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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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6. Matriculation 213


Chapter Six Matriculation The mind of man is capable of anything-because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future. Conrad, Heart of Darkness As we have examined Australia Felix so far, in terms of the protagonist's limited colonial psychology, we have seen that Henry Handel Richardson used techniques of narrative distancing to underscore the self-imposed nature of Richard Mahony's isolation. The narrative attitudes which stand at the end of Australia Felix change drastically, however, in the course of two sequels: Richardson's composite trilogy greatly increases in power as it progresses (Bradbrook 131). In the gap of eight years between the publication of Australia Felix and the appearance of The Way Home, Richardson discarded the privilege of ironic distancing. The presentation of Richard Mahony becomes gradually more personal, gradually more sympathetic, and, in Ultima Thule, eventually horrifying. Distaste and distortion become disorientation, until Mahony is placeless both in the physical environment and in Australian society. Tracing that progression through the second and third volumes of Richardson's trilogy will reveal more about how Australian novels accommodate change and limitation, particularly as they continue to cite the historical and spatial locations of meaning we have noticed so far. At first, we are tempted to take a broadly cultural view of Richard Mahony's disdain for Australian opportunity, since it stems from absolutist and invidious definitions of quality. He feels himself languishing in Australia, even against what seems to be a reasonably bright background of possibility. But Mahony's pretensions in...

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