Elizabeth Webby

It’s not often that literature makes the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, but on 3 November 2006 the lead story was a report by David Marr about the National Library of Australia’s purchase of a collection of Patrick White’s papers, previously thought destroyed. Other media, both in Australia and internationally, picked up the story. The T ...

Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood, edited by Paul Eggert and Elizabeth Webby

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April 2007, no. 290

Rolf Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms is the ninth volume to be published by the Academy Editions of Australian Literature project. Edited by Paul Eggert and Elizabeth Webby, the handsome volume is a major addition to this growing library of classics of Australian writing. It will undoubtedly become the definitive critical edition of Robbery Under Arms; the comprehensive scholarship that accompanies this book will illuminate our teaching and thinking about Boldrewood’s classic in the twenty-first century.

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In the last essay in this collection, Robert Macfarlane touches on the main reasons why Peter Carey’s novels ‘have proved so very attractive to academic exegetes’, in their combination of the postmodern and the postcolonial. Just how attractive is demonstrated in the sixty-page bibliography, which is sure to be one of the most used parts of Fabulating Beauty, especially by overseas readers without access to the invaluable AustLit. Editor Andreas Gaile, a young German academic, notes in his introduction that Carey is now ‘the most widely commented-on living Australian author’. While Patrick White is currently well ahead, with more than twice as many critical items published on his work, Carey is catching up fast. Visit any bookshop, whether in Melbourne, London, or New York, and you will of course find many more titles by Carey than by White. If, as Simon During has argued, White was the perfect novelist for those wishing to argue for the academic significance of Australian literature in the 1950s and 1960s, then Carey has just as obviously caught the dominant theoretical currents of the past thirty years. While Tim Winton may sell just as well and, if ‘favourite book’ polls are any guide, be more loved, no one has yet published a major critical study of his work.

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Oxford University Press has begun a welcome series called Australian Writers. Two further titles, Imre Salusinszky on Gerald Murnane and Ivor Indyk on David Malouf, will appear in March 1993, and eleven more books are in preparation. Though I find the first three uneven in quality, they make a very promising start to a series. In some ways they resemble Oliver and Boyd’s excellent series, Writers and Critics, even being of about the same length. However this new series is less elementary, more demanding of the reader. It is, predictably, far sparser in critical evaluation, concentrating on hermeneutics, and biographical information is as rare as a wombat waltz.

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About ten years ago, I was asked to give a talk to a Sydney group of Australian writers. (Actually, they asked Leonie Kramer, but she was busy.) I decided to talk on ‘Some unknown Australian women writers of the nineteenth century’ in ‘the hope of interesting some of them in researching the lives and careers of their predecessors.

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