Roy Bridge’s Fictions of Van Diemen’s Land
Had he been on their case, one can imagine F.R. Leavis intoning 'We will not reckon Bryce Courtenay a writer of historical fiction to appeal to adult minds if we think of Roy Bridges'. No Australian author of such fiction had so long a career as Bridges: it spanned just over four decades. His novels, but especially those to do with Van Diemen's Land in the convict era (and more narrowly during the Lieutenant-Governorship of George Arthur from 1824-36) are intelligent, mannered, iconoclastic, obsessive. The minatory, complex figure of Arthur is a central puzzle in most of these novels, whether he appears in person, or in remembrance, as a not-too-distant threat, or as the author of a penal system that, in Bridges's interpretation, became more severe than he intended. Bridges is also exercised by the question of how and why people came to Van Diemen's Land, by religious intolerance transported there, by the moral as well as the physical damage of convict punishment. At the core of a number of the novels is a family romance, whose essential story—cast in the mode of melodrama—is of a woman punished for past sexual adventuring by the reappearance of a son thought lost.
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