AustLit logo
image of person or book cover 4712969602367992144.jpg
This image has been sourced from online.
y separately published work icon Capricornia : A Novel single work   novel  
Issue Details: First known date: 1938... 1938 Capricornia : A Novel
The material on this page is available to AustLit subscribers. If you are a subscriber or are from a subscribing organisation, please log in to gain full access. To explore options for subscribing to this unique teaching, research, and publishing resource for Australian culture and storytelling, please contact us or find out more.

AbstractHistoryArchive Description

Arriving in Capricornia (a fictional name for the Northern Territory) in 1904 with his brother Oscar, Mark Shillingworth soon becomes part of the flotsam and jetsam of Port Zodiac (Darwin) society. Dismissed from the public service for drunkenness, Mark forms a brief relationship with an Aboriginal woman and fathers a son, whom he deserts and who acquires the name of Naw-Nim (no-name). After killing a Chinese shopkeeper, Norman disappears from view until the second half of the novel.

Oscar, the respectable contrast to Mark, marries and tries to establish himself on a Capricornian cattle station, Red Ochre, but is deserted by his wife and eventually returns for a time to Batman (Melbourne), accompanied by his daughter Marigold and foster son Norman, who has been sent to him after Mark's desertion.

Oscar rejects the plea of a former employee, Peter Differ, to see to the welfare of his daughter Constance; Constance Differ is placed under the 'protection' of Humboldt Lace, a Protector of Aborigines, who seduces her and then marries her off to another man of part-Aboriginal descent. Forced into prostitution, Constance is dying of consumption when discovered by a railway fitter, Tim O'Cannon, who will take care of Constance's daughter, Tocky, until his own death in a train accident.
Hearing news in 1928 of an economic boom in Capricornia, Oscar returns to his station, where he is joined by Marigold and Norman, who has grown to manhood believing himself to be the son of a Javanese princess and a solider killed in the First World War. Soon after, he discovers his mother was an Aboriginal woman, and meets his father, with whom he will not reconcile until later in the novel. Norman then goes on a series of journeys to discover his true, part-Aboriginal self. On the second of these journeys, he meets and wanders in the wilderness with Tocky, who has escaped from the mission station to which she was sent after the death of O'Cannon. During this passage, she kills a man in self-defense, which leads to Norman's being accused of murder, at the same time his father is prosecuted for the death of the Chinese shopkeeper. At the end of the novel they are both acquitted, Heather and Mark are married, and Norman returns to Red Ochre, where he finds the body of Tocky and their child in a water tank in which she had taken refuge from the authorities. (Source: Oxford Companion to Australian Literature)

Notes

  • From ca. 1956 many editions have the dedication: To sweet Sadie Norden out of whose love it grew
  • Other formats: Also sound recording, large print.

Contents

* Contents derived from the North Ryde, Ryde - Gladesville - Hunters Hill area, Northwest Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales,:Angus and Robertson , 1990 version. Please note that other versions/publications may contain different contents. See the Publication Details.
Capricornia : Introduction, Mudrooroo , 1990 single work criticism (p. vii-xiv)

