An Unsentimental Bloke: The life and work of C.J. Dennis
Wakefield $34.95 pb, 289 pp
Now and again it is good to remind ourselves that literary history (and I think the history of the other arts) is strewn with the names of those who had great stature in their own time and are now largely forgotten, and with the names of others for whom the reverse is true. William Blake, short of money, went to work for the much more admired poet William Hayley. These days, the name ‘William Hayley’ will only conjure up ‘Rock Around the Clock’. Even Samuel Johnson, perhaps the greatest of all literary critics, thought Abraham Cowley ‘undoubtedly the best’ of the Metaphysical poets, and it took three hundred years for John Donne’s reputation to be firmly established.
Australia’s literary tradition is short enough that we have fewer such figures, but it is striking that the three most popularly successful poets in our history wander in that inner circle of forgottenness with Cowley: Adam Lindsay Gordon, A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson, and C.J. Dennis. Paterson might not quite belong, but only because he wrote ‘Waltzing Matilda’, and there is almost no interest in his work in scholarly circles.