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Oxford University Press

‘Anecdotes’ meant originally ‘the unpublished’ – sometimes, no doubt, the unprintable. Nowadays we think of them as being tales which have something or other up their sleeves: a morsel of irony, a pinch of encouragement, a gesture of affectation. Anecdotes are yarns which have had a couple of drinks.

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The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (Second Edition) edited by William H. Wilde, Joy Hooton, and Barry Andrews

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December 1994, no. 167

‘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.

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Australian Women: Contemporary feminist thought edited by Norma Grieve and Ailsa Burns

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October 1994, no. 165

Feminism is one of the great, enduring intellectual movements of the twentieth century. This collection of essays, mainly by academics, examines how that movement has advanced to date and where it appears to be headed.

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I am enmeshed in criticism. Criticism defines and speaks me. I criticise, therefore I have a job. But criticism is a tricky business. It’s partial, changes from one time/place/person to another (as Jennifer Gribble acknowledges).

I’m not an expert on Janet Frame or Christina Stead (although I’ve included books by each on courses in the past) and my awareness of Peter Goldsworthy’s oeuvre is better but patchy. Like most university lecturers (I suppose), I read more reviews than actual books, although my preference is for the reverse. But with the vision of ABR’s editor as the bejewelled ringmistress conjured up in Gina Mercer’s book, I don my cap and bells, cry ‘Nuncle!’, and off I go into the hurricane.

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As a preliminary I must say, frankly, that I am hardly interested in canonised literary culture. And having known for a long time that it is absurd to criticise the conventional literary establishment and then expect its attention or affection, I can also say that canonical inclusion has never been a personal aspiration. However, I am alert to the ramifications of the processes of historicisation. I don’t want to sound high-falutin’ but I’ll begin with Nietzsche who began his enquiry into the value of history with a gem from Goethe: ‘In any case I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating my activity.’

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I have had a haunted week reviewing the The Oxford Companion to Australian Folklore; haunted by a host of inadequately credited or totally omitted characters and folklore subjects clamouring for their status and value to be recognised. Thus, in that vast penumbra of lost souls, the plaintive cries of characters such as Ginger Meggs, the Magic Pudding, and the Banksia Men, Rolf Harris and Barry Humphries, together with subjects such as Strine, Rhyming Talk, Hanging Rock, Ghosts, and Oral History, have begged for their recognition! And swelling their ranks are those who only got a toehold in the door, so cursory is their mention: Dad and Dave, Joseph Jacobs, Marion Sinclair, Clancy of the Overflow, the Man from Snowy River, et al.

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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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The Annotated Such is Life by Joseph Furby & The Life and Opinions of Tom Collins by Julian Croft

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July 1991, no. 132

At last, books about Such is Life and its endearingly attractive, quixotically sophisticated author, Joseph Furphy, are coming out. Three in the last few months is a welcome harvest, certainly a happier response than Furphy got during the prolonged Wilcannia showers of his life.

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In his 1980 bibliography of Bernard Smith’s published works, Australian Art and Architecture (1980), Tony Bradley lists, exclusive of books, well over 200 articles, book reviews, and other miscellaneous items. Allowing for articles written after 1980 and four previously unpublished, The Critic as Advocate contains sixty works from Bradley’s list. Previous collections of Smith’s essays, The Antipodean Manifesto (1976) and The Death of the Artist as Hero (1988) each contains about twenty republished essays – leaving Smith still with over a hundred for future recycling. If this is to be the case it is perhaps well to look at the value or otherwise of this type of enterprise.

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Graham Seal, author of this invaluable new survey of Australian folklore, hopes this book will ‘explode the pernicious and persistent myth that Australia has no folklore’, a cultural lie he illustrates on the opening page by trotting out a familiar scapegoat in the form of a visiting Englishman carping about the lack of folksong in this country. This seems to me to base the book on an unnecessary and even false premise. Most Australians, I would have thought, are aware either consciously or subconsciously of a national body of folklore – it’s just that assiduous nationalists have hacked away the corpus by single-mindedly promoting the paraphernalia of the bush mythology: the pioneers, the bushrangers, the heroes and anti-heroes of sport and war.

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