Wenz Reinvented: The Making and Remaking of a French-Australian Transnational Writer



This paper analyses the work of Paul Wenz (1869–1939). Born in Reims, France, Wenz moved to Australia in the 1890s, settling in New South Wales and establishing himself as a grazier. Beginning in 1900, he published several short stories and novels set in Australia. He wrote nearly all of his texts in the French language. Although he was part of literary circles in Australia in the 1920s and 1930s, his writing was little known there and his few works in English garnered little attention. Interestingly, however, his writing has recently found a new audience. First in the mid-1980s to 1990s, then in the 2000s and 2010s, Wenz’s work has been recouped: retranslated, republished and redisseminated – both for a French audience and especially for a contemporary Australian audience. In this article, we examine the different ways in which Wenz’s work has been repackaged, focusing on the paratextual elements in each stage: from Wenz’s initial writing in the early twentieth-century, to its reedition in the mid-1980s and 1990s, through to its retranslation in the early twenty-first century. We chart the stages of the reception of Wenz’s work and its successive translations in order to understand the changing profile of Australian literary studies and of French-Australian cultural connections.

The first PhD awarded in Australia was to a thesis that studied French-Australian writer Paul Wenz. Erica Wolff obtained her qualification in 1948 for ‘A French-Australian Writer: Paul Wenz’ from the University of Melbourne.1 The writer in question, Paul Wenz, occupies an interesting position in what is now considered ‘transnational literature’. Born in 1869 in Reims, Wenz lived in France until the 1890s, when he traveled to several areas of the Southern Hemisphere and settled in Australia. Based in rural New South Wales, Wenz worked as a grazier. He also wrote. His first short stories were published in 1900: set in Australia and the Pacific Islands, they were written in French and published by a French publisher. He continued to write short stories throughout his career, alongside novels such as Le pays de leurs pères (1919), L’homme du soleil couchant (1923), Le jardin des coraux (1929) and L’écharde (1931) and some autobiographical works. Nearly all of his work was set in Australia but written in French and published in France. The notable exception was Diary of a New Chum, a novella written in English in 1908. Although he was part of literary circles in Australia in the 1920s and 1930s, Wenz’s writing was little known here and his few works in English garnered little attention. Interestingly, however, his writing has recently found a new audience. First in the mid-1980s to 1990s, then in the 2000s and 2010s, Wenz’s work has been recouped: retranslated, republished and re-disseminated – both for a French audience and especially for a contemporary Australian audience. In this article, we investigate the reasons for this changed cultural status. We chart the stages of the reception of Wenz’s work and its successive translations in order to understand the changing profile of Australian literary studies and of French-Australian cultural connections.

It is worth pausing to consider the notion of the paratext before exploring the ways in which Wenz’s work has been repackaged for a contemporary audience. Paratextual practice invites us to read in different ways, framing our interpretations and, in the case of the repackaging of writers in successive years, framing the different spheres in which their work may be read. Gérard Genette wrote in his seminal work Seuils (which translates literally to ‘thresholds’, and was translated as Paratexts) that:

more than a boundary or a sealed border, the paratext is, rather, a threshold . . . It is an undefined zone between the inside and the outside, a zone without any hard and fast boundary . . . a zone not only of transition but also of transaction: a privileged place of a pragmatics and a strategy, of an influence on the public, an influence that – whether well or poorly understood and achieved – is at the service of a better reception for the text and a more pertinent reading of it (more pertinent, of course, to the author and his allies). (1)

For this article, the parenthesis at the end of this citation is one of its most revealing points; after the disappearance of our author – both in terms of the disappearance of his work and his disparition, or death – it is, after all, his allies who have orchestrated the reinvention of his work. Throughout Seuils, Genette underscored the agency an author has over the paratext of her/his work, suggesting that the authorial imprint is normally present on its paratextual elements. In the case of Wenz, however, it is unlikely that he held much sway over the paratexts of his works when they were originally released – in a foreign country on the other side of the world – but he clearly had no influence on the paratexts of his re-edited work. This is not something that Genette ignored, since he wrote that ‘something is not a paratext unless an author or one of his associates accepts responsibility for it, although the degree of responsibility may vary’ (67). The posthumous paratext is clearly one of the circumstances that may lead to the varying of responsibility, as the author passes the responsibility to those who carry on his work. Whether his original intentions matched those of his later interpreters remains to be seen.

