Voyage and Kaleidoscope in George Johnston’s Trilogy


The central concern of George Johnston's trilogy, My Brother Jack, Clean Straw for Nothing, and A Cartload of Clay, may be summed up in some words by Johnston in a newspaper article of 1970: 'This capacity for seeing our historic past not as something which has come to an end, but as a living, organic thing, as part of a constant social flux rather than merely as dates and chapter headings in a book or names chiselled into stone monuments, I find refreshing and very much part of the needed new approaches to historical analysis as well as to self-examination.' The three novels, when viewed together as the life-story of David Meredith, vividly dramatize Johnston's concept of an organic historical process, both personal and social. From this point of view it is clear that the novels have three important elements in common: first, Meredith as an Odysseus figure; secondly, the notion of continuity, presented both thematically and structurally; and, thirdly, an awareness of social change. In this article I shall deal with only die first two elements. The third, the theme of sociological flux, is important in the trilogy, but only in so far as it emphasizes and develops the most important element in the novels, that is, the personal life of David Meredith. The nature of the times in which he lives is discussed in detail in My Brother Jack, but becomes less important in the two later novels. As social comment decreases through the trilogy, the analysis of David Meredith's life becomes more acute and anguished.

The full text of this essay is available to ALS subscribers

Please sign in to access this article and the rest of our archive.

Published 1 October 1973 in Volume 6 No. 2. Subjects: George Johnston.

Cite as: Goodwin, A. E.. ‘Voyage and Kaleidoscope in George Johnston’s Trilogy.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 6, no. 2, 1973, doi: 10.20314/als.89f8df33ed.