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8 - The Novel Nation

Critical Histories for the Australian Novel, 1850s–1970s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 June 2023

David Carter
Affiliation:
University of Queensland
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Summary

This chapter examines the history of critical interpretations of the Australian novel from the mid- to late nineteenth century through the late twentieth century. In the colonial period, poetry and drama were often held in greater esteem than the novel as literary forms, but by the late nineteenth century the novel had become a gauge of the incipient nation’s evolution towards maturity or ‘civilisation’. Debates about contemporary realism and naturalism cut across these concerns. Attempts were made across the first half of the twentieth century to define the distinctive features of the Australian novel and its role in a national literary tradition, but often in terms of their absence rather than their presence. Much of the critical discussion of the Australian novel occurred outside the universities, in a public culture of books and reading. The field was redefined from the late 1950s to the 1970s through academic criticism, and then through the radical revisions of feminist, postcolonial and other poststructuralist approaches. The novel remained firmly at the centre of such debates.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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