The paratexts of the later editions of Wenz’s work – published in the 1990s, the 2000s and the 2010s – are closely connected to contemporary cultural phenomena. The first of these is an attention to the transnational. In the last few decades, the forces of globalisation and mass migration have raised awareness of transnational writers, reframing how we conceive of nations and the overlaps between them. In 2019, Nancy Green, a leading historian in transnational enquiry, pointed out that ‘it has been a quarter of a century since “transnationalism” was born – as a perspective, as a concept, as a research agenda’ (1). Australian literary studies in the last three decades have been characterised by increased attention to writers from different cultural backgrounds, including, for example, migrant writers and refugee writers. In 2007, Robert Dixon called for what he termed ‘a transnational practice of Australian literary criticism’ (‘Australian Literature’ 19) and by 2009, Michael Jacklin had declared a ‘transnational turn’, pointing to a ‘surge of references in Australian literary studies over the last few years to the transnational dimensions of the national literature’ (1). As Dixon clarifies in his 2015 work on the scope and scale of Australian literature, such a move is not without risks; does an Australian text ‘belong in a local, a national or a transnational context?’, he asks, and ‘what are the consequences of reading a novel at the wrong scale?’ (‘Australian Literature, Scale’ 2). He cautions against overlooking the need for disciplinary specificity while remaining open to broadening the scope of the national literature. Dixon’s argument hints at something very important: the scope of the national literature has been predominantly Anglophone. Indeed, as transnational enquiry in Australian literary criticism has progressed, scholars have probed Australian literature written in Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian and Spanish, for example. We aim to contribute Australian literature written in French to this important line of enquiry. This article is part of a larger project on the corpus of French-language migrant writing. This project has so far uncovered over fifty works written in French by migrants to Australia from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day.2 For the purposes of this project, we define ‘transnational writers’ on the basis of three major works in French literary criticism. Charles Forsdick, Alec Hargreaves and David Murphy’s Transnational French Studies (2010) aimed to reposition French literature as a site of myriad international influences, while Christie McDonald and Susan Rubin Suleiman’s French Global (2010) rewrote the history of French literature as the product of encounters rather than canons. Moreover, Subha Xavier theorises a ‘Global French Literature’ (2016) that moves beyond categories of postcolonial enquiry and circulates between nations and beyond national identities. Our corpus of texts, written by authors who have migrated to Australia – for short or extended periods – emphasises the myriad influences on national literature, highlights cultural and linguistic encounters in literary production, and circulates between French and Australian national identity.3 Wenz is a major figure in this history.

The contemporary interest in transnational cultures is synchronous with a wider global trend in translation. As recently as in 2020, Damrosch conceded that ‘we now see an increasing focus on the global circulation of works in translation’ (188) while insisting ‘this should by no means require a thoughtless surrender to the hegemony of global English’ (188–89) since ultimately ‘the best scholarship in comparative and world literature today resists . . . critical monolingualism and involves extensive works with a measured use of translations, critically informed by translation studies’ (189). In Australia, several prizes for literary translation have been developed in recent years. The Australian Association for Literary Translation has provided an annual prize since 2014, and the New South Wales Governor’s prize, which provides significant financial incentive to translators, was inaugurated in 2017. The Australian Academy of the Humanities has been awarding a Medal for Excellence in Translation since 2017. This was won by the notable French-English translator Jacqueline Rose in 2018. In a 2016 article, journalist Susan Wyndham cast Rose as one of a series of Australians who ‘lead the way in French translation’ in reference to the many translations of French classics she had published over the previous decade. The same article refers to publications of other previously untranslated older French works, but also points to recent translations of Sydney-based contemporary French-Australian author, Catherine Rey. Rey’s work, which was originally written in French before her publication of her 2018 novel, The Lovers, has been popularised in Australia thanks to the surge in interest in translation. The translation of works such as Rey’s (and others from German, Spanish, Chinese and Hindi) has played a key role in making such intercultural exchanges and rapprochement between the academy and the wider public possible.

Our work on Wenz here offers, we hope, the kind of intervention Damrosch recommends: focusing on the packaging of Wenz’s works across languages and on the paratextual elements of his works in both French and English (in both translation and original) as a means of examining ‘the deeply intertwined problems of language and of politics that confront every use of language today’ (174). We first examine the original packaging of Wenz’s works, during his lifetime. We then analyse the way in which his writing was recouped in the 1980s and 1990s. Finally, we discuss how his work was translated and reissued with a refined focus in the first decades of the twenty-first century. We show that, at a time when marginalised voices are increasingly being heard, the contemporary discovery of Wenz contributes a unique transnational writer to Australian literary history.

The Original Packaging of Wenz

The reception of Wenz’s work in France and Australia points to a history of publishing practices and attitudes towards linguistic diversity in literature in both nations. Maurice Blackman, one of the leading French scholars in Australia in the twentieth century, describes Wenz as having first ‘found a receptive audience in France’ for his stories of life in Australia (‘Transculturalism’ 4). Writing as Paul Warrego, Wenz was first published in 1900 in the Paris-based literary magazine L’Illustration.4 Wenz had a long collaboration with this magazine and appears to have garnered a significant following in France for his stories about the curiosities of life aux antipodes. His first collection of short stories, including some of those published in L’Illustration, was published in 1905 as A l’autre bout du monde. This collection, as Blackman notes, must have been greeted with some success, since it ran a second edition in 1907 (‘A French-Australian Writer’ 6). Later, fellow leading French scholar on Australia, Jean-Paul Delamotte, would note that Wenz published in ‘very good outlets’ in France during his lifetime (9). Indeed, in addition to short stories published in popular literary journals and magazines, three of Wenz’s novels appeared with Calmann-Lévy, one of the foremost French publishing houses; giants of the French literary canon such as Marcel Proust, George Sand and Victor Hugo had also been published there.

