Review of Unnatural Lives: Studies in Australian Fiction about the Convicts, from James Tucker to Patrick White by Laurie Hergenhan
Convicts have loomed large in the Australian consciousness, and Australians in search of national identity or self-understanding have had to come to terms, in one way or another, with the brutal origins of European settlement in this country. A good deal of Australian fiction has explored the convict experience, as writers have sought to document the horrors of the system, and to interpret what we have become in terms of our crude beginnings. In this searching and scholarly book, Laurie Hergenhan describes what he identifies as a tradition of convict fiction. He argues that the form has allowed writers to explore the present in terms of the past: 'All the authors considered seek to resolve problems of their own times and their own lives through an 'emotionally charged historical context'; and to probe our national guilts: 'It may be that for a long time the convicts displaced the Aborigines as a focus for the doubts and fears about white settlement in the Australian continent; that convicts, not Aborigines, provided a guilty past'. Guilt about the dispossession of the Aboriginal inhabitants is a relatively recent, if increasingly frequent theme in Australian fiction, with Xavier Herbert as its most passionate spokesman. Guilt—if that is what it is—about convict origins is an older and more equivocal theme, as this book amply demonstrates.
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Cite as: Hassall, Anthony J.. ‘Review of Unnatural Lives: Studies in Australian Fiction about the Convicts, from James Tucker to Patrick White by Laurie Hergenhan.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 11, no. 3, 1984, doi: 10.20314/als.c6ce75c05c.