

David Malouf reading Ransom

Malouf reading Ransom, National Library of Australia, August 2009

So, for Peter Carey, the book chosen is True history of the Kelly Gang, for Patrick White it’s Fringe of leaves, and for Tim Winton it’s Cloudstreet. Interestingly, for David Malouf several of his works are covered including Fly away Peter, Child’s play and Remembering Babylon. I’ve read four of these six novels, but all before I started blogging. They would all have something to offer students studying them.

I’m interested, though, in what the selection says about what is (or was around 2010) being studied in schools and early tertiary courses around Australia. Only 5 (Dorothy Hewett, Sally Morgan, Hannie Rayson, Henry Handel Richardson and Judith Wright) of the 18 writers are women, and only two (Jack Davis and Sally Morgan) have indigenous background. All, except for the indigenous writers, are Anglo-Australian. These 18 aren’t the only writers being studied, of course, but from the editors’ point of view they are 18 of the most universally studied ones. Hmmm, I say, this probably means they are representative of the whole.

And that’s all I’m going to say now. Regardless of this bias, it looks to be a useful resource and one I’ll return to if I read any of the works they cover. I do like to read good criticism. Do you have favourite sources you go to for criticism versus review?


4 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: AustLit Anthology of Criticism

  1. A good resource even if it is a bit lopsided in terms of gender and race. Good criticism is hard to come by these days it seems, at least for a nonacademic audience. When I find it, it’s usually at places like the Los Angeles Review of Books, Paris Review, NY Review of Books, etc.

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