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

Alternative title: Capricornia
    • Sydney, New South Wales,: Publicist Publishing Company , 1938 .
      Extent: 595p.
      Limited edition info: 'Of this book a first edition of 2,000 copies has been printed, including 50 numbered copies on pure rag paper.'
      Description: Map on endpapers.
      Note/s:
      • 'First printing completed December, 1937.'
    • Sydney, New South Wales,: Angus and Robertson , 1938 .
      Extent: x, 510p.p.
      Edition info: 2nd ed. January 1938.
      Edition info: First A & R edition
      Description: Map on endpapers.
      Reprinted: 1938 November
    • London,
      c
      England,
      c
      c
      United Kingdom (UK),
      c
      Western Europe, Europe,
      :
      Rich & Cowan ,
      1939 .
      Extent: x, 549p.p.
    • London,
      c
      England,
      c
      c
      United Kingdom (UK),
      c
      Western Europe, Europe,
      :
      Angus and Robertson ,
      1939 .
      Extent: xi, 549p.p.
      Edition info: 1st English ed.
      Description: Map on endpapers.
    • New York (City), New York (State),
      c
      United States of America (USA),
      c
      Americas,
      :
      Appleton ,
      1943 .
      Extent: xiv, 648 [ie. 649]p.p.
      Description: Map on endpapers.
      Note/s:
      • Foreword by Carl Van Doren.
    • Sydney, New South Wales,: Angus and Robertson , 1956 .
      Extent: vii, 448p.p.
      Description: Map on endpapers.
      Reprinted: 1959
      Note/s:
      • 1959 reprint has with some alteration of preliminary material.
    • Sydney, New South Wales,: Sirius Books , 1963 .
      Extent: viii, 448p.p.
      Reprinted: 1965
      Note/s:
      • Does not include the list of Principal Characters that appears in earlier editions.
      • Includes Publisher's Note, vii-viii.
      Series: Sirius Books Sirius Quality Paperbacks Angus and Robertson (publisher), series - publisher
    • Sydney, New South Wales,: Pacific Books , 1969 .
      Extent: viii, 448p.p.
      ISBN: 0207947597
      Series: Pacific Books Angus and Robertson (publisher), 1961 series - publisher The establishment of this paperback imprint of Angus Robertson was spearheaded by Beatrice Davis. It started with print runs of 20,000 in 1961 (Paper Empires: History of Book in Australia, 18).This paperback series, published by Angus and Robertson, contains both numbered and unnumbered volumes.
    • New York (City), New York (State),
      c
      United States of America (USA),
      c
      Americas,
      :
      Award Books ,
      1969 .
      Extent: 566p.
      Description: map.
      Reprinted: 1976
      Note/s:
      • Foreword by Carl van Doren.
    • Sydney, New South Wales,: Angus and Robertson , 1972 .
      Extent: vii, 448p.p.
      Reprinted: 1977
      Note/s:
      • With short title: Capricornia
      • Introduced by Laurie Hergenhan.
      ISBN: 0207125279(pbk)
    • Sydney, New South Wales,: Arkon Paperbacks , 1975 .
      Alternative title: Xavier Herbert's Capricornia
      Extent: x, 510p.p.
      Reprinted: 1975 , 1977 , 1981 , 1985
      ISBN: 0207133042, 0207132674
      Series: Arkon Paperbacks Angus and Robertson (publisher), 1972 series - publisher Arkon is a paperback reprint imprint of the Australian publisher Angus and Robertson. The series was launched in 1972 to be merchandised in connection with T. V. series and involved the cartoonist Patrick Cook.
    • Kensington, Randwick area, Sydney Eastern Suburbs, Sydney, New South Wales,: Times House , 1984 .
      Extent: x, 510p.p.
      Note/s:
      • The Collector's Library of Australia's Great Books
      • Times House Publishing in association with The Australian
      ISBN: 0858356953
    • North Ryde, Ryde - Gladesville - Hunters Hill area, Northwest Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales,: Angus and Robertson , 1996 .
      Extent: xiv, 510p.p.
      Description: map.
      Note/s:
      • This edition is part of the A & R Classics series.
      • With short title: Capricornia
      • Includes introduction by Mudrooroo Nyoongah from the Angus & Robertson 1990 edition.
      ISBN: 0207189730
      Series: y separately published work icon A and R Classics Angus and Robertson (publisher), Z1411167 series - publisher
    • Pymble, Turramurra - Pymble - St Ives area, Sydney Northern Suburbs, Sydney, New South Wales,: HarperCollins , 1996 .
      Extent: xx, 577p.p.
      Reprinted: 2002
      Note/s:
      • This edition is part of the A & R Classics series.
      ISBN: 0207199558
      Series: y separately published work icon A and R Classics Angus and Robertson (publisher), Z1411167 series - publisher
    • Pymble, Turramurra - Pymble - St Ives area, Sydney Northern Suburbs, Sydney, New South Wales,: HarperCollins , 2008 .
      image of person or book cover 4712969602367992144.jpg
      This image has been sourced from online.
      Extent: xx, 569p.p.
      Note/s:
      • Gift edition published to coincide with the release of the film Australia. The film's credits acknowledge Capricornia's role in chronicling the events of Northern Australia's history as depicted in the movie.
      ISBN: 9780732289461 (pbk.)
    • Sydney South, South Sydney area, Sydney Southern Suburbs, Sydney, New South Wales,: HarperCollins , 2013 .
      image of person or book cover 6899237499937034670.jpg
      Cover image courtesy of publisher.
      Extent: 624p.
      Note/s:
      • Published: 1st March 2013
      ISBN: 9780732296995, 0732296994
      Series: y separately published work icon A and R Classics Angus and Robertson (publisher), Z1411167 series - publisher
Alternative title: Capricornia : Roman
Language: Swedish
    • Stockholm,
      c
      Sweden,
      c
      Scandinavia, Western Europe, Europe,
      :
      Fritzes ,
      1944 .
      Extent: 758p.
      Reprinted: 1944 , 1948

