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Phillips rejects the view that Lawson's prose lacks technical virtuosity. Phillips argues that Lawson's aim was not to tell a story, but to evoke the quality of Australian living. Lawson's spare narratives, effective understatement and ironic twists within a symmetrical structure produce stories of substantial artistic value.
On the publication of Cecil Mann's edition of Lawson's collected prose, Phillips assesses the best of Lawson's stories and attempts to come to terms with their melancholy tone. He concludes that Lawson combined "his sense of the insecurely triumphant survival of tenderness through endurance" with the rigour of naturalism to produce great works of art. This was achieved because the stories were "formed within the matrix of a defeated man's dark melancholy".