Brian McFarlane

Talk about unlikely associations. My first response to the opening chapter of Tim Winton’s latest novel was how its sense of a life at a standstill, awaiting some new impulse, reminded me of Jane Austen’s Emma. Winton’s protagonist, Georgie Jutland, with a string of unsatisfactory relationships behind her ...

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When Martin Boyd returned to Australia in 1948 after twenty-seven years in England, he set about restoring the Grange, the derelict former home of his mother’s family, the à Becketts. He had been disappointed to find how little known his novels were in Australia and he had difficulty in re-establishing himself with the Boyd family. Nevertheless he persevered with his impulsive scheme until he could draw ‘the curtains at night in the little sitting room ... [and] indulge the illusion of being in an English manor house.’ Among the à Beckett portraits and eighteenth-century furniture were his nephew Arthur’s biblical frescoes. In trying to be an English squire in the Australian countryside, surrounded by the artefacts of two continents and centuries, Boyd presents the image of a man who never quite found himself wholly at home anywhere.

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Words and Images is a valuable contribution to the rapidly growing body of work on Australian film culture and a welcome addition to the relatively small collection of volumes dealing with the film-literature connection. As McFarlane notes there is not, as yet, a ‘definitive work’ on the art of adaptation, though George Bluestone’s Novels into Film (1957) established a fairly solid base for others working in this area. McFarlane’s acknowledged indebtedness to Bluestone is most evident in the method he adopts in order to examine individual adaptations. Essentially it is one of determining and exploring changes to texts, that is, the major alterations and manipulations which take place in the process of adapting a narrative from one medium to another.

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Brian McFarlane’s small book on Martin Boyd’s Langton novels is a particularly measured and useful study. He makes no grand claims for Boyd but sees and appreciates him for the writer that he is when he is at his best, and the Langton novels – The Cardboard Crown, A Difficult Young Man, Outbreak of Love, and When Blackbirds Sing – certainly see Boyd at his best.

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