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.
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. Images of typescript pages can be viewed by clicking on the page numbers in the transcription. 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.
Accompanying The Joseph Furphy Digital Archive, a book-length study, The Life of Such is Life: A Cultural History of an Australian Classic, provides a history of the composition, revision, publication, and reception of Such is Life down to the present day. In addition to the digitisation of Furphy's typescript on The Joseph Furphy Digital Archive, Tom Collins and Company, a companion website, publishes digital editions of other works. The unabridged Rigby's Romance was published online on Tom Collins and Company for the first time, and a digital edition of the version of Such is Life abridged by Vance and Nettie Palmer will be published later in 2022. Other resources have been created or curated: a timeline provides a summary of the main events in the life of Such is Life; a map provides an overview of Furphy's Riverina; and text analysis, powered by Voyant Tools, offers a number of entry-points for thinking about the three works that emerged out of his 1898 typescript. These resources have been assembled to encourage new conversations about Furphy's life and work. More tools and modules will be added when time and circumstance permits. Such is life.
I wish to thank the State Library of New South Wales for financial and material support during a 2011 Nancy Keesing Fellowship. This Fellowship enabled my initial study and first transcription of the typescript and manuscript material.
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.
AustLit provides the exhibition space necessary to publish the transcriptions on top of a flexible bibliographical record. I have enhanced the biographical and bibliographical records for this project, but I wish to express my gratitude to all of the indexers who initiated and have maintained the Joseph Furphy records in AustLit. Jonathan Hadwen provided invaluable assistance in preparing the transcriptions of the Such is Life typescript for publication on AustLit. Thanks to Kerry Kilner, Director of AustLit, for guiding AustLit towards the open-contribution model that has made this open-ended exhibition possible, and thanks, too, to Dr Catriona Mills, for leading AustLit since Kerry's retirement, and providing assistance and encouragement along the way.
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