With all the information circulating about Australian literature, you might ask why we need this Anthology. Does it offer anything new? Usually, it is not hard to find some basic information about a writer and their works. This might be brief notes and comments from the writers themselves, their publisher or publicist, or enthusiastic readers. Wikipedia has a lot of information freely available on many writers and literary works, though not so much on Australian writers. Book reviews and other commentary are regularly available in newspapers and magazines and their related websites. These items are generally quite short – ranging from a few sentences to about a thousand words – and they usually represent first impressions. Reviews are often written by creative writers or by people who specialise in reviewing, and are directed towards the general reader. Reviews published in newspapers or magazines evaluate a book, and implicitly or explicitly direct a reader to buy – or not to buy – the book being discussed.
Reviews versus criticism
Criticism is different from each of these forms. Put broadly, criticism's main function is interpretation rather than evaluation, and it is written for a specialist, or for someone seeking a more nuanced discussion of the work, rather than for a general readership. This usually means that it is not as readily available as less specialist material because it tends to be published in academic journals. Academically oriented critical articles are directed to readers interested in reading interpretations of work that bring to bear specialist knowledge on a text or group of texts. The audience tends to be university students or other researchers and academics. Rather than considering the work as a whole, a critical essay generally tries to consider a specific problem or approach in detail, using a range of references, theoretical positions and interpretive stances. In that sense, it can sometimes seem a bit peripheral or not helpful to someone who is trying to write an essay (for example) on a specific topic, or trying to put together a book review for their reading or discussion group. By considering a range of critical writings, however, you can build up a deeper picture of a writer's work, their writing style, their preferred themes, their attitude towards those themes, where their work fits with that of international or national writers and the complexity and richness of their creative work.
Why study Australian literature?
Why study Australian literature? Our initial reaction to this question is: why not? But that is perhaps being a little flippant. Reading literature of any type can influence us and hopefully lead to an understanding and an appreciation of who we are as individuals and as a group and this can add to a sense of belonging. Alternatively, if you feel you don't belong, you might find a writer's work that resonates with your own experience. Reading Australian literature, therefore, can help in our reflections upon who we are as individuals and as a people, offering insights into those distinct and diverse characteristics that make us Australian. Reading stories written by Australian writers may give a sense of 'us' as a nation and of where our particular place might be in the world. More to the point, there is some very good Australian literature that just needs, even demands, to be read, whether for enjoyment or study.
The purpose of The AustLit Anthology of Criticism is to give readers an opportunity to access excellent criticism of some major Australian texts. The aim is to enrich your reading experience. It may be the first time you will read and assess critical/academic articles written by experts in the field. We have selected articles that we think are particularly interesting, useful, or authoritative pieces – although, if you look carefully, you'll also find that some of our critics disagree with each other, and even with the writer, about what specific books mean. It is hoped that in presenting you with this information, the Anthology will be a useful tool which helps in your study of Australian literature.
In choosing the authors, we took into account whose work was currently being studied in the senior secondary school English curriculum in all Australian States and Territories. The Anthology provides access to articles about authors and their works that most closely align with texts regularly being taught at secondary and lower tertiary levels. While there were regional differences – for example, Beverley Farmer's work is only studied in Western Australia – there were nonetheless similarities in the choices made in both authors and texts. While this influenced which writer and texts we finally went with, there was also a bit of crystal-ball gazing on our part – and making decisions on which authors were going to stay on the curriculum list, who was going to come on to it in the next few years and finally who, for whatever reason, will be dropped sometime in the future. Time will tell how right we got it!
For these reasons, among other texts, Cloudstreet has been chosen for Tim Winton , the True History of the Kelly Gang for Peter Carey and My Place for Sally Morgan. In the case of poets, it was possible to introduce a wider scope in the critical response to their work, but, unfortunately, the playwrights/dramatists suffered the same fate as the novelists: our attention has had to be limited, in most cases, to a single work that is most frequently read and studied. Nevertheless, the authors chosen represent a range of Australian creative work – prose, poetry and drama, past and present including such poets as Les Murray, Bruce Dawe and Judith Wright, dramatists David Williamson, Hannie Rayson and Louis Nowra and novelists like David Malouf, Henry Handel Richardson and Marcus Clarke.
What is available
Each author profile begins with a short biography which is directly linked to the AustLit biography page for that author, which gives a more in-depth biography. This biography is followed by a précis of the author's work and a description of the articles. To conclude there is a short bibliography which includes key texts in biography, autobiography, critical articles and books and reference materials. This bibliography is not designed to be totally inclusive, as space does not allow for this. The inclusion is based on their general availability and is also linked back to AustLit.
For students and teachers
The AustLit Anthology of Criticism is designed to be a resource for students and their teachers at secondary and lower tertiary levels. In particular, it is hoped that teachers will use the Anthology, not only in their formal teaching program, but also as part of building the research skills-base for their students.
Finally, it is with thanks that we acknowledge the funding support of both AustLit: The Australian Literature Resource and The University of Queensland.
Leigh Dale and Linda Hale