Review of The Australian Short Story before Lawson, ed. Cecil Hadgraft
The paradigm of the Lawson short story has blinded many anthologists and commentators to the local context and traditions he inherited and transformed, and to the contemporary currency of modes he discarded. The title of Cecil Hadgraft's anthology seems deliberately to point to this paradox: 'the Australian short story before Lawson' carries something of the ring of 'human history before Adam'. One of a number of useful incidental functions which this collection performs is to provide at least some evidence for judgment of Lawson as an innovator within an Australian literary context. That he retailored patterns he inherited, and got rid of the embroidery, can now be conveniently confirmed; but one can see as readily the conventions and preoccupations he sustained or transformed: ironies of plot and situation, attitudes towards the destructiveness or menace of the bush, types such as the secretly suffering 'gentleman once' figure, the alcoholic madman or suffering woman in the bush, the lost child, and the threatening, unspeakable Asian are part of the legacy he used in his own way. And, one should add, Barbara Baynton in hers.
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