This is a wrap-up of literary awards (with a focus on Miles Franklin Award titles) and Classics reviewed in 2012. Part 1 is here.
What is a classic and how does a book actually become ensconced in the hallowed halls of the ‘canon’ or the ‘academy’? This debate which needs its own space, and much more room than we have here, will always be an interesting and controversial one. Jennifer Mills’ brilliant post in which she writes about the five classics she read for AWW2012 addresses this issue of definition.
All canons are lists and all lists restrictive. ‘Classics’ are a product of their time. What a list of important books does is hammer a marker into the landscape, to be walked around, kicked at, tripped over and fought with. Jennifer Mills
Jane Gleeson-White has written two seminal works on the subject: Australian Classics: 50 Great Writers and their Celebrated Works, and Classics: 62 Great Books from The Iliad to Midnight’s Children.
Geordie Williamson’s The Burning Library features several of our great Australian women writers including M. Barnard Eldershaw (actually two people), Olga Masters, Christina Stead, and Jessica Anderson.
Gleeson-White and Williamson are champions of our forgotten women writers. I’ll be posting (very) belatedly about their discussion Sleeping Beauties: Reviving Australia’s Forgotten Women Writers. It was on at the State Library of NSW in December last year.
As they say, everything old becomes new again so it’s great that there has been such a huge revival of interest in classics which have become popular again. A wide range of classics were reviewed for the 2012 AWW challenge and it is so encouraging to see our forgotten women writers being re-read and reviewed. Virginia Lloyd pointed out that Miles Franklin wasn’t the only woman writing under a male pseudonym; it’s just that she got most of the attention. Lloyd wrote an interesting piece about Henry Handel Richardson’s The Getting of Wisdom which she found to be ‘anti-feminist’.
Angela Meyer reviewed Henry Handel Richardson’s trilogy The Fortunes of Richard Mahony referring to it as ‘a masterpiece, a great novel’ and saying that reading it was one of the most ‘fulfilling literary experiences’ she’d ever had. Christine over at Freud in Oceania reviewed Ultima Thule (Volume 3 of the same trilogy) saying it provided so much insight into the human condition that it could be read and re-read, almost as a stand-alone novel.
James Tierney reviewed Barbara Baynton’s short story Squeaker’s Mate likening it to ‘an old unheard song to which you can somehow hum the tune’.
Sue Terry reviewed Baynton’s short story The Chosen Vessel concluding: ‘I’m not surprised that those late nineteenth century men found her writing confronting and that the Bulletin only ever published one of her short stories, but, for me, Baynton’s writing presents an alternative view of life in the bush that I’m glad we have available today.’
Eleanor Dark’s Lantana Lane was reviewed at Unique Schmuck’s blog. ‘A wonderful read … it’s not really about farming at all. It’s about people, surviving, and being different from the norm, and a true community. It’s also bloody hilarious.’
Jo at Wallaby reviewed We of the Never Never by Aeneas Gunn finding that despite it being ‘a product of its time’, it is worth reading for two reasons. ‘First, it is a book by a woman about a woman’s life in a situation about which we know comparatively little (especially as it applied to women). Secondly, and more importantly, it gives some insight (although not, perhaps, the insight the author intended) into attitudes of the day in relation to race and gender, especially the former, and the atrocities committed under the guiding light of those attitudes. This helps us to understand how far we have to go in trying to redress those wrongs.’
Adam reviewed Dymphna Cusack’s A Bough in Hell and was glad he persevered with it despite struggling to ‘get into it’ at first. ‘I’ve never read any Dymphna Cusack before – she’s one of those authors people speak of but few have read, which is why I wanted to read her. I’m so glad I made the effort and I am definitely going to read more of her. Also very keen to track down a memoir or biography too.’
Denise also reviewed A Bough in Hell which she recommends despite being disappointed in the ending. ‘A Bough in Hell is worth reading because of Dymphna Cusack’s excellent powers of description, and her intelligent exploration of alcoholism at a time when it carried more of a stigma than it does now, especially for women.’
Even though Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children was referred to over at Sue Terry’s Whispering Gums as one of the Top 10 ABR Favourite Australian Novels in their 2010 poll (3 out of 10 books were by women), it was reviewed only once as part of the 2012 AWW Challenge and the reader was not impressed. Writereaderly found it: ‘Hard to get into, drag-drag-drag in the middle, and I wish the last 150pp — which were quite good — had been the entirety of the novel. Overrated, not recommended, so glad it’s over!’ It will be interesting to see some more reviews of this landmark novel in 2013 — it’s definitely on my reading list.
Sue Terry, my co-blogger for these wrap-ups has posted here about other literary fiction and non-fiction reviews and the full list of Literary/Classic reviews is here.
I’m a freelance book reviewer, journalist and editor and have worked as a librarian for many years. I’m always feeling guilty about what I ‘should have’ or ‘should be reading.’ I signed up for the AWW challenge in 2012 and this year, as well as doing my own challenge where I’d like to focus on our long-lost women writers, I will be posting updates about Literary Awards and Classics. I blog over at Wordsville and you can find me on Twitter @PaulaGrunseit
Oh these women … what a wonder they were (are). I’m regularly amazed at how much they produced and how little Australians know about them. Let’s hope our challenge improves the situation. Your round up is sure to help.
Like you, I plan to include some of our older writers – including Cusack and more Baynton – in my reading this year.
I loved Jennifer Mills’ description of “classic”. I wish I’d said it!
Thanks Sue! Yes and it would be great to see libraries including these writers in their collections.
Looking forward to discovering them too. Yes Jennifer Mills’ piece is great.
Minor nitpick, but for people trying to find the book this may make things easier: : “We of the Never Never” was released as by “Mrs Aeneas Gunn” rather than by “Aeneas Gunn” as it says above. This is an older form of address where a woman was known as Mrs (husband’s name). Some of the newer editions give her actual name, which was Jeannie Gunn.
Hi Tim and thanks for your comment. Yes I did leave out the ‘Mrs’. Noticed when visiting a couple of online bookstores that the book is searchable via all three options that you’ve mentioned.