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Issue Details: First known date: 2009... 2009 From Fixity to Fluidity : The Theme of Identity in Thomas Keneally's Fiction
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

'Born into an Irish Catholic family in Sydney, Thomas Keneally published his first novel, The Place at Whitton, in 1964, four years after he abandoned his study for priesthood. The success of that gothic horror set in a seminary triggered a successful writing career of over forty years, in which he produced 25 novels, while making frequent and fruitful incursions into the world of nonfiction. Today Keneally is Australia’s best-known writer and Australia’s living treasure. Although Spielberg’s Schindler’s List became a media event and a household word in the 1990s, it hardly qualified Keneally as an overnight sensation. By that time, Keneally was already a widely acclaimed writer in Britain and America, truly “international”, as the Australians would like to put it, since he had publishers on both sides of the Atlantic and had won the 1982 Booker Prize. Despite discernible changes in his earlier and later works, it’s almost impossible, even as a critical expediency, to divide Keneally’s writing career into clearly marked stages. Writing on both “Australian” and “international” themes, and constantly shifting between past and present, Keneally failed to follow the normal path of arrival, growth and maturity, much to the disappointment of some Australian critics, who eagerly delighted in anticipating the destination of his literary journey...' (Author's introduction)


  • Includes :

    – Bibliography (190-208)

    – A Thomas Keneally Chronology (209-216)

    – Index (217-228

  • Epigraph:

    Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social relations, everlasting uncertainty and agitation, distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier times. All fixed, fast-frozen relationships, with their train of venerable ideas and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become obsolete before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and men at last are forced to face with sober sense the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men. —-Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto

    It is a majestic trope that Keneally is developing seriatim in his fiction. —- Manly Johnson, “Thomas Keneally’s nightmare of history”

    Because a certain piece of work is consistent with a theory, critics shower praises on it. This is, in fact, an insult on the writer. —- Shen Congwen, “Foreword to Bian Cheng


