‘An Explosive Novel of Strange Passions’: Horwitz Publications and Australia’s Pulp Modernism


The scant academic attention Australia’s pulp publishing industry has received to date tends to focus on pulp as a quickly and cheaply made form of disposable entertainment, sold to non-elite audiences. This paper will examine Australian pulp fiction from a different standpoint, one which links New Modernist Studies and the history of the book. This approach, referred to as pulp modernism, is used to question the separation of low and high publishing culture, dominant for much of the twentieth century. I apply this methodology to late-1950s and early-1960s Australian pulp fiction by examining the Name Author series released by Sydney-based Horwitz Publications, one of the largest pulp paperback publishers in the decades after World War II. The series took prominent mid-century Australian authors and republished them in paperback with covers featuring highly salacious images and text. The series offers a glimpse into a uniquely Australian version of pulp modernism. It also yields valuable insights into the changing dynamics of local publishing and literary reputation in mid-century Australia, and the little researched operations of Horwitz Publications.

Australian journalist Lawson Glassop’s 1944 war novel, We Were the Rats, is probably best remembered as being responsible for the first conviction of an Australian publisher on a charge of obscenity. The story of a young man’s life in Australia, and then in the army in Palestine and Northern Africa during World War II, the novel particularly focused on the soldier’s time as one of the ‘Rats of Tobruk’, the nickname given to Australian soldiers during the German siege of the Libyan port city of the same name. Angus and Robertson published the book to critical acclaim and strong sales in 1944 (Moore 159), before it became the subject of a high profile obscenity trial brought by the New South Wales police in 1946. This event saw the publisher fined and the book banned in this jurisdiction. In addition to being ‘a significant contribution to Australian war literature’ (‘Lawson…

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Published 19 December 2019 in Volume 34 No. 2. Subjects: Book history, Popular fiction, Publishing history, Pulp fiction.

Cite as: Nette, Andrew. ‘‘An Explosive Novel of Strange Passions’: Horwitz Publications and Australia’s Pulp Modernism.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 34, no. 2, 2019, doi: 10.20314/als.899430d7fe.