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Reviewed by:
Bernard Hickey. Lines of Implication: Australian Short Fiction from Lawson to Palmer. Venezia: Cafoscarina, 1984. 249 pp. 18,000 lire.
Carole Ferrier, ed. Gender, Politics and Fiction: Twentieth Century Australian Women's Novels. St. Lucia: U of Queensland P, 1985. 262 pp. $32.50.

If there is such a thing as a law of unintended consequences, then the content of Ferrier's book could be seen as having been conceived in reaction to the bias of Hickey's survey. Neither volume really succeeds in providing us with a sufficiently substantiated context in which to examine the cultural and literary pressures that have induced such a reaction. [End Page 392]

As far back as 1976, Harry Heseltine contended in his introduction to The Penguin Book of Australian Short Stories that the critical orthodoxy that acknowledged Henry Lawson as both the "chronological founder of the tradition of the Australian short story" and "the source of most that is imaginatively important in it" had failed to accommodate the complex reaction against "bush" realism in the work of Patrick White and Hal Porter. In spite of this recognition, Heseltine's selection, in line with the masculine-oriented Lawson-Furphy tradition, omitted stories by important women writers including Henry Handel Richardson, Christina Stead, and Ethel Anderson.

Bernard Hickey's unexceptionable and superficial study, which includes a Coda on White and Porter, does little to shed light on the emergence of these writers in relation to the sanctioned orthodoxy. Among notable omissions from Hickey's perfunctory index are Rosa Praed (1851-1935), Francis Adams (1862-1893), and Ernest Favenc (1845-1908). The widely-underrated Barbara Baynton (1857-1929) is relegated to one of three patchy appendixes, roughly assembled and inadequately documented. Again, Richardson, Stead, and Anderson are missing. The only women to make the grade are those who conform to the demotic nationalist ideal embodied in Lawson's fiction and sanctioned by Nettie Palmer in 1924 with the publication of her Modern Australian Literature 1900-1923: "M. Barnard Eldershaw" (Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw), Katherine Susannah Pritchard, Mary Gilmore, and Miles Franklin, these last two writers receiving only a glancing mention.

The oversimplifications and falsifications involved in assigning to the blinkered vision of J. F. Archibald and A. G. Stephens, editors of the Sydney Bulletin in the 1890s, the role of onlie begetters of the genre's flowering are considerable. The very significant contribution of women writers of both past and present remains unacknowledged as does the work of male writers whose preoccupations did not happen to coincide with the canon. Charting an unsteady course over ground already effectively covered by Heseltine and, more recently, by Cecil Hadgraft in his painstaking account of the nineteenth-century short story in Australia in his introduction to The Australian Short Story Before Lawson, Hickey fails to extend our awareness at either an historical or interpretative level.

Against such a background, it is small wonder that Australian feminist critics should be attempting to reassess the fictional tradition, often with impatient hostility. The rationale for Gender, Politics and Fiction is presented by Carole Ferrier in her polemical introduction that appears to signal revolution rather than reform:

Gender, Politics and Fiction brings together a range of new readings of twentieth century Australian women's fiction from socialist and/or feminist standpoints. These critical approaches reflect the current questioning of the literary establishment's construction of the institution of literary criticism, its notions of 'literary value', and its concept of 'literature.'

The fact that this sometimes exasperatingly eclectic collection appears unable to make up its collective mind about the meaning of its basic terms or the scope of their application must be ascribed to editorial slackness.

Some of the essays show a subtlety of understanding of the need to define certain assumptions and stereotypes operative in fiction and its critics. Susan Gardner's study of Miles Franklin's My Brilliant Career is a balanced look at the subor-dination [End Page 393] of feminist loyalties and identifications to nationalist pressures. Susan Sheridan's essay on The Man Who Loved Children reveals loaded anomalies and ideological blind spots in feminist perspectives on the family as representative of older patriarchal patterns...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 392-395
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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