Review of Criticism by Brian Kiernan and Patrick White by Alan Lawson
'What is Australian literary criticism?' asks Brian Kiernan in this latest volume in the Australian Writers and Their Work series. He defines it, for the purposes of his book, as criticism of Australian literature by Australians. Few will quarrel with such a definition, though it removes from the discussion perhaps the major part and certainly much of the best criticism produced here. Given the nature of the monograph series and the broader cultural interests Kieman's work reveals, his isolation and discussion of Australian critics on Australian writers is an im portant chapter in the history of our knowledge of ourselves and our country. In particular, the book demonstrates how the debate between 'local colour' and 'universal literary value' has remained central in our literary history and a reflection of major issues in Australian society. As early as 1856 Frederick Sinnett's "Fiction Fields of Australia' demanded of local writers 'a picture of universal human life and passion, but modified as represented by Australian externals' and as recent a critic as A. D. Hope has pointed to the need for indisputably great works of distinctively Australian literature to establish standards for local writing which will also be universal. Between Sinnett and Hope the tradition of Australian literary criticism has been established.
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