Australian Literary Studies in the 1940s: The Commonwealth Literary Fund Lectures


Probably the best-known story about the Commonwealth Literary Fund lectures concerns J.I.M. Stewart, professor of English at the University of Adelaide. Geoffrey Dutton remembers that Stewart, in his Oxford accent and almost-falsetto voice, began the first talk in 1940 with these words: ‘I am most grateful to the C.L.F. for providing the funds to give these lectures in Australian literature, but unfortunately they have neglected to provide any literature – I will lecture therefore on D.H. Lawrence’s Kangaroo’ (Dutton 18). Not surprisingly, Stewart has been held up, again and again, as an appalling example of those who believe ‘there is no such thing as Australian literature’ (Heyward). The story’s wide circulation has also helped to reinforce the standard view that, in the 1940s at least, the universities were far from serious in supporting the CLF’s efforts to encourage the incorporation of Australian literature into the syllabus. The truth about both the Stewart anecdote and Australian literary studies in universities in the 1940s is much more complicated.

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Published 1 November 2015 in Volume 30 No. 4. Subjects: Commonwealth Literary Fund.

Cite as: Butterss, Philip. ‘Australian Literary Studies in the 1940s: The Commonwealth Literary Fund Lectures.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 30, no. 4, 2015, doi: 10.20314/als.a36094d36e.