For thirty years I have been reading and laughing over the great comic writer, James Joyce. For the last fifteen years I have coordinated Sydney's Finnegans Wake reading group. I am currently working on a collection of essays entitled James Joyce in Australia: Views from the Antipathies.
James Joyce and John Clarke
An essay about the influence of James Joyce on the great Australian comic writer – now sadly departed – John Clarke. John Clarke also spent many years reading, laughing over and learning from James Joyce . His parody of Finnegans Wake can be downloaded from his website: mrjohnclarke.com. Seriously funny!
Elizabeth von Arnim
Possibly my most important literary discovery since James Joyce is Elizabeth von Arnim. Born Mary Beauchamp in Kirribilli, her family moved to London when she was three, so she is often claimed as a ‘British novelist’. Yet, like her cousin Katherine Mansfield, she retained a restlessness all her life that I fancy reflects a continuing sense of belonging elsewhere. Elizabeth and her German Garden was her first novel, written in diary form, and therefore interpreted by many as directly autobiographical. It made her so famous that her subsequent twenty-two books appeared simply as ‘By Elizabeth’ or ‘By the Author of Elizabeth and her German Garden'. A best-seller, as were many of her other novels, she went on to become that most unusual and enviable of celebrities: a fabulously wealthy writer. Elizabeth von Arnim’s masterpiece, it is generally agreed among the small but growing group of Elizabeth aficionados, is Vera , apparently based on her second marriage to Lord Frances Russell (brother of Bertrand). Such is her skill that von Arnim succeeds in portraying the true nature of domestic violence without a raised voice, a threatening fist or a single bruise. It stands out from the other novels which are essentially satiric, and a showcase for her Wildean wit. But what makes von Arnim really special is her ability to write about happiness. No other writer comes near to the joy she can invoke on the page. If you want entertainment which also acts as an anti-depressant, Elizabeth is your woman. She should be known as one of our great Australian writers.
In terms of influence on a generation of children, Ivan Southall has been described as the equivalent to C.S. Lewis. But after enjoying huge success and popularity in the 1960s and 70s, novelist Ivan Southall is now all but forgotten. According to James Maloney, Southall 'paved the way for John Marsden'. He certainly had a great impact on me as a nine-year-old in 1968. My essay on Ivan Southall, 'Like a Love Affair' will appear as part of the anthology Reading the Landscape due for release in April, 2018 from the University of Queensland Press.
Australian writer Randolph Stow, who died in May of 2010, gained an international reputation that few of his generation could equal. By the time Stow had completed his undergraduate degree, he had written one book of poetry, three novels and won four literary prizes, including the Miles Franklin. Later on in life, Stow was the winner of the Patrick White Award, and his work was compared to that of Australia’s only Nobel Prize winner for literature. Yet Stow is not nearly as well-known as White. Indeed, many Australians have never heard of him, despite his formidable talent, substantial output and critical acclaim. My book on Stow, Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and My Family was the co-winner of the 2014 Prime Minister's Literary Award for Non-Fiction.