Although Wenz’s writing was published in France for approximately thirty years and enjoyed moderate success there, his French-Australian writing was less welcomed towards the end of his life. Both his memoir En époussetant la mappemonde (published in 2009 by La Petite Maison) and his later novel Walkeringa (some of which was written in English) were rejected by the major publishing house Gallimard – the former for being ‘devoid of any essential unity’ (En époussetant 6, our translation), the latter because Gallimard claimed to have neither the time nor the means to promote it appropriately (‘Biographical Outline’ 195). Furthermore, Wenz had relied upon the patronage of his friend, the celebrated writer André Gide, who had initially championed his writing. The correspondence between the two authors shows a waning of Gide’s support for Wenz’s work. In a letter to Wenz in 1933, in response to some work the latter had sent to him, Gide suggests that he was tired of his former classmate’s humorous takes on Australian life and, more damningly for a Francophone homme de lettres, that his command of the French language was corrupted by English. Gide writes ‘here I am putting myself in the shoes of the French reader . . . I fear that this constant humour might seem a little monotonous’ (Wenz ‘Correspondence’, 163). He questions Wenz’s linguistic competence, noting some ‘errors or infelicities of expression lead me to believe that many of the sentences have first been thought in English (am I mistaken?)’ (163). He also points to Wenz’s incorrect usage of prepositions and false friends (bilingual homophones which look similar but mean different things). Wenz’s French-language works are indeed riddled with words from a distinctively Australian lexicon, so much so that he worried in a letter to Gide that his French ‘has started to smell of eucalyptus or mint or both’ (Wenz ‘Correspondence’, 151). Indeed, the literary quality of Wenz’s writing did not match that of his friend. Several commentators have questioned the quality of Wenz’s writing, including Blackman, Delamotte and John West-Sooby. Even Wolff, in her doctoral thesis mentioned above, compares Wenz’s work to that of other Australian writers of his time, concluding that he contributed to the Lawson-Furphy bush writing movement and that his main innovation within it was to have written of the Australian bush in a language other than English. Whilst its literary quality might not be optimal, therefore, its literary value, as a body of work that documented rural Australian life from the perspective of a migrant writing in a foreign language, is notable.

The way in which Wenz’s work was publicised in France is perhaps best exemplified by his novel L’écharde, which appeared in 1931 and was published by Editions de la Vraie France. This novel appeared in several versions across the decades with a different paratext on each occasion, providing markedly different versions of Wenz and his work. The preface to the original 1931 version of L’écharde is written by Firmin Roz, director of this publishing house and a renowned specialist in American and Anglophone writing (though evidently not Australian writing). Roz lists many of Wenz’s works in laudatory terms, especially his first novel Le pays de leurs pères. Roz compares one of Wenz’s works, Le jardin des coraux (1929) to colonial classics, describing it as ‘a tragic idyll in the Antipodes, a modern Paul et Virginie before Pierre Loti, Joseph Conrad, and Rudyard Kipling’ (L’écharde 1931, ii). Roz also lauds Wenz for his ‘ease’ and ‘humour’ that represent the ‘best qualities’ of both English and French writers, thus highlighting Wenz’s transnational influences. Roz makes no mention of Australian writers, however. Instead, he celebrates Wenz’s literary qualities by comparing him with his European peers and emphasising Wenz’s established connections in France – underlining that he was a friend of André Gide, for example (L’écharde 1931, v).5 Roz notes that ‘it looks like he is to be the novelist of the Southern Hemisphere’ (L’écharde 1931, ix) and, in a startling display of ignorance and arrogance, claims that Australia is fortunate to have gained in Wenz the true literary writer that it was previously lacking:

Australia is a country in the process of making itself, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it hasn’t yet found a literary voice. Perhaps it would have had to wait even longer to find it, if chance had not placed upon her soil and allowed to grow roots into her life, a French writer capable of giving her one. (L’écharde 1931, x)6

Thus, Roz credits Wenz as a Frenchman who is responsible for no less than having written the first quality work of the Australian canon. This supposedly good news did not reach Australia in Wenz’s lifetime, however, and he received no such recognition in the Southern Hemisphere.