* Contents derived from the Qindao,
East Asia, South and East Asia, Asia,
China Ocean University Press , 2009 version. Please note that other versions/publications may contain different contents. See the Publication Details.
Identity and Modernity, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'It seems commonplace, in contemporary academia, to stress that our world is undergoing an identity crisis. Finding its way into a wide spectrum of disciplines, the concept of identity becomes the axis around which many far-reaching academic discussions and debates have evolved: globalization and localization, modernity and tradition, gender studies, diaspora, multiculturalism and others. Besides, it’s increasingly common, even in our daily life, to hear identity fumbled for, fretted over 1 and frowned upon, by Chinese employees complaining about corporate culture, by English learners attempting to express what is local in a foreign language, by overseas returnees twice dislodged from a familiar ambience and culture, and by Chinese youngsters reveling in Korean soap operas, Japanese songs and American blockbusters.' (1)
(p. 1-5)
Identity in Australia, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism (p. 5-10)
Clarifications on the Concept of “Identity” and Methodology in the Dissertation, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'The word “identity” as we now use it derives from Erik Erikson in his personality theories in the 1950s. But since then, the word has gained enormous popularity 8 across such a wide spectrum of disciplines, each adding nuances, subtleties and specified contexts to the already confusing term, that one doubts if it is ever possible to properly capture “identity” in dictionary definitions 9. Originating in psychoanalytical studies, the term now features in many new disciplines and areas of academic interest, and has become entangled with a number of academic buzzwords such as power, discourse and politics. While most authors don’t bother to define the word at all, some academics do venture their own definitions, most of which, they would add, are applicable only for a particular purpose and in a particular context.' (10-11)
(p. 10-20)
A Review of Criticism on Keneally, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'No other Australian writer, including the Nobel laureate Patrick White, has ever been so enthusiastically praised and so indulgently protected in his early stage of literary creation. In “The Arrival of Thomas Keneally”, probably the first review on Keneally’s works, Max Harris (1965) delivered a lengthy criticism of Australian literary writing in particular and intellectual disposition in general, to be followed by lavish exaltation on and ecstatic hope for young Tom, whose first novel, Harris 19 believed, should win the 1964 Miles Franklin Award. ' (29)
(p. 21-29)
Major Disputes and Achievements in Criticism on Keneally, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'Keneally’s works and the criticism on them have generated quite a number of controversial issues. In the 1960s and 1970s, challenges were presented in a seemingly gracious manner, constructive in a way in that Keneally later adopted some of the suggestions in his writing and that discussions on subjects deeply imbedded in the Australian imagination were meaningful in themselves. However, since the 1980s and in the 1990s especially, critics no longer associated Keneally with the great “Australian” concerns such as displacement and colonial memory, on the understanding that Keneally was simply too international to be of any “Australian” value, and too commercial to be a focus of highbrow criticism.' (29)
(p. 29-40)
Australian Identity Anxiety in "the Rise and Fall" of Keneally, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'Taken as a whole, criticism on Thomas Keneally reveals as much about the Australian critical climate and Australian culture as it does the writer himself. A close examination of the critical tendency reveals how the obsessive insistence on “Australian” writing has rendered critics unable and unwilling to probe deeper into the themes of Keneally’s novels, and how critics’ eagerness to establish and define a unique Australian identity has led to their “making and unmaking” of an internationally renowned writer.' (40)
(p. 40-45)
Deficiencies in Criticism on Keneally, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'Despite the wide attention granted to Keneally’s works and activities, there are still deficiencies in Keneally criticism, as summed up in the following. First, critics have given too much unjustifiable attention to the extra-literary aspects of Keneally’s writing, such as what he should write about, how fast he should write and how much he has earned by writing. These issues, hardly relevant to a 40 writer’s achievement, often came to the foreground and even overwhelmed truly critical concerns. ' (45)
(p. 45-56)
The Sense of Place in Australia, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
Introduction to chapter three.
(p. 57-59)
Transported and Transmuted, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'To the transported convicts, the first dominant feature of Australia is that it is too far away from the center of civilization. To undergo hardships on the sea with a messianic confidence (as the Pilgrims Fathers of America did) can at least be imagined as self-fulfillment; to be chained and locked in cabins on an eight-month long voyage without any decent purpose at all is totally another thing, disorienting to say the least. “Each on his or her eighteen inches of bed space”, looking out through the portholes of the ship (Keneally 1987a: 18), the convicts know but one thing: it’s a long distance from their home. They’re sent to the “world’s worse end”, as the opening sentence of Keneally’s Bring Larks and Heroes states (1967: 7). ' (59)
(p. 59-69)
Reversed Nature, Dislocation, and Self-Commissioning, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'Different from the American Pilgrim Fathers, the early Europeans come to Australia without a dignified purpose. What’s worse, the Australian landscape defies their efforts to find a mission in local context. Everything here is different, alien and unaccountable, thwarting all attempts to subject it to European cognizance and interpretation. Even the most ardent scientist cannot find a proper mode of linguistic expression for the alien landscape, which leads to the disjunction between discourse and place. However, initial efforts are made by early settlers to find themselves a culturally and psychologically sustaining purpose. Self-commissioning takes such various forms as exploration, scientific studies and settlement, all of which are related, in a subtle but tenacious manner, to the British Empire and to their own past. Yet it is easy to put Australian on the map of the world, but it is difficult to subject the new world to the general scheme of the Empire. It simply refuses to be part of it. The wrestling with a troubled identity drives them to missionary activities in the land, which unfortunately further exacerbates the crisis rather than overcoming it, for in doing so, they forsake the sense of belonging “there”, only to find they can hardly belong “here”. ' (69-70)
(p. 69-77)
"The Outback", "River Towns" and a New Nation, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'Towns are significant in the Australian nation-building process because they mark a new attitude toward the land, and hence a new way of life. If the early convicts are visitors who have no other choice, the immigrants who build the towns in the outback are willing settlers in this new land. Instead of regarding the land as a disorienting and disappointing “hell” they happen to be thrown into, the immigrants tend to look on the bush, the pasture and the farm as a place with new hope and new opportunities. Though they still carry old aesthetic expectations and occasionally lament the strangeness and barrenness of “the outback”, they are far more ready to adapt and of course, to re-create. In this sense, towns are the beginning of really positive and constructive interactions between Australians and their land. ' (77)
(p. 77-85)
Keneally the Mapper : Keneally’s Settings and Australian National Identity, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'Keneally is not known as a pastoralist or a romanticist. In terms of the Australian land, his uniqueness lies not in picturesque descriptions of the landscape, but in outlining a larger framework in which to consider the Australian sense of place, and in searching for possible communications between man and land, upon which a sound identity, both personal and national, can be established. ' (85)
(p. 85-93)
"The Past Is A Foreign Country", Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
Introduction to chapter four.
(p. 94-95)
The Criminal Past in Present : Keneally's Portrayal of Colonial Society, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism

