Review of Studies in Classic Australian Fiction, by Michael Wilding
In the absence of any introduction this collection of critical essays leaves its readers to interpret its challenging title. This of course calls up D.H. Lawrence's pioneering collection of essays on American literature which set out to trace, through what became the main or canonical authors, the sources of its newness and vitality. It was part of Lawrence's restless quest to seek out and celebrate representations of those social and psychic forces representing the new and the vital as against the repressive and stagnant to which they were opposed. Wilding calls up this book not in emulation of its quality or approach but rather out of sympathy with this informing spirit. He wants to challenge readers' conventional conceptions of Australian literature and its criticism in two main ways. First, he wants to question modem or contemporary canons or mainstreams by his choice of subjects: Clarke, Lawson, Lane, Jack Lindsay, Furphy, Stead and White. These represent a mixture of those accepted as classic with authors who have been passed over if dutifully treated in historical surveys. Secondly, the mainstream authors, along with the others are treated in unconventional ways and not for the strengths hitherto attributed to them. This is accomplished by stressing the importance of the political, usually some form of socialistic thought, though Wilding is not doctrinaire about this, as a hitherto neglected part of these authors' strengths, and furthermore by demonstrating that instead of being aesthetic flaws or drawbacks these ideas and their embodiment are a main source of the works' power.
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