Despite his renown in France, Wenz could not find a publisher for his work in Australia. The blurb for the 1990 edition of Diary of a New Chum claims that this was due to his choice of language: ‘from 1919 to 1931 he published four novels, some memoirs and more short stories, all of which were published in Paris. He became more involved in Australian literary life during this period, but because he wrote in French he remained unknown to all but a few until his death in Forbes in 1939’ (our italics). Blackman writes that Wenz wanted his work to be available in English and that ‘he tried increasingly to have his novels and stories translated into English and sought interest in publishing them here’ (13). Such attempts were ultimately unsuccessful. Wenz, a transcultural writer, could not find a transcultural audience. Australians curious about how they were perceived by a French observer would have to learn French in order to find out, even though this writer was willing both to have his work translated and even to write about them in English. Indeed, Wenz published only two works in English, nearly thirty years apart. His Diary of a New Chum, a humorous fictional account of Australian habits as seen from the viewpoint of a disingenuous English newcomer, appeared in 1908. This text was published by The Book Lover’s Library, a small Melbourne-based publishing house run by journalist Henry Hyde Champion, himself a sometime contributor to the Bulletin. A short story, entitled ‘The Most Beautiful Harbour in the World’ appeared in the Bulletin late in Wenz’s career in 1934. Aside from these two works, Wenz’s considerable oeuvre, including four novels and six short story collections, was written in French. Wenz indeed had what West-Sooby has labeled a ‘problem of readership’ (65).

In order to attempt to disseminate his work in Australia and become what we would now call a transnational writer, Wenz looked to a powerful ally in the final years of his life: his friend Miles Franklin. Since Franklin had an advanced knowledge of the French language, he requested that she translate his work into English. In response, Franklin states that she was fond of Wenz and supportive of his writing, but ultimately refused to help him. She justified her decision thus:

A congenial adventure, but alas, my days are tied. My people were prime examples of those Australians who lacked thrift and I am helpless – impaled upon dull and ceaseless chores. Also, for translation one must know a language bi-lingually. I could not give you a sound opinion on anything in French. In regard to French I am merely an infatuate not a scholar. I revel in French for its difference and precision. The French way of looking at things makes me chuckle and gurgle but in proper translation all that would go. (Wenz ‘Australian Correspondence’, 170)

Nevertheless, Franklin proposed an alternative solution, which bespeaks the Anglocentric attitude towards language prevalent in Australia at the time:

This is what seizes me. You are not only a Frenchman who has entered into Australian life and affairs, but that much rarer animal, a Frenchman here who is a writer too. You are articulate. Why not do your life here, your early emotions, your experienced thought – that would be grand – a dodo of difference. Then here is the original idea, rewrite it in English for us. I could help you there: this would be a way to preserve those French turns of thought and speech which delight me, and surely would delight others of my national mentality and language. I could do that translation with verve. It would be a transposition really. (Wenz ‘Australian Correspondence’, 170)

Wenz was understandably reluctant to participate in such a linguistic transposition. Thus, his work was not disseminated to an Australian audience in his lifetime. Since the only market for his French-language work was in France, and since translation was not widely practiced, Australia’s first French-language writer, this transnational ‘dodo of difference’ – also referred to as a ‘one-man diaspora’ by West-Sooby (65) – was confined to one national audience. This would only begin to change long after Wenz’s death, as Franco-Australian transnational relations changed thanks to academic and diplomatic innovations, a rise in interest in translation and transnational literature (especially narratives from unique, under-represented perspectives), and the endeavours of a few individual actors.

The French Reinvention of Wenz

Wenz’s work was first recouped in the 1980s. This was a time of renewed interest in French-Australian connections, as suggested by the establishment of The French-Australian Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. Against this cultural backdrop, Wenz’s work was republished and repackaged as ‘French-Australian’. The reasons for this were twofold: the increased interest in French culture and French-Australian cultural connections, and the sustained efforts of Jean-Paul Delamotte. This academic, actor, subtitler, translator and publisher was a great activist for Australian culture in France, dating from the time he began teaching at the University of Newcastle in 1974. In 1976 the Delamottes moved to Melbourne, before the family returned to Paris later that year. They maintained a lively interest in Franco-Australian connections. This is reflected in their creation of the Association culturelle Franco-Australienne (ACFA) in 1980 (which continued to 2000), and the Atelier littéraire Franco-Australien (ALFA) in 1995. ACFA was highly active in promoting Franco-Australian cultural relations, initiating, for example, the ‘Colloque d’études Franco-Australiennes’, which was held in Paris and Le Havre in December 1987. The proceedings of the colloquium, consisting of thirty papers, were published in 1989. Influential publisher of Australian literature Tom Thompson writes that, in his role as ambassador for ACFA he later organised an Australian Broadcasting Company televised event entitled ‘What if France had colonised Australia?’ at the Sydney Town Hall in 1988 (70). This featured Delamotte alongside his long-standing friend and ally, the former Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam, an active ACFA member, whose wife Margaret later translated some of Wenz’s writings. Delamotte was highly regarded in Australian literary and wider diplomatic circles especially because of his role in bringing Australian literary culture (so little-known in France fifty years before, if Roz is to be taken as an example) to the attention of French readers through his activity as a translator. He was awarded the Bicentennial Translators Prize for his work, which by then included his translation of Frank Moorhouse’s The Coca Cola Kid (Coca Cola Kid, et autres récits) in 1985. Delamotte would use the connections he gained with Moorhouse and other members of the Australian literary establishment through his work as a translator of Australian literature into French to further propagate Wenz as a transnational French-Australian writer.

