Review of The Devil and James McAuley, by Cassandra Pybus.

In the introduction to this book, Cassandra Pybus disarmingly exhibits her qualifications for sounding off about James McAuley's heart and mind, and for imagining how he might have covertly operated in sex and politics:

I saw James McAuley only once - it could have been in 1971 .. . He was speaking at a political function at Sydney University. I recall thinking that this man, who had seemed to bestride the antipodean intellectual world, was surprisingly small. ... His voice, clearly tutored into cultured modulations, was almost feminine. He had a presence, there was no denying that. I don't remember what he said.

The motives of a would-be biographer have seldom been so rawly or so shamingly exposed. This is a determined effort to diminish McAuley - literally so, since Pybus's slighting reference here to his medium height recurs five pages later, where she says again that he was 'physically small', adding for good measure that Harold Stewart was 'small'. Later she alleges that McAuley affected 'over-large suits ... to enhance his small physique'. A baggy suit would only have made him smaller, so there's no logic in Pybus 's unsupported observation. I can only assume that the intention is meant to be satirical. The colossus, from where Pybus was standing in that hall at Sydney University, was a pigmy.

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Published 1 May 2000 in Volume 19 No. 3. Subjects: Australian poetry, Biographies.

Cite as: Conrad, Peter. ‘Review of The Devil and James McAuley, by Cassandra Pybus..’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 19, no. 3, 2000. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.0c114a0f16.