Works about this Work

y separately published work icon Northern Dreams : The Politics of Northern Development in Australia Lyndon Megarrity , North Melbourne : Australian Scholarly Publishing , 2018 14049080 2018 multi chapter work criticism

'Northern Australia is rediscovered by each new generation of Australian politicians. Dams, mines, large transport projects, a food bowl for Asia and many other projects are promised and sometimes delivered, but then the political momentum fades away and the focus of attention turns to other issues. What is often missing in discussion is the region’s long history of nation-building initiatives and proposals, stretching back to 1901. Without this knowledge we are likely to repeat the mistakes of the past.

'Northern Dreams brings to life the passionate arguments about Northern Australia’s national significance and analyses the political debates that have periodically drawn the public’s attention northwards. It also highlights the role that Australian politicians such as Gough Whitlam, Ben Chifley, Robert Menzies and Bob Hawke played in shaping northern development policies to suit their times. Northern Dreams is the definitive history of the politics of northern development in Australia.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

Remapping Capricornia : Xavier Herbert’s Cosmopolitan Imagination Ellen Smith , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Cultural Studies Review , vol. 23 no. 2 2017; (p. 126-140)

'Since its publication in 1938 critics have generally read Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia as a nationalist novel, even when its nationalism is seen to be structured by contradiction. But little attention has been given to the ways in which Herbert’s complex, multifarious and heteroglossic novel exceeds and challenges the very possibility of coherent national space and a coherent national story. This essay considers moments and spaces in Herbert’s novel where the national is displaced and unravelled. Drawing on Rebecca Walkowitz’s idea of cosmopolitan style and Suvendrini Perera’s work on Australia’s insular imagination I identify a critical cosmopolitanism that inheres in the novel’s geographical imagination and its literary form, particularly the narrative voice which retains a critical distance from the nationalist sensibility of various characters and plot lines, performing a detached and restless homelessness that I identify with the cosmopolitan. Ultimately I ask how the novel’s spatial and environmental imagination displaces its nationalist agenda, making space for a different kind of social imagination—one that does not confine itself to the terms of the nation or organise itself around a central figure for the nation.' (Publication abstract)

Xavier Herbert. Requiem for Genius Russell McDougall , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Cultural Studies Review , vol. 23 no. 2 2017; (p. 106-125)

'In today’s global celebrity culture it’s hard to imagine a word more over-used and abused than ‘genius’. It is a slippery word with a long and contradictory conceptual history. Yet, in the Land of the Tall Poppy, self-confessions of genius invariably have paved a broad road to public ridicule and denigration. Xavier Herbert’s notion of genius was not static. It changed throughout his life and it evolved through his writing. He agreed with Carlyle that the first condition of genius must always be a ‘transcendent capacity of taking trouble’ and on this foundation he built his own concept of genius, as the unending ‘capacity for loving’. This article explores what genius meant to Xavier Herbert and how it translated into his fiction, before considering how our sense of genius today influences the way we respond to his most challenging fictions of love and hate, 'Capricornia' and 'Poor Fellow My Country'.'  (Publication abstract)

‘Little Gunshots, but with the Blaze of Lightning’ : Xavier Herbert, Visuality and Human Rights Jane Lydon , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Cultural Studies Review , vol. 23 no. 2 2017; (p. 87-105)