Delamotte used his position to promote Wenz’s writing in France and in Australia, as he recounts in his memoir about his thirty-five-year quest to ensure the rediscovery of Wenz, A la découverte de Paul Wenz, ‘the Master of Nanima,’ et de la richesse culturelle australienne in 2011. In this memoir, he recounts the background to his discovery of Wenz’s work in 1977 and how he began to promote Wenz in two important literary magazines following his return to France in 1978. He contributed an article on Wenz to an issue of Magazine Littéraire devoted to ‘Ecrivains d’Australie’ and referred to Wenz in a December 1982 Le Monde des Livres article on ‘Charme de la culture australienne’ (A la découverte 8). Delamotte continued his quest to reacquaint the French literary public with Wenz by publishing articles on his work in the same highly visible, influential outlets (Magazine Littéraire April 1984, Le Monde des Livres 14 June, 1985) (A la découverte 9–10).

Importantly, Delamotte’s self-founded and largely self-funded publishing outlet La Petite Maison was a vital factor in reinventing Wenz as a French-Australian transnational writer. It was inaugurated by the publication of L’écharde in 1986 and published eight re-editions of Wenz’s works. Like the original version, the 1986 version of this novel contained a noteworthy paratext, which makes use of Wenz’s acquaintance with Gide in order to advertise the former’s merit as both a writer and an adventurer. Rather than use a substantial introduction to situate the writer, Delamotte’s text uses a preface to further advertise the originality of Wenz, outlining his career and influences but making subtle adjustments to the position of Wenz in Australia’s literary canon. The preface is a short two-page reminiscence about Wenz by Gide, which appeared in his second published diary Nouveaux prétextes in 1947. Gide’s text, presumably written during Wenz’s lifetime, recounts his pleasure at having become reacquainted with his former classmate (from the prestigious private school Ecole Alsacienne in Paris), whom he celebrates as a daring nomad who has travelled the world in a way Gide could hardly imagine – he indicates that he will ‘perhaps only go to these countries in my dreams’ (L’écharde 1986, 9). Gide compares Wenz to the poet Rimbaud as well as legendary fictional characters such as Robinson Crusoe and Sinbad the Sailor. Though no mention is made of Wenz’s talents or vocation as a writer, then, he is presented to the reader of this new edition of L’écharde as a writer worthy of admiration and on the level of literary greats.

In addition to a preface, Delamotte included a postface in this 1986 re-edition of L’écharde. In this, he frames Wenz as a lost writer who was admired by his contemporaries in both France and Australia and who is worthy of rehabilitation, especially at a time of increased French-Australian cultural connections. The title of this postface, ‘A la recherche d’un écrivain perdu’ (in search of a lost writer) recalls the title of the monumental work of France’s renowned twentieth-century writer Marcel Proust, once again comparing Wenz to a great literary writer of his day.7 The postface celebrates Wenz’s peculiarity as the first French writer to live in Australia and write works representing Australian life and insists on the importance of the ‘authentic’ personal experience that inspired these. However, Delamotte provides a revision to Roz’s arrogant claims about Wenz being the original Australian writer of good literary quality, insisting instead that he was the first writer to describe Australia with such talent in the French language (L’écharde 1986, 229). Delamotte acted as a skillful diplomat, recognising that many English language writers also represented Australian life ‘often with great talent’ (L’écharde 1986, 229) yet credits Roz with recognising in Wenz the original French ‘écrivain de l’hémisphère austral’ (writer of/from the Southern Hemisphere). This champion of Wenz ends his postface by suggesting that Wenz’s time to be discovered on a larger scale has come finally, since his work is appearing at a time of greater cultural reciprocity between Australia and France (L’écharde 1986, 235). The continuing appearance of Wenz in English over the following three decades suggests that the former country saw more potential for such reciprocity through an interest in this literary writer than did the latter.8

Following Delamotte’s sterling effort to revive his work in French, Wenz has subsequently been reintroduced to the Australian public – notably, in the English language – in several stages. First, in 1990, Blackman and Delamotte collaborated to translate a series of Wenz’s short stories, issued alongside his only novel in English, Diary of a New Chum and Other Lost Stories. Then, in 2004, L’écharde was translated by Blackman, who rendered its title as The Thorn in the Flesh. In 2018, this translation was re-issued. In the same year, a translation of Wenz’s novel Le pays de leurs pères by Marie Ramsland appeared under the title Their Fathers’ Land: For King and Empire. Surprisingly, then, Wenz is perhaps a better-known French figure in Australian literature in the twenty-first century than he was in the twentieth.

Turning first to Diary of a New Chum, Blackman and Delamotte’s volume puts Wenz firmly back into the frame as a writer greatly indebted to and active within Australian literary circles. This volume was published by Tom Thompson’s influential Imprint series and contains a significant paratext.9 This comprises introductory sections by Moorhouse and Blackman, accounts of meetings between Wenz and literary figures such as Jack London, and correspondence – between Wenz and Gide, and between Wenz and canonical Australian writers and critics such as A. G. Stephens and Miles Franklin. The volume ends with a timeline outlining major events in Wenz’s life, marking his publications and communications with major French and Australian literary figures, and an afterword by Delamotte and Blackman promising that more will be seen from Wenz in coming years, as it certainly has been.

