Review of Rolf Boldrewood: A Life, by Paul de Serville

This is a fascinating subject for a biography. Thomas Browne was author of one of the best-known Australian novels of the nineteenth century, Robbery under Arms, a book that celebrates bushrangers Dick and Jim Marsdon, and their charismatic, aristocratic leader 'Starlight' . Browne, who generally wrote under the pseudonym 'Rolf Boldrewood', produced nearly twenty novels - many of them first written for serial publication—published between 1873 and 1905. The writer has already been the subject of a biography by Tom Inglis Moore, published in 1968 in OUP's 'Great Australians' Series. Notwithstanding this, Paul de Serville's Rolf Boldrewood: A Life begins defensively: 'This biography is written for those people who are interested in old Australia and who are prepared to examine it, as far as one can, on its own terms' (1-2). But few literary critics, let alone historians and biographers, are persuaded by the idea that intended meaning is fixed and recoverable. If 'on its own terms' is not an intellectually credible goal, then it is also worth asking what is meant by 'old Australia'. This is a part of society that de Serville argues has survived 'in pockets up to the present': a mainly pastoral upper class who may be differentiated from 'popular Australia' on the basis of the way in which its members understand history.

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Published 1 October 2003 in Volume 21 No. 2. Subjects: Biographies, Rolf Boldrewood.

Cite as: Dale, Leigh. ‘Review of Rolf Boldrewood: A Life, by Paul de Serville.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 21, no. 2, 2003, doi: 10.20314/als.396ba4fa9a.