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The Australian Novel 1830-1980

A Thematic Introduction


John Scheckter

This volume introduces the reader to a powerful and rewarding territory: the Australian novel. Both drawing from and rebelling against the power of Europe. Australian writers asserted from the beginning that experience «down under» demands thorough observation and thoughtful expression. Exploration of the vast land, framed by the horrors of penal establishment and challenged by encounters with Aboriginal cultures, produced novels of irony and expectation, cynicism and celebration - works that demonstrate the flexibility and unflinching clarity that remain characteristically Australian down to the postcolonial present.


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4. A Glass Darkly 123


Chapter Four A Glass Darkly They will vanish from the face of the earth; their very history will be lost in forgetfulness, and "the places that now know them will know them no more for ever." Or if, perchance, some dubious memorial of them should survive, it may be in the romantic dreams of the poet, to people in imagination his glades and groves, like the fauns and satyrs and sylvan deities of antiquity. But should he venture upon the dark story of their wrongs and wretchedness; should he tell how they were invaded, corrupted, despoiled, driven from their native abodes and the sepulchers of their fathers, with violence and butchery to the grave, posterity will either turn with horror and incredulity from the tale, or blush with indignation at the inhumanity of their forefathers. Washington Irving, "Traits of Indian Character" The convicts existed in history. While the transportation system represents the worst aspects of English and Australian experience, it nonetheless comprises a recognizable set of characteristics, personalities, and events which we can analyze in historical terms. The structure of the system forces deep rhetorical change upon the language used to describe it; certainly, it forces us to extrapolate beyond conventional definitions of isolation and reduction. While these shifts challenge some central self- images, they also demonstrate the survival of larger social and conceptual structures. When we examine the literature of convictism, we are able to see it historically: kinds of meaning and methods of narration emerge to fit an...

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