It is noteworthy that the impressive paratext of Diary of a New Chum and Other Lost Stories is structured in a way that compels the reader to find out about Wenz and his importance for several pages before they start to read Wenz’s literary work. The value of who Wenz was thus could be seen to eclipse the literary quality of his writing. Wenz’s 1908 comic text about a new arrival from England’s first experiences in Australia comes after two introductory pieces. This work is opened by a four-page entry entitled ‘Reading Paul Wenz’ by Moorhouse. Moorhouse, perhaps in a reciprocal gesture since he had benefitted from Delamotte’s translation, states that one will not ‘find a lost genius in the writings of Paul Wenz’ since he ‘was a good writer, not a great writer’ (1). Moorhouse emphasises the documentary, rather than literary value of Wenz’s work, describing it as having ‘accreted interest. By that I mean that it has more to say to us than its literary intention’ and lauds the further paratext provided by Delamotte and Blackman as providing ‘components of the Wenz collage’ (1). The choice of using Moorhouse’s short contribution to open this collage, however, indicates the importance of having a well-known, contemporary writer and student of Australian literature as a paratextual ally.

In his biggest endorsement of Wenz’s work, Moorhouse, like Wolff more than forty years beforehand, firmly places Wenz within the Australian bush movement: ‘even though Wenz was from another culture, he seems to have been inescapably enfolded in the Australian bush mythology’ and his ‘stories and characters are so familiar because they are fully within the conventions of the bush story’ (3). Though he may not see him as a great literary artist, Moorhouse ends by suggesting that Wenz’s work did nothing less than contribute to a literary discourse that formed part of the creation of an Australian literary identity at this time: ‘I think the Wenz stories are further evidence of the way Australia wanted to see itself’, he writes (4). Fifty years after his death, Wenz is described as having been an (albeit unknown) original contributor to Australian literature. Moorhouse views the book as representing ‘a vibrant part of our national memory’, one that ‘re-minds us and re-makes that memory’ (4). In the one, short piece that he published in Australia in a relatively obscure press over eighty years previously, Wenz is described in 1990 as a contributor to the ongoing creation of an Australian ethos. As this ethos evolves, so has the framing of Wenz.

The second component of the paratext of Diary of a New Chum consists of a more scholarly introduction to Wenz by Blackman, ‘A French-Australian Writer’. Blackman is often regarded as the foremost English language scholar on Wenz and has written about him extensively beyond the volume in question. For example, in an entry on Wenz in The Australian Dictionary of Biography, Blackman suggests that Wenz’s representation of Australia changed over the years he spent in the country. He argues that ‘early writings show him as an amused apologist for Australia to the French, but his post-war novels and stories express a more matter-of-fact Australian identity’ (‘Wenz, Paul (1869–1939)’). It is this ‘Australian identity’ that is underlined in the recent repackaging of Wenz. The title of the essay, ‘A French-Australian Writer’, reflects Blackman’s framing of Wenz, as well as recalling Wolff’s earlier thesis.10 After providing Wenz’s biography and details of his publications, Blackman recalls renowned critic Nettie Palmer’s description of Wenz as ‘a French-Australian’ in the 1920s and casts him as such for an audience at the end of the twentieth century. Blackman links Wenz to the Australian ‘bush writing’ movement in Australia at the turn of the twentieth century, comparing him to Lawson, Joseph Furphy and Steele Rudd, noting that though he has elements in common with the writing of Gide, ‘it is, if anything, easier to detect the Australian influences’ (‘A French-Australian Writer’ 11). Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, he ends his introduction with the claim that Wenz fits into a Zeitgeist of literary criticism in Australia that is more inclined to embrace the intercultural. Though Blackman places the ‘frequently documentary quality of Wenz’s writing’ ahead of its literary value (‘A French-Australian Writer’ 12), he ends his introduction by casting Wenz as a writer who is interesting because he existed so well between two cultures: ahead of his time before the burgeoning of interest in such an idea during what Green calls ‘The Transnational Moment’ (1). Even Delamotte concedes as much in his introduction to the re-edition of Le pays de leurs pères. He celebrates Wenz for his experience in Australia and for his powers as an ‘observer’, seeing value in this writer because he ‘nourished his books with what he was deeply familiar with’ (‘a nourri ses livres de ce qu’il connaissait à fond’). Yet Delamotte concludes tellingly that ‘the strength of his work lays as much in its documentary as in its fictional value’ (‘La force de son oeuvre procède autant du document que de la fiction’) even if he insists that, therefore, ‘in spite of everything, it’s built to last’ (‘en dépit de tout, elle est assurée de durer’ (Le pays de leurs pères 1996, 7). Blackman concludes Wenz was:

a French-Australian author with, if you like, a foot firmly placed on either side of that crucial hyphen. He is speaking from the privileged position of ‘interculturality’ or, if you prefer, intertextuality in a very full sense. We can perhaps only today really contemplate or comprehend such a voice, as we are only now beginning to recognise and admit into the pantheon of Australian Literature those parts of it that were not originally written in English. (‘A French-Australian Writer’ 15–16)

