Old Songs in the Timeless Land: Medievalism in Australian literature 1840–1910
UWA Publishing, $34.95 pb, 230 pp
Medievalism – the inspiration of the Middle Ages and their Gothic-Romantic and Aesthetic descendants for modern writing – is one of the more fascinating historical discourses to have emerged in Western criticism in recent decades. In Australia, this criticism has been led by Stephanie Trigg, Andrew Lynch, and Louise D’Arcens, who has written perceptively (among other topics) of the architectural culture demonstrated by The Mediaeval Court, showpiece of the 1866 Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition. Civic and ecclesiastical architecture – the Gothic cathedrals and university buildings designed by Wardell and Blacket, for example – offer, because of their solid visual presence, an obvious entry point to the colonial medievalising imagination, but in the present book D’Arcens has chosen an equally fruitful but rather more challenging subject, medievalist literature, which, in many cases, is more characteristic of Shakespeare’s ‘unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time’ than of his ‘gilded monuments’.