‘War’s just one black foulness’: Jack Lindsay’s The Blood Vote and the Orthodoxies of Anzac

Abstract

Two thirds of the way into Jack Lindsay’s novel The Blood Vote (1937/1985), Dick, one of the numerous returned men to haunt its pages, takes an explicit stance on Anzac, and invites us to read the novel in terms of its politics of memory: ‘“And war’s just one black foulness”,’ the crippled man tells his brother, the novel’s protagonist, who has come to visit him in hospital. ‘“Don’t you ever believe otherwise. If anyone talks to you about how war brings out good qualities, stick a bayonet up his entrails, see?”’ (251). Taking its cue from this central scene, this essay seeks to reclaim Lindsay’s novel for a history of Australia’s First World War that reveals the diverse ways in which Australians have engaged imaginatively with that conflict. Thirty years on from the book’s publication, at the war’s centenary, Australia, a minor player in the war itself, has become a commemorative superpower, investing a record $A561.8 million in exercises and displays of collective remembrance, more than any other nation. The resurgence of this commemorative fervour has various reasons, but its beginning is often dated to the 1980s, just when Lindsay’s novel (finally) came out in Australia, alongside a significant number of other literary and filmic treatments of the First World War. This article retraces The Blood Vote’s arrival in that historical moment, drawing on archival records and newspaper reviews, and puts it in conversation with other texts reimagining Australia’s First World War in that decade. Read in the context of the ‘memorial dynamics’ of 1980s Australia (Rigney 369), when the war’s literary memory was pulling between reassuring heritage fictions and more complex, unsettling versions, Lindsay’s The Blood Vote reveals itself as a challenge to the orthodoxies of Anzac, and to our understanding of Australian war writing as it is still commonly conceived.

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Published 1 November 2015 in Volume 30 No. 4. Subjects: ANZAC (Australian & New Zealand Army Corps), War, Jack Lindsay.

Cite as: Spittel, Christina. ‘‘War’s just one black foulness’: Jack Lindsay’s The Blood Vote and the Orthodoxies of Anzac.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 30, no. 4, 2015. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.7219a14375.