Review of An Unsentimental Bloke: The Life and Works of C.J. Dennis, by Philip Butterss.

We live in grand times for revisiting and interrogating the silences and evasions in many memoirs and authorised biographies of late nineteenth and early twentieth century writers and artists published during their subjects' lives or within a generation of their demise. Perhaps the desire to know much more about such lives gained impetus around the time of the Australian bicentennial and through the flourishing of biographies that appeared in the following fifteen years: lives of Louise Mack, Christina Stead, Hal Porter, Patrick White and others, even while the stories of many lives remained incomplete until the demise of certain protective heirs and statutes of limitation. Are we, if not hypocritical lecteurs, at least hypocritical vqyeurs, to want to know more while simultaneously upholding the virtue of appearing uninterested in all but the text of their prose and verse?

To some extent, the pursuit of the whole individual - artist and social being - resembles a higher gossip, of the sort John Aubrey and John Evelyn generated, rising above scandal in their case to the extent that they largely sought to avoid giving offence. The autobiographies of Australian writers like Randolph Bedford, A.W Jose, Norman Lindsay, ancy Keesing, and Patrick White similarly convey a modicum of gossip, if only to foreground the heroic authorial composure. Yet there is more to say about our curiosity concerning the lives of Australian writers and artists, for they attest to concern with national identity even within the short span of the past century, a period in which, as Paul Eggert has claimed, 'the Long 1890s carried on until the late 1950s and after, when the cultural nationalists gave it a definition that expressed their own contemporary ideals' (16, qtd in Pierce 3).

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Published 1 November 2013 in Volume 28 No. 4. Subjects: Australian poetry.

Cite as: Sharkey, Michael. ‘Review of An Unsentimental Bloke: The Life and Works of C.J. Dennis, by Philip Butterss..’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 28, no. 4, 2013. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.2268166290.