Wenz could then be considered as one of the new Australian voices currently being discovered – or more precisely, in his case, rediscovered. While Wenz’s writing is not celebrated for its literary merit, then, its literary value, as part of this discovery of non-Anglophone perspectives on Australia, is assured. Wenz’s work is now available to Australian readers, and Blackman himself has gone further in facilitating access to English language incarnations of the writer’s older work through later activity as a translator.

Although Wenz was largely unsuccessful in finding an Australian audience during his lifetime, his work is now available for consumption by a large-scale Anglophone audience. In 2004, Blackman’s translation of L’écharde, The Thorn in the Flesh, was published with a preface by another renowned writer, Helen Garner. This alters the place of Wenz in the Australian literary imagination and suggests that Australian literature is a multilingual phenomenon that necessarily spans borders and crosses national and linguistic boundaries. We argue that his place in Australian literature has shifted significantly since he entered what Apter labels ‘the translation zone’ in her work of that name.

Blackman is described at the beginning of the book as having ‘translated this first English version of a classic French novel’ (The Thorn in the Flesh 2). One might well dispute the description of this work as a ‘classic’ of French literature, but the use of this description would clearly be a significant marketing tool. Garner’s credentials are listed in the opening pages alongside those of Blackman. Garner’s success as an Australian writer is elided and her works are unmentioned, since the (more informed?) Australian reader is presumed to already know about this. Instead, she is introduced as worldly, someone who ‘lived in Paris in the late 70s’ and who is a writer on the world stage ‘who has published extensively around the world’ (2). As the writer of an introduction to a work about Australia in translation from French, she is also presented as an Australian writer whose work (her non-fiction work, The First Stone) has been translated into French.

Besides the listing of the credentials of the translator and introducer (and of Wenz), the paratext to Blackman’s translation is sparse, especially in comparison to the Diary of a New Chum collection. Garner does not advertise this novel as a work of strong literary value at first glance but insists on the clever observations of Australian life of the author and the skill in rendering these in English of the translator. She insists the language of the novel ‘bestows energy on’ its reader and therefore passes her readerly test ‘with flying colours’ (6). Nevertheless, she calls The Thorn in the Flesh an ‘old-fashioned, pacy melodrama’ that is ‘simple’ in its theme and containing an ‘unsophisticated psychology’ that nobody in the 1990s ‘would think to emulate’ (6).11 She recognises the portraits of ‘classic bush types’, however, and it is seemingly for this that she ends up endorsing this work wholeheartedly. Wenz is celebrated above all as belonging to a breed that understands provincial Australian life, although she stops short at placing him among the canon of Australian bush writers. Garner appreciates Wenz’s ‘authoritative observations’ on Australian bush life ‘drawn from a life spent far from the cities’, his ‘eloquent’ flourishes, and, renowned Australian writer she may be, even claims she is envious of his talent as a ‘noticer’ (6). Descriptions of Australian policemen on camels, children of the country playing with tomahawks, of dogs’ footsteps ‘like seeds dropping onto a wooden surface’ and of shorn rams looking ‘like peeled potatoes’ delight Garner. Parts of Wenz’s language please Garner, therefore, if not his work as a whole. She insists on the value of Wenz’s text as early evidence of generous transnational literary exchange, calling this work ‘a poignant gift from a Frenchman to Australia’ (7). Since this edition was republished in 2018 along with another translation of Wenz’s earlier works, it would appear that this gift keeps on giving, nearly eighty years after his death.

