Literature, Later Fiction
Fortunes of Richard Mahony, Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Henry Handel Richardson, Schindler's Ark, Elizabeth Jolley
One of the finest craftsmen of Australian fiction was Frank Dalby Davison, known primarily for his animal stories. The most distinctive of these, Man-Shy, was published in the United States as Red Heifer (1934). It is a subtly conceived story of a maverick on a Queensland cattle station. He is quite as discerning in his stories of human character, as, for example, in his study of pre-World War II suburban life in Sydney, the novel The White Thorn Tree (1968). Eleanor Dark wrote excellent historical novels, especially The Timeless Land (1941), which is about the founding of Australia; she also wrote novels of contemporary life. Both types of her fiction are distinguished by psychological perception and brilliant descriptions of the landscape. Xavier Herbert showed his passionate concern for the plight of the Aborigines in such novels as Capricornia (1938).
The Australian writer of the middle generation who was best known abroad was Henry Handel Richardson, the pen name of Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson. Her earliest novel of note was Maurice Guest (1908), an autobiographical story of an Australian studying music in Germany, but her trilogy, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (1917, 1925, 1929), is by far her most widely appreciated work. The latter novel, based on the life of the author's father, begins with the gold rushes of the 1850s and then penetratingly describes various aspects of Australian life in later decades. The main character, after whom the trilogy is named, is an unstable Irish doctor who intensely dislikes Australian life; he is considered one of the major creations of Australian literature. With profound insight, Richardson develops Australian themes in the European tradition of psychological realism.
Several other 20th-century Australian novelists enjoy reputations outside their own country. One of them is Kylie Tennant, whose first novel, Tiburon (1935), was a distinguished achievement. Among her major works are The Joyful Condemned (1953), a novel concerned with working women in the Sydney slums, and The Battlers (1954), a regional novel of caravan life in southwestern Australia. These hardheaded realistic studies are characterized by a fine sense of comedy and are written in a racy Australian idiom. Tennant's nonfiction includes Australia: Her Story; Notes on a Nation (1953).
The major figure among contemporary Australian novelists was Patrick White, the first Australian to win a Nobel Prize in literature (1973). His Tree of Man (1954), set in the Australian bush country, is an ambitious attempt to describe the courage, dignity, and essential loneliness of the people of the open farmlands. Voss, written in 1957, is a novel about a 19th-century German explorer who tries unsuccessfully to penetrate to the remote interior of the continent. It is written in White's very individual style with great imaginative boldness. His novels, such as The Solid Mandala (1966), The Vivisector (1970), and The Eye of the Storm (1973), another of his powerful character studies, also attained favor outside Australia.
Jon Cleary, author of The Sundowners (1952), scored notable popular success. John O'Grady, under the pen name Nino Culotta, wrote They're a Weird Mob (1957), a comic novel that became one of the best-sellers of all Australian novels. International bestsellerdom was achieved by Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds (1977), a family saga translated into many languages and made into a television drama. Worldwide fame was achieved by Christina Stead and Morris West. Stead's finest novel was a bitter depiction of a failed marriage, The Man Who Loved Children (1940; revised ed. 1965); among her other fiction was The Little Hotel (1973). West wrote several international best-sellers, including The Devil's Advocate (1959) and The Shoes of the Fisherman (1963). Thomas Michael Keneally has received overseas acclaim for The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1972), the story of an Aborigine's revenge, which was made into an equally powerful film; and Schindler's Ark (1982), which won the prestigious Booker Prize in England. Other important recent novelists are Elizabeth Jolley, whose Miss Peabody's Inheritance (1984) and Foxybaby (1985) have excited interest abroad; and David Malouf, whose fiction includes An Imaginary Life (1978), designated by the National Book Council as one of Australia's Ten Best Books of the Decade, and Harland's Half Acre (1984), the story of an Australian artist and the cultural life of his country.
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