'Xavier Herbert published his bestseller Capricornia in 1938, following two periods spent in the Northern Territory. His next major work, Poor Fellow My Country (1975), was not published until thirty-seven years later, but was also set in the north during the 1930s. One significant difference between the two novels is that by 1975 photo-journalism had become a significant force for influencing public opinion and reforming Aboriginal policy. Herbert’s novel, centring upon Prindy as vulnerable Aboriginal child, marks a sea change in perceptions of Aboriginal people and their place in Australian society, and a radical shift toward use of photography as a means of revealing the violation of human rights after World War II. In this article I review Herbert’s visual narrative strategies in the context of debates about this key historical shift and the growing impact of photography in human rights campaigns. I argue that Poor Fellow My Country should be seen as a textual re-enactment, set in Herbert’s and the nation’s past, yet coloured by more recent social changes that were facilitated and communicated through the camera’s lens. Like all re-enactments, it is written in the past conditional: it asks, what if things had been different? It poses a profound challenge to the state project of scientific modernity that was the Northern Territory over the first decades of the twentieth century.'  (Publication abstract)

Blood Call and ‘Natural Flutters’ : Xavier Herbert’s Racialised Quartet of Heteronormativity Liz Conor , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Cultural Studies Review , vol. 23 no. 2 2017; (p. 70-86)

'National belonging for Xavier Herbert was intimately tied to interracial sexuality. ‘Euraustralians’ (‘half-castes’) were for Herbert a redemptive motif that could assuage the ‘awful loneliness of the colonial born’ by which he hinted at the land claim of settler-colonials as spurious. Herbert’s exposure of the spectrum of interracial sex—from companionate marriage to casual prostitution to endemic sexual assault—in his novels Capricornia (1938) and Poor Fellow My Country (1975) was unprecedented and potentially game-changing in the administration of Aboriginal women’s sexuality under the assimilation era. But his deeply fraught masculinity was expressed through a picaresque frontier manhood that expressed itself through this spectrum of relations with Aboriginal women. For all his radical assertions of a ‘Euraustralian’ or hybrid nation, Herbert was myopic and dismissive of the women attached to the ‘lean loins’ he hoped it would spring from. He was also vitriolic about the white women, including wives, who interfered with white men’s access to Aboriginal women’s bodies. In this article I examine how Herbert’s utopian racial destinies depended on the unexamined sexual contract of monogamy and the asymmetrical pact to which it consigned white men and white women, and the class of sexually available Indigenous women, or ‘black velvet’, it rested on in colonial scenarios of sex.'  (Publication abstract)

New Australian Books Frederick T. Macartney , 1938 single work review
— Appears in: All About Books , 16 March vol. 10 no. 3 1938; (p. 34-36)

— Review of Capricornia : A Novel Xavier Herbert , 1938 single work novel ; 'Whence Shall We Buy?' Lilian Crago , 1937 selected work poetry ; Antipodean Journey Margaret Macpherson , 1937 single work autobiography
Raw Life in North Australia 1938 single work review
— Appears in: The Central Queensland Herald , 17 February 1938; (p. 12)

— Review of Capricornia : A Novel Xavier Herbert , 1938 single work novel
Untitled 1938 single work review
— Appears in: The North Queensland Register , 19 February 1938; (p. 46)

— Review of Capricornia : A Novel Xavier Herbert , 1938 single work novel
A Worthy Award 1938 single work review
— Appears in: The Central Queensland Herald , 21 April 1938; (p. 12)

— Review of Capricornia : A Novel Xavier Herbert , 1938 single work novel
Untitled 1956 single work review
— Appears in: The Cairns Post , 1 December 1956; (p. 6)

— Review of Capricornia : A Novel Xavier Herbert , 1938 single work novel
y separately published work icon A Long and Winding Road : Xavier Herbert's Literary Journey Sean Monahan , Nedlands : UWA Publishing , 2003 Z1041133 2003 single work criticism
Politics and Xavier Herbert's Women Kevin Green , 1983 single work criticism
— Appears in: Kunapipi , vol. 5 no. 1 1983; (p. 51-62)
An Evening with Xavier Herbert Xavier Herbert , 1976 single work autobiography
— Appears in: LiNQ , vol. 5 no. 1 1976; (p. 1-6)
The Psychoanalytic Approach to Literature Xavier Pons , 1986 single work criticism
— Appears in: LiNQ , vol. 14 no. 1 1986; (p. 36-46)
'Their Ultimate Absorption' : Assimilation in 1930s Australia John Chesterman , Heather Douglas , 2004 single work criticism
— Appears in: Journal of Australian Studies , no. 81 2004; (p. 48-58, notes 205-208)
Discusses the issue of Aboriginal assimilation with reference to Herbert's novel.
Last amended 30 Aug 2017 15:10:24
X