Joseph Furphy's position in Australian literature is firmly established. Whether we know it or not, his great work Such is Life (1903) sits on the edge of every conversation or argument about the development of Australian literature, and, occasionally, it wanders to centre stage, demanding to be heard. Such is Life has served those seeking authentic Australian voices and realist depictions of bush life. It has served those who look into its complex narrative to find a proto-modernist text that resists interpretation. And it has served those who challenge, and are challenged by, its discourses of race, gender, and class.
But, despite many reprintings and several indispensable studies of its textual history, Such is Life, and the correlative works, Rigby's Romance and The Buln-buln and the Brolga, continue to exist in editions that include errors and excessive amounts of editorial intervention.
Furphy's surprise at A. G. Stephens' acceptance of Such is Life for inclusion in the Bulletin Library soon turned to disappointment. Stephens requested a typed version of Furphy's original manuscript, a job which the author took on himself. The job occupied Furphy for more than a year, and he delivered the complete typescript into Stephens' hands in July 1898. Formal acceptance and a contract followed, but Stephens could not convince the Bulletin managers that Furphy's idiosyncratic novel would pay its way. In 1901, Furphy acquiesced to repeated requests to shorten the work by extracting the two longest chapters. He replaced them with two new ones, transferring and expanding text from other chapters. The extracted chapters were revised and expanded to become Rigby's Romance and The Buln-buln and the Brolga, works not published in book form during Furphy's life. All exhibit the hands of many others in errors and interventions that sometimes subdue the sound of the language in the typescript. We are mistaken if we think these published versions are Furphy's solitary work.
The Joseph Furphy Digital Archive aims to provide greater access for more people to the material archive that lies behind Furphy's fiction and poetry. Working within a flexible, modular framework, the first module to be published is Such is Life Typescript (1898). This module includes a transcription of the typescript, colour-coded to identify deletions and additions, and visualisations of textual variation with the Bulletin Library first edition. Images of typescript pages can be viewed by clicking on the page numbers in the transcription. An essay on the composition, revision, and publication describes the textual transmission and the unique properties of the typescript that resulted from these processes. This module aims to provide unprecedented access to the pre-publication material for scholars, critics, teachers, and students. It is hoped that this access will encourage new and innovative readings of Furphy's work and facilitate a greater appreciation of the impact that book production can have on literary works.
The second, third, and fourth modules will produce critical editions of Furphy's three main works for distribution in print and digital formats. These editions will include a critically established text and an essay that describes the textual and cultural history of each of Furphy's works down to the present day. The fifth module will deliver a digital edition of the abridged English edition of Such is Life, including an essay on Vance and Nettie Palmer's role in editing the text for the London publisher Jonathan Cape, particularly the ways in which the original work was changed for English readers of the 1930s. Digital editions of the abridged Such is Life and the unabridged Rigby's Romance will be published here for the first time.
I wish to thank the State Library of New South Wales for financial and material support during the 2011 Nancy Keesing Fellowship. This Fellowship enabled my initial study and transcription of the typescript and manuscript material, which has provided a strong foundation for ongoing work.
I also wish to thank Richard Neville (Mitchell Library) and Andrew Furphy for permission to use the text and images from Furphy's archive material.
The Joseph Furphy Digital Archive uses the following web services:
AustLit provides the exhibition space necessary to publish the transcriptions on a flexible bibliographical record. I wish to express my gratitude to the indexers who initiated and maintained the Joseph Furphy records in AustLit. I have enhanced the biographical and bibliographical records for this project, but I have done so while standing on the shoulders of those who came before me. Jonathan Hadwen provided invaluable assistance in preparing the transcriptions for publication on AustLit. And thanks to Kerry Kilner, Director of AustLit, for guiding AustLit towards the open-contribution model that has made this exhibition possible.
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