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y separately published work icon Convict Once : A Poem single work   poetry   "I, Hyacinth, of whom she wrote, now write:"
Alternative title: Convict Once
Issue Details: First known date: 1871... 1871 Convict Once : A Poem
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E. Morris Miller and Frederick T. Macartney's Australian Literature : a Bibliography to 1938 : Extended to 1950 (1956): describes the work as 'a narrative told in the first person by a beautiful and intelligent woman, who, released after serving a sentence of seven years for a felony, assumes the name of Magdalen Power, and becomes governess to a squatter's three daughters ... Her acceptance of this discreet and calm life soon gives way to recognition that she 'was not moulded for peace, or the dreamless repose of assurance'. Mingled vanity, resentment and passion cause her to contrive the separation of Hyacinth from her lover and to win him for herself. The mother of the girls dies, and Magdalen ponders the mystery ... Brooding over her treachery, she imagines that perhaps the mother's spirit exists with knowledge of the wrong Magdalen has done to her daughter. The exploring sensitivity of her mind drives her to the thought of expiation in suicide. She goes out into a storm and is struck down by a falling tree. She is taken back to the homestead, and there is a rather contrived reunion of Hyacinth and her lover before Magdalen dies repentant' (445).


  • H. M. Green's A History of Australian Literature : Pure and Applied (1961): 167-168 comments: 'A great deal of laudatory nonsense was talked about 'Convict Once', even as late as the nineties and nineteen-hundreds, but it is unjustifiably neglected today. It is a monodrama, reflective, analytical and passionate: but the drama is melodrama; the thought is not remarkable; the analysis is not penetrating and is confined to the principal character, the others being mere shadows; and the passion, which is voluptuous without being sensual, is not very convincing; the whole poem belongs to the world of books rather than to the real world.The plot is ingenious, a little too ingenious perhaps:...'Convict Once' is written in four-line verses of alternately rhyming six-beat lines: its rhythms are varied extremely cleverly, for Stephens was a careful and accomplished craftsman; but with Stephens, as with most poets, the hexameter encouraged longwindedness....But Stephens has a tendency towards latinization in any case; it is worth noticing how his tendency brings him in contact with Johnson and his age, whose last echo sounds in 'Convict Once' (167-168).

    Barbara Garlick (68) comments: 'The term "monodrama" in its Tennysonian form, as defined by A. Dwight Culler, is appropriate to describe Convict Once: a work which enacts "successive phases of passion" through the voice of a single speaker in a continuous present narrative ("Monodrama and the Dramatic Monologue," PMLA 90, no.3 [May 1975]: 366-385)'. (Barbara Garlick 'Colonial Canons: The Case of James Brunton Stephens' Victorian Poetry 40.1 (2002): 55-70).

  • Patrick Buckridge observes that ' Convict Once narratively enacts the social incorporation of one kind of "incivility", that of convictism itself, and the social exclusion of another, that of unlicensed sexuality. In this sense the poem can be read as a kind of foundation myth for middle-class Moreton Bay in its post-penal phase (notwithstanding the complete absence of local colour). Technically, it is a remarkable achievement, composed in a very demanding "classical" form, a four-line stanza, with alternating rhymes and alternating line-lengths of seventeen and sixteen syllables ("hexameters", in effect), sustained faultlessly for eighty pages....Convict Once does reveal that interest in morbid and pathological mental states that somehow epitomises the final "decadent" decade of the nineteenth century.' (Patrick Buckridge 'Roles for Writers: Brisbane and Literature, 1859-1975' in By the Book: A Literary History of Queensland ed. Patrick Buckridge and Belinda McKay (2007): 22-23).


Convict Once J. Brunton Stephens , 1924 single work poetry
— Appears in: A Book of Queensland Verse 1924; (p. 20-25)

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

    • London,
      United Kingdom (UK),
      Western Europe, Europe,
      Macmillan ,
      1871 .
      Extent: [iv],169p.p.
  • Appears in:
    y separately published work icon Convict Once and Other Poems J. Brunton Stephens , Melbourne : George Robertson , 1885 Z131897 1885 selected work poetry Melbourne : George Robertson , 1885 pg. [1]-114
  • Appears in:
    y separately published work icon The Poetical Works of Brunton Stephens J. Brunton Stephens , Sydney : Angus and Robertson , 1902 Z404893 1902 selected work poetry Sydney : Angus and Robertson , 1902 pg. 291 - 403
    • With title: Convict Once
    • Divided into parts: Proëm (narrated by Hyacinth); Part First, containing sixteen numbered parts; Part Second, containing eight numbered parts; Part Third, containing six numbered parts, and; Part Fourth, containing three numbered parts.

Works about this Work

y separately published work icon James Brunton Stephens Cecil Hadgraft , St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 1969 Z429563 1969 single work biography

Biography of the Queensland poet.

Stephens v. Stephens Alfred George Stephens , 1959 single work biography
— Appears in: The Bulletin , 26 August vol. 80 no. 4150 1959; (p. 44)
Fifty Years of Brunton Stephens 1921 single work column
— Appears in: The Queenslander , 5 February 1921; (p. 3)
Convict Once, and Other Poems 1901 single work criticism biography
— Appears in: The Bulletin , 11 May vol. 22 no. 1108 1901; (p. 2)
An Australian Poet 1887 single work criticism biography
— Appears in: The Australian Town and Country Journal , 5 February vol. 35 no. 891 1887; (p. 279)
Recent Verse 1871 single work review
— Appears in: The Examiner , 1 April no. 3296 1871; (p. 323-24)

— Review of Convict Once : A Poem J. Brunton Stephens , 1871 single work poetry
Fifty Years of Brunton Stephens 1921 single work column
— Appears in: The Queenslander , 5 February 1921; (p. 3)
Mr. J. Brunton Stephens' Poems 1880 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Pacific Weekly : Magazine and Review , 24 July vol. 1 no. 11 1880; (p. 254-255)
James Brunton Stephens Alexander Sutherland , 1884 single work biography
— Appears in: Melbourne Review , October vol. 9 no. 36 1884; (p. 363-379) Once a Month , 15 December vol. 3 no. 6 1885; (p. 401-407)
Convict Once, and Other Poems 1901 single work criticism biography
— Appears in: The Bulletin , 11 May vol. 22 no. 1108 1901; (p. 2)
Australian Poetry S.S.T. , 1876 single work criticism
— Appears in: Melbourne Review , April vol. 1 no. 2 1876; (p. 202-230)
Last amended 5 Dec 2018 11:02:52
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