'For those who wrote about her before she was known to exist, Australia was in image a Utopia, a sort of Paradise However, the realities shattered this image. The First Fleet carried not pious and self-righteous Christians as Mayflower did, but perjurers, thieves, robbers, secret society members, and burglars – all “hangable material”(Keneally 1987b: 70). In other words, every corner of their present is marked with the crime of their past. '


(p. 95-105)
The Sense of Guilt: Inherited and Imagined, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'Past crimes not only cripple, on the national scale, the imagination of early white settlers and therefore that of their descendants, but also penetrate the conscious being of the individual, in the form of ancestor heritage and personal memories. Though no less marked by the sense of guilt and by the interaction between past and present, the 95 latter is more personal and palpable in our concern of identity, and more allegorical and tangible in Keneally’s representations. ' (106)
(p. 106-118)
Keneally’s View of History and Historical Writing, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism

'Keneally has been persistent in writing about history and in diversifying his historical subject matter. As one of the Irish descendants who “have been accused of an elephantine memory of their past wrongs”(Keneally 1971: 46), Keneally shows “unusual courage”(Kramer 1967: 19) in tackling the hopelessly commonplace history of Australia. There are of course personal predilections and technical conveniences, which Keneally, being a talkative and candid man, is not ashamed to vocalize in very general terms:

I think writers will always be attracted by the past. It is less confusing than the present. Historians have already reduced it to some understandable unity for us. Their gift is beyond estimation. (1975a: 29) (118)

(p. 118-131)
"Imagined Enemies" : Aborigines and White Identity, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
Introduction to chapter five.
(p. 132-134)
Keneally’s Aboriginal Characters, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'In the huge corpus of Keneally’s works, there is a group of impressive Aboriginal characters; some are minor ones and others are protagonists. In particular, three novels are noted for their outstanding and substantial portrayal of Aborigines, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith in 1972, The Playmaker in 1987, and Flying Hero Class in 1991. Interestingly, the three stories take place respectively in three important stages of Australian history, one in colonial times in 1789, one in 1901, and one shortly before the dawn of the new millennium. With his sustaining interest in this subject, Keneally tries to present a panoramic view of Aboriginal images with a historical vision. ' (134)
(p. 134-142)
Identity and Stigmatization Transferred, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'Keneally never forgets to weave his discussion of the Aboriginal issue into the Anglo search for identity in history, a problem which goes back as early as the beginning of white settlement of Australia. Convicts and the Admiralty soldiers, the earliest settlers on the land, come to Australian “stigmatized”. ' (142)
(p. 142-150)
The Stranger in Cultural Clashes : A Postcolonial Dilemma, Xiaojin Zhou , 2009 single work criticism
'The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, like other novels dealing with racial relations, is inevitably interpreted in the Australian political context whereas its theme of cultural colonization is less attended to. In fact, the thematic emphasis of the novel falls on colonization in terms of culture rather than politics, pointing to the dangling state of the colonized and the loss of cultural identity. The significance of Keneally’s representation lies in its attempt to perceive the history of white-black relations by deconstructing such dualisms as white-aborigine, colonizer-colonized and exploitation-revolt. As a cultural “stranger”, the character of Jimmie hints at the possibility of defusing dichotomy and Eurocentrism.' (150-151)
(p. 150-159)

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Last amended 18 Sep 2015 07:44:34
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