Since it was first published by the Bulletin Newspaper Company in 1903 Joseph Furphy's Such is Life has been reprinted more than thirty times, most recently in the Text Classics series in 2013, maintaining its status as a canonical text in Australian literary history. But the stability of the most recent editions conceals an instability that has occurred at several times during the lengthy textual history of the novel, none more controversially than when the London publisher Jonathan Cape published an abridged version in 1937. When the abridgement appeared on the shelves of Australian booksellers in the middle of that year, many of Australia's most prominent cultural nationalists directed their outrage at the editor, Vance Palmer, whose name was featured prominently on the dustjacket. The most vocal was P. R. 'Inky' Stephensen who roared, 'This edition howls to heaven to be withdrawn. It must be flung into the discard, and…
‘This edition howls to heaven to be withdrawn’: The Palmer Abridgement of Joseph Furphy’s Such is Life.
When the abridged English edition of Joseph Furphy's Such is Life appeared on the shelves of Australian booksellers in the middle of 1937, many of Australia’s most prominent cultural nationalists directed their outrage at the editor, Vance Palmer. First published in 1903 by the Bulletin Newspaper Company, Such is Life was out-of-print and largely neglected when the London publisher Jonathan Cape arranged for the abridgement. David Walker has shown that the abridgment was actually the work of literary critic Nettie Palmer, Vance Palmer’s wife, ably assisted by their daughter, Aileen, and Walker also outlines the most vociferous examples of cultural outrage, but what the Palmers actually did to the novel has not been examined in any detail. This paper builds on Walker's research to look more closely at the circumstances of the abridgement, and what the Palmers actually did within a much longer history of composition, revision, and publication that culminated in Angus and Robertson's unabridged edition published in 1944. Rather than rejecting the abridgement as an outrageous example of cultural destruction, I argue that it is, instead, an important event within the life of the work we know as Such is Life; a resuscitation, if you like, and, therefore, worthy of closer examination in both aesthetic and cultural terms.
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Published 28 April 2020 in Volume 35 No. 1. Subjects: Cultural & national identity, Editing, Miles Franklin, Joseph Furphy, Aileen Palmer, Nettie Palmer, Vance Palmer, Literary sociability, A.D. Hope, Kate Baker, David Walker, P.R. 'Inky' Stephensen, Jonathan Cape.
Cite as: Osborne, Roger. ‘‘This edition howls to heaven to be withdrawn’: The Palmer Abridgement of Joseph Furphy’s Such is Life..’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 35, no. 1, 2020, doi: 10.20314/als.eeba68d56c.