The packaging of Ramsland’s translation of Wenz’s Le pays de leurs pères goes further than Blackman’s The Thorn in the Flesh in its paratextual marketing of Wenz the transnational French-Australian writer. One notes immediately the inclusion of a subtitle in the name of her translated work, Their Fathers’ Land: For King and Empire. It is obvious here that the subtitle has been added by the translator or publisher, indicating an emphasis on Wenz’s contribution to discourse on the role of the Australian soldier to the protection of the monarchy and British Empire: Wenz is advertised as having understood the sacrifices of the Australian soldier to a wider cause. This is not an unfair characterisation of the content of this novel, which is very sympathetic to Australians suffering for the sake of a country few citizens knew, for a war fought on the other side of the world, but it also was not the original title of the work. This emphasis of Wenz’s contribution to the Australian First World War effort, appearing at the centennial of the Great War’s end, adds an extra layer to Wenz as a French writer who also very much belongs to Australia. The front cover of the work is a painting of two rustic men in Akubra hats struggling through fog, accompanied by trusty animals (a horse and dog) – a pair of Aussie battlers in hostile territory. Ramsland’s introduction to the work advertises the author as ‘Paul Wenz: French-Australian writer’. In this, she ostensibly echoes an old approach taken to Wenz’s work – that of Wolff, in her thesis ‘A French-Australian Writer: Paul Wenz’ – but also continues the work done by Blackman in 1990 in reclaiming Wenz as belonging as much to the Australian as the French canon, with an emphasis on his position among the Australian ‘bush writing’ tradition. The introduction provides a wealth of details about Wenz’s life in France and Australia, marking him as a worldly traveler who straddled lives between the city (Paris) and the countryside in France before then straddling lives between the Australian countryside and France from the 1890s until his death in 1939. In a striking similarity to the packaging of the French editions of L’écharde, Wenz’s literary influences are discussed in some depth. The list of influences includes canonical, but perhaps less ‘serious’ European writers than those to whom he was compared by Roz: French fairy tale writer Charles Perrault and his German counterparts the Brothers Grimm (10). However, these strategies reflect an attempt to package Wenz within the wider ‘world’ of literature and perhaps as part of ‘world literature’. Indeed, alongside French influences, Ramsland also insists on Wenz’s transnational belonging by pointing to his Australian influences, including the ‘bush writers’ Henry Kendall, Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson (11). This is a quite different packaging of Wenz than that provided in the 1931 French version of L’écharde, which placed him alongside writers of colonial classics such as Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad. Wenz is domesticated as Australian here, therefore – perhaps more fairly than by putting him in the company of non-Australian writers who wrote about exoticised Australian settings. In this way, Ramsland goes further than even Blackman in claiming Wenz for Australia. Whereas Blackman writes of Wenz’s Australian influences in an introduction to the Frenchman’s Anglophone work, Ramsland here notes that Wenz’s writing was recognisably Australian in focus and influence even when it was written in French.

Importantly, this paratext adds the extra layer of value to Wenz as a pro-Australian patriot in the war effort. At the centenary of the end of the First World War, Ramsland recasts Wenz as a wartime ambassador for Australia who both wrote about the plight of Australian soldiers and actively worked to care for them while in France and England during the war. Wenz is credited with sharing their ‘pioneering’ spirit and believing in the Australian values of ‘egalitarianism and mateship’, which defined the Australian soldier defending King and Empire (from where this work gained its title) in the First World War (11). His writing in favour of the Australian war effort is especially celebrated in this paratext, which even includes references to an Australian radio recording (in which Wenz’s and his wife’s voices can be heard) recounting his heroics in saving French and German lives (13–14). A description of the value of Wenz to an Australian cause therefore once again eclipses any celebration of the literary quality of Wenz’s work.

Interestingly in terms of language and translation, both Garner’s and Ramsland’s introductions celebrate Wenz’s ear for specific Australian turns of phrase that are not easily translatable. Ramsland states that whereas he tried to explain some of these to a French audience, he left many either untranslated or partially explained in Their Fathers’ Land. Names of native birds and animals like galahs and roos are explained but curlews are not, swagmen are italicised and explained whereas particularly affectionate terms of the Australian lexicon like ‘good old Sam’ and ‘bless you, miss’ pepper the text to provide an Australian feel (18–20). Whether or not they are aware of it, Garner’s and Ramsland’s pieces contribute to the emphasis on the limits of translation and the existence of untranslatable words, expressions and ideas which are currently viewed as fundamental to the development of translation studies. For example, in Against World Literature, Emily Apter advises scholars to ‘activate untranslatability as a theoretical fulcrum’ and develop a theoretical framework that ‘recognizes the importance of nontranslation’ (2).

These two translations, as noted above, are issued at the centenary of the end of the First World War. They show a Frenchman with a German-sounding name who celebrates the complexities of a multicultural Australia still defining its national character and in a perpetual battle with the land it would occupy. At a time of transnationalism and multicultural identity, during which what Dixon describes as ‘spatial fetishism’ and ‘methodological nationalism’ remain concerns of literary scholars and writers (‘Australian Literature, Scale’ 3), it is apt that Wenz should make a return to prominence. Wenz’s work, and its recent English language translations and re-packagings, represent another ‘worlding’ of literature, cast specifically as more French-Australian and ‘transnational’ than before. This modifies our older view of Wenz as a French writer who was sympathetic to rural Australian life and its language, casting him more as a writer with a dual identity who both helped Australia in its war quest and its quest for an identity, loyal to the King but different from the British, in a strange position but representing a point of confluence of many cultures. This is not a ‘world literature’ on a grand scale where great domineering nations celebrate their national cultures and their globalising tentacles, but one that exists at a series of regional levels, showing Australian and French literature as connected to the world in a manner many would find unexpected. This alternative world of letters is an unusual formation, a synergy between France and Australia which continues to this day in works by writers such as Catherine Rey, Didier Coste and Michèle Decoust but whose history could easily be overlooked. This interest has arisen at a time of increased financial cooperation between the nation-states of France and Australia. Scholars of French, Australian, comparative, transnational and ‘world