Review of The Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature edited by Elizabeth Webby, and Investigations in Australian Literature by Ken Stewart
With a respected, experienced editor, a cast of at least competent scholars and a cocktail of end-of-millennium perspectives, The Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature should be at worst a lively survey of the literature of Australia and at best a deeply stimulating affair offering new perspectives on major works and, hopefully, redeeming them from the ever-present threat of oblivion. In fact it turns out to be disappointing—a frustrating and annoying book that adds almost nothing to our knowledge of our own literature. Why has this happened? I think the answer lies not with the editor and contributors but with the conception of the book itself. The dominant problem (raised pre-emptively by the editor herself in the introduction) is one of length. One hundred and forty odd thousand words is hardly an adequate ambit for a full introduction to all aspects of Australian literature. No doubt I am not the only reader to pass by in fury the publisher's list of similar publications inserted before the title page and to see that this book is, thus far, the only national literature included in this format and that the whole of Australian literature is contained in a format that hosts entire books devoted to the works of individual writers such as Tennessee Williams and Edith Wharton or to periodised subdivisions such as English literature from 1500 to 1600!
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Published 1 May 2001 in Volume 20 No. 1.
Cite as: Duwell, Martin. ‘Review of The Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature edited by Elizabeth Webby, and Investigations in Australian Literature by Ken Stewart.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 20, no. 1, 2001, doi: 10.20314/als.38eb2ec07a.