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Literature, Early Fiction

bush life, Alexander Harris, James Tucker, diary form, Brilliant Career

An early Australian fictional work is Tales of the Colonies (1843) by Charles Rowcroft; but the most frequently reprinted is Geoffrey Hamlyn (1859) by Henry Kingsley, brother of the English novelist Charles Kingsley. Kingsley originated the novel of Australian pastoral life. His main characters are, however, Englishmen who come to Australia for colonial experience and then return to England, as he did. Two fairly prolific early novelists were Marcus Andrew Hislop Clarke and Thomas Alexander Browne, the latter of whom wrote under the name of Rolf Boldrewood. Clarke is most famous for his classic story of the convict era, For the Term of His Natural Life (1874), which exploits the horrors of convict life in the heightened realistic manner of Charles Dickens. Browne's reputation rests on Robbery Under Arms (1888), a classic story of bushranging. It may be described as an Australian Western, a narrative about bush life full of vivid adventures.

Recently two important early works on Australian themes, both on the borderline between fiction and reportage, have come to notice. These are Ralph Rashleigh (1952), probably written in the early 1840s by James Tucker, but belatedly discovered, and Settlers and Convicts (1852), written under the pen name “An Emigrant Mechanic” by Alexander Harris.

Among authors who wrote in the first decades of the 20th century, Henry Hertzberg Lawson is noteworthy as a writer of sketches. Poorly educated, he identified himself with the working people and wrote prolifically about them and their feelings toward Australia. His best work appeared during the 1880s in the weekly newspaper The Bulletin. Humor as well as bitterness is evident in his sketches, which range from sentimental vignettes to strongly realistic studies. Perhaps the volume for which he is best known abroad is While the Billy Boils, published in Travellers' Library in 1927. Miles Franklin (full name Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin; 1879-1954) is best known for her feminist novel My Brilliant Career (1901); an unsparing picture of outback life and a woman writer's beginnings, it was later made into a highly successful film. The finest single work of fiction expressing basic Australian attitudes is Such Is Life (1903) by Joseph Furphy, who used the pen name Tom Collins. Furphy's life was spent as a farmer and driver of bullock teams before the days of the railroad. His book, written in diary form, is a compound of episodic adventures, philosophic and literary opinions, and homely observations about people and conditions in Australia. Katharine Susannah Prichard, whose work began to appear before World War I, interprets Australian life in terms of class struggle. Her best fiction is contained in Working Bullocks (1926), a story of lumbering in western Australia, and Coonardoo (1929), a study of intermarriage.

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