Review of South Pacific Images, Patrick White's Riders in the Chariot, and H.H. Richardson's Maurice Guest

The inevitable defensive bob is there, in the second paragraph of the Preface: 'Conference Proceedings tend to be rather miscellaneous collections and this is no exception'. However, for once it is worth identifying just what lies behind the formal curtsey, for in his introduction, one of the best pieces in this volume. Chris Tiffin has supplied a network of views and propositions that goes a long way towards co-ordinating the individual essays collected here, and supplying them with an integrating context. He has chosen to select from among the papers offered at the first conference of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, held at the University of Queensland in May 1977, and has determined to focus the Proceedings on writing from the South Pacific. Attractive papers on African and Indian literature have been properly excluded, to preserve at least nominally the regional identity of this recently formed association. In what way then do the published papers resist contiguity?

For readers of this magazine, the advantage of beginning an acquaintance with the enlarged context in which Australian literature may fruitfully be studied, is self-evident. That it should be only the beginning is perhaps a local embarrassment: we ought to know about the literary determinations of Singapore and Malaysia. Papua New Guinea. Fiji and Samoa, as well as of New Zealand. We ought also to make the effort to discover the literatures of the non-Commonwealth countries of the region. Indonesia and the Philippines, for example- anything to overcome the stubborn insularity which charac terises so much of our study of our own literature. For it is still largely true that Australian literary studies tend to be exclusively self-regarding.

The launching of a South Pacific chapter of the Association for Commonwealth Language and Literature Studies is to be welcomed, then, and this first publication, with its select reading lists as a helpful appendix, is clearly aware of its function as a beginning. The problem is that Chris Tillin's introduction shows up the kind of perspective that is too patently missing from the selected papers. His essay is eclectic, it draws together cultural, political and literary evidence to alford a controlled and balanced summary, not just of the papers, but of what the literatures of the region have to oiler by way of comparative study. The individual essays arc. with a few rare exceptions, all too narrow in their focus for the context which this conference established; and the worst offenders arc those papers which concentrate one wants to say perversely—on Australian material exclusively. It was surely obtuse to ignore the provision of a special area of discussion, and whatever the intrinsic merits of the papers concerned, I cannot see that analysis of image patterns in Shaw Neilson and Gwen Harwood, or an outline of Judith Wright's system of thought shows much interest in considering the poetry in terms of South Pacific interest, nor in developing a 'regional awareness* of Australian literature, the forging of self-images which is the proposed theme of this collection.

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Published 1 October 1979 in Volume 9 No. 2.

Cite as: Mitchell, Adrian. ‘Review of South Pacific Images, Patrick White's Riders in the Chariot, and H.H. Richardson's Maurice Guest.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, 1979. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.8db06335ff.