Literary Studies

Armed with more than half a century’s worth of knowledge, experience, the fermentation of ideas and approaches in literary history and criticism over that period, and her own formidable reputation as a scholar and teacher of Australian literature, Brenda Niall returns in her latest book to the territory of her earliest ones. In Seven Little Billabongs: The world of Ethel Turner and Mary Grant Bruce (1979), Niall broke new ground not just in writing a serious and scholarly full-length treatment of Australian children’s literature, but also in departing from the orthodox biographical tradition of focusing on a single figure.

... (read more)

Ian Donaldson’s The Rapes of Lucretia is a book so rich in ideas that a review can only be unfairly perfunctory. It starts from ancient accounts of the rape of Lucretia and tracks the transformations of the myth through two millennia. This is no wearisome catalogue, no tedious grinding of PhD mills. Donaldson is, as he puts it, ‘especially interested in the close relationship that may exist between the creative and the philosophical processes of mind; between art and argument’. What emerges is a sturdy contribution to the history of ideas, a book showing how a myth which sustained Roman ideas of heroism and political liberty was used at different periods of history to reflect and embody changing political and sexual ideas.

... (read more)

In spite of the hundreds of scholarly articles, dozens of monographs, and two biographies on the life and work of Christina Stead (1902–83), critics, curiously, have not generally sought to divide up Stead’s career into her Australian, European, and American periods for the purposes of their analysis. Most of them have regarded her career as more integrated, recognising the fact that Stead responded to all the places in which she lived and that her interest in the people around her drove her approach to her work, informed her settings, and nourished her understanding of ideology and its impact on human behaviour. In this compact study of five of Stead’s novels, Fiona Morrison seeks to explore Stead’s particular interest in American politics and culture and their specific influence on her writing.

... (read more)

The Innocent Reader, Debra Adelaide’s collection of essays reflecting on the value of reading and the writing life, also works as a memoir. Part I, ‘Reading’, moves from childhood memories of her parents’ Reader’s Digest Condensed Books to discovering J.R.R. Tolkien and other books in the local library, and to the variable guidance of teachers at school and university. Its centrepiece is the powerful essay ‘No Endings No Endings No’, which juxtaposes the shock of discovering that her youngest child has cancer with her grief at the death of Thea Astley in 2004. The last words of Astley’s final novel, Drylands (1999) give this essay its title. Adelaide draws out the hope that they suggest as she tells how reading – aloud to her son in hospital, and to herself when he was too ill to listen – enabled her to survive this terrible time.

... (read more)

Paul Giles is a critic for whom it is important where he lives, although not so much in terms of location as of literary and imaginative perspectives. He began as an Americanist literary scholar, in voluntary exile from the United Kingdom, where he was trained, writing about the global remapping of American literature and, more recently, having moved to Australia, about Australasia’s constitution of American literature. He likes redrawing the critical maps of literary study, but also following the reverse and inverted orbits of writers themselves. Part of this impulse includes rethinking the hemispheres. Giles’s book about Australasia and US literature, for example, was titled Antipodean America (ABR, August 2014). If it wasn’t too much of a mouthful, you’d say he was a serial re-territorialiser.

... (read more)

Émile Zola

Brian Nelson
Thursday, 07 November 2019

Unlike Flaubert, the ‘hermit of Croisset’, who turned away from his age in an attitude of ironic detachment, Émile Zola (1840–1902) embraced his century in a way no French writer had done since Balzac. Zola’s ambition was to emulate Balzac by writing a comprehensive history of contemporary society. Through the fortunes of his Rougon-Macquart family, he examined methodically the social, sexual, and moral landscape of the late nineteenth century along with its political, financial, and artistic contexts. Zola is the quintessential novelist of modernity, understood in terms of an overwhelming sense of tumultuous change.

... (read more)

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.

... (read more)

'The tyranny of the literal' by James Ley

James Ley
Monday, 23 September 2019

For there is always going on within us a process of formulation and interpretation whose subject matter is our own selves.

These words appear towards the end of Erich Auerbach’s study of representation in Western literature, Mimesis. First published in 1946, the book has become a classic of twentieth-century literary criticism, but is almost as famous for the circumstances under which it was composed as for its content. It was written between 1942 and 1945 in Istanbul, where Auerbach, a German Jew, was living in exile.

... (read more)

J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics Of Reading is both a deeply scholarly response to the work of a brilliant and challenging writer, and an act of advocacy for a particular mode of reading, which Derek Attridge characterises variously as ethical, literary, ‘attentive’ and scrupulously responsive to the text. This mode draws on practices of ‘close reading’, while proposing the ethics of ...

... (read more)

Beyond the Ancient Quarrel: Literature, philosophy and J.M. Coetzee is a new collection of essays on J.M. Coetzee, perhaps the most important author of imaginative literature in the world today. Unifying the diverse strands of argument animating this thoughtful volume, the book’s editors, noted Coetzee scholars ...

... (read more)