Abstract

This special issue tracks the ways in which Victorian literary texts and ideas were transformed by their arrival and reception in the Australasian colonies and then re-transmitted around the trade lines of Empire. The literary migration outlined here involved the marketplace and the production of cultural meaning; the transportation and importation of printed artefacts and the re-location, and re-working, of ideas and approaches. The articles in this issue explore how the colonial arrivals and departures of textual traffic in the Victorian marketplace involved complex cultural and literary exchanges and re-negotiations of story, character, genre and form.

The Victorian era was a time of movement and change; of transportation and transplantation, of travelling along rivers and rail and roads and across oceans. The ports giving access to the Australasian colonies were points of destination and departure in a mass migration of bodies, ideas and text. The printed matter that was loaded and unloaded at the docks of Australia and New Zealand – the newspapers, letters, bureaucratic documents, books and serial parts – formed part of the huge circuit of information that was transmitted to inform, entertain, bankroll, and facilitate the British Empire in the nineteenth century. The physical journeys were underpinned by intellectual journeys and sustained by technology and systems – steam and engines, telegraph wires and stations, advances in printing equipment and communication networks. As Marcus Clarke put it, this was ‘the literature of democracy … which is to be expressive of the life of the century – with its steam-engines, and divorce courts, and gold mines, and revolving pistols, and social science, and electric telegraphs, and spiritualists, and freethinkers’ (Clarke “[American Literature]” 249, qtd in Dolin, below).

This special issue of Australian Literary Studies takes up the idea of circuitry by tracking the ways in which Victorian literary texts and ideas were transformed by their arrival and reception in the Australasian colonies and then re-transmitted around the trade lines of Empire. The literary migration outlined here involved the marketplace and the production of cultural meaning; the transportation and importation of printed artefacts and the re-location, and re-working, of ideas and approaches. The articles in this issue explore how the colonial arrivals and departures of textual traffic in the Victorian marketplace involved complex cultural and literary exchanges and re-negotiations of story, character, genre and form.

Travellers need guides and Robert Dixon’s essay, ‘Before the Nation: Rolf Boldrewood and the Problem of Scale in National Literatures’ provides a case study of the literary influence of the cartographic imagination that dominated understandings of colonial place in the nineteenth century (Carter). Reading Rolf Boldrewood’s An Australian Squire as a text ‘whose cartographic imaginary is intra- and inter-colonial [and] located within broader transnational or trans-imperial horizons’, Dixon sees the text as exemplary in appropriating broader literary traditions and geographies toward an anticipated national tradition. He reflects on the problem of scale in literary history and literary criticism, asking, ‘What are the consequences of approaching a pre-national literature from the scale of the nation, or a national literature from the scale of the world?’

Tim Dolin’s article, ‘Marcus Clarke, the Two George Eliots, and the History of Two Newspapers’ examines the controversy surrounding Marcus Clarke’s 1881 translation of George Eliot’s ‘Le Voile Soulevè’ (The Lifted Veil). This essay also works to illuminate the location of the literary markets of colonial Australia in a transnational context. Dolin examines the reception of Clarke’s (belated) translation of Eliot’s story to reveal the complex interplay of the original and the copy, or translation, and of authorship and plagiarism, in the periodicals of colonial Australia. His piece ‘is an experiment in a reader-focused historicism’, considering as it does what happens when an early text is mis-taken for a late text, as in this case, in which the late French version of the earlier story was presented by Clarke as the last outpourings from Eliot. Dolin works to reconstruct the ‘cultural-political circumstances under which Clarke rewrote “The Lifted Veil”’ and the resulting text. As Dolin demonstrates, the trade and translation of texts, in their widest sense, were an intimate part of wider political economies, while at the same time micro-economic differences between New South Wales and Victoria were reflected in literary culture as well as trade arrangements. As Dolin’s essay highlights, the literary traffic through the nineteenth-century Anglophone world did not travel along a single, or even a direct, route. The movement of texts was multidirectional, and subject to delays and misadventure and misdirection. Throughout these circuitous journeys, meanings were constantly being made and re-made and adapted. Australia has always acted as more than a point of reception for literary artefacts and ideas; its own literary cultures have produced a constant stream of re-interpretations and re-presentations of Victorian stories and characters.

The literary migrations that are being tracked in this special issue involve the transmutation of form and genre as much as the physical relocation of printed text. British modes of popular writing, such as the Gothic and the sensational, were imported into the Australian colonies as literary practice as well as printed artefact. Here they were shaped by the colonial context and re-mobilised in divergent directions, and for different cultural purposes. Anne Maxwell’s ‘“The Beast Within”: Degeneration in Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Three Australian Short Stories’, explores colonial Australian modes of Gothic writing, especially in relation to the themes of R.L. Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and ‘the discourses of degeneration that were emanating from Europe in the 1870s and 1880s’. Maxwell tracks motifs of degeneration, the double brain and multiple personality through Marcus Clarke’s posthumously published tale, ‘The Mystery of Major Molineux’ (1881), Campbell McKellar’s ‘The Premier’s Secret’ (1887) and Ernest Favenc’s ‘My Only Murder’ (1899), suggesting ways in which this Australian fiction adopted and adapted Gothic forms and preoccupations to the colonial context.

The essays by Kylie Mirmohamadi and Meg Tasker also address the cultural and literary implications of the intra-imperial migration of generic forms of Victorian literature. Using the early years of the Australian Journal as a case study, Mirmohamadi identifies the ways in which the themes and expressive forms of sensation writing permeated both scientific discourse and fictional narratives. British sensational modes, she argues, were re-interpreted and re-presented in the Australian colonial context. In the antipodean stories published in the Australian Journal, the colonies were represented as a site and source of sensational narrative, as well as a point of its reception. Tasker highlights a hybridity of genre and literary influence in the work of Francis W.L. Adams. Characterising this writer as ‘a conduit in both directions for late-Victorian “migrations” of ideas’, she argues that his first two novels (Leicester, an Autobiography and The Murder of Madeline Brown) demonstrate how such generic and critical categories as ‘sensation’ and ‘realism’ migrated between and changed in different social and cultural contexts. Dolin, like Tasker, also explores these issues fruitfully, in his examination of Marcus Clarke’s manipulation of genre.

The temporal complexities outlined by Dolin in relation to Clarke’s ‘translation’ from the French of a late work by George Eliot which was actually an early work in English, is echoed in the ways in which readings and interpretations of standard English works were enacted in different southern colonial settings. Advances in technology and machinery shortened the time-lags and made texts more accessible for colonial readers. Nevertheless, a reader like Lieutenant William Best, examined in Jane Stafford and Mark Williams’ essay, ‘Reading Byron in Kororāreka: The Journal of Ensign Best’, resorts to apparently reliable cultural capital in his frequent and repeated reading of Byron. Stafford and Williams explore the implications of colonial place as a site of reading by giving a close account of Best’s everyday practice of reading, both solitary and social, which drew upon and reinforced the social ties of communities built around colonial administrations in New Zealand. As these and other authors in this issue accentuate, textual migration always involves ‘translation’ and multiple and proliferating versions of both text and author. Byron, who even by 1840 had passed through a number of transitions from valorisation to pillory, was available in a variety of versions and open to many uses. Stafford and Williams point to the way that Best uses Byron’s Romantic conception of the indigenous as a way of seeing his colonial surroundings, particularly in his view of Māori women.

Philip Butterss outlines the processes and politics of a similar translocation of a major English poet in his essay, ‘The Tennysons in Literary Adelaide’. Butterss traces the building of the self-image of a colonial city as literary place through South Australian responses to the arrival of Hallam Tennyson to take up the governorship at the end of the nineteenth century. The article tracks ‘the literary migration of one Tennyson and the literal migration of the other’ and identifies a layered response from South Australians incorporating Englishness, empire and local place. The cultural capital wielded by British poetry in the colonies, and also the transliterations it underwent in different contexts, is evident in the discussions of Stafford and Williams, Butterss, and Katie Hansord. Hansord considers the transformations in the fallen woman trope in Australian poetry in ‘Symbolism and the Antipodes: The Fallen Woman in Caroline Leakey’s Lyra Australis, Or Attempts to Sing in a Strange Land’. Hansord looks at the nineteenth-century women’s poetic tradition as it is shown in Tasmanian writer Caroline Leakey’s ‘Lyra Australis’. She suggests that the trope of the fallen woman should be recognised as a transnational narrative, placing Leakey’s writing in a wider context here to discern a ‘far more imaginative, symbolic use of Tasmania, particularly in relation to ideas of imprisonment, and women’s sexual and intellectual freedoms’. Hansord goes on to argue that the political nature of the poems, ‘links Leakey’s poetry to a transnational female tradition’ rather than confining her work ‘within nationalist modes generally associated with political writing in Australian literature’.

Sue Thomas’s discussion of Australian stage adaptations of Jane Eyre demonstrates the span and scope of the mobility of Victorian literary text, across time, place and representational mode. Her analysis of three performative versions of the novel – Rose Evans’s early theatre version Quite Alone (1872), Helen Jerome’s 1936 stage adaptation, and a chamber opera with music by British composer Michael Berkeley and libretto by Australian writer David Malouf (2000) – tracks the multiplicity of this novel’s migrations. Thomas pays close attention to the shifting nuances of affect in these adaptations (through melodrama, sensation, realism, modernism, and late modernism), locating them in a continuum of representation by identifying intermedial influences in the staging of the later versions. Thomas’s cartographic rendering of the staging of Jerome’s play, and the musical and narrative structures of Berkeley and Malouf’s chamber opera, reveal the depth of the symbolism that has been employed in the transformation of Jane Eyre from page to stage. Thomas maps the ways in which these migrations continue well into the twentieth century and beyond.

Australians have always read the narratives of other places in the context of their own particular environment, and in doing so have transformed those stories. The editors of this special issue hope that the scope of the essays collected here reveals some of the complexity of textual migration to and from this country, and points to new ways of understanding the roles of place and displacement in Australian literary history.

Published 31 October 2015 in Volume 30 No. 3. Subjects: Book history, Colonial literature & writers, Victorian Literature.

Cite as: Martin, Susan K. and Kylie Mirmohamadi. ‘Introduction.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 30, no. 3, 2015. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.2a0eedf0eb.