The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (Second Edition)
OUP, $69.95 hb
‘Those bastards at Oxford,’ Barry Andrews fulminated ten years ago (he had in mind one or two in particular) ‘are trying to make us cut 200,000 words from the book!’ The ‘book’ was the first edition of the estimable The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. The ‘bastards’ had miscounted and the text survived more or less in full. Now, nine years after its first publication, the Companion has appeared in a revised edition with an extra 200,000 words, not there by way of compensation, but rather to cope with the brilliantly successful publicity campaign for Australian writing during the last decade. Bill Wilde and Joy Hooton remain as editors, Barry having died in 1987.
Some entries have gone, and will be missed. There is no longer a ‘Hobart’, although the entries for the Hobart Town Courier, Gazette, Magazine remain untouched. Perhaps place entries are deemed to be covered by The Oxford Literary Guide to Australia (1987), but if that is the case, why does ‘Penola’ get a guernsey while Hobart is excised? This is a parochial question, but properly so because of the strength and sympathy with which the Companion covers so many periods and places. On paper the book’s aims seem simple: first, to include biographical, bibliographical, and some critical material on many hundreds of Australian writers, literature being conceived of with a proper latitude; second, to provide contextual information on ‘those aspects of Australian life and history ... which readers 1mfamiliarwithAustralia might need’. This must mean locals as well, and is fine in practice, although it makes the Companion seem at times more like an Australian encylopedia.