'But, what is an essay? In his introduction to the 2014 volume of The Best Australian Essays, Robert Manne tackles the question of definition (intriguingly, one nearly every editor in the series has also foregrounded) and hopes, given this is his ‘second innings’, that it is a problem he now has a clearer view of:
I had thought of an essay as any brief piece of non-fiction prose. I no longer do […] For me at least, an essay is a reasonably short piece of prose in which we hear a distinctive voice attempting to recollect or illuminate or explain one or another aspect of the world. It follows from this that no essay could be jointly authored. It also follows, that, with an essay, we trust that the distinctive voice we hear is truthful or authentic, even when perhaps it is not. (ix)
That Manne drops ‘non-fiction’ from his definition seems significant. As does his emphasis on a distinctive voice, authentic and truthful, even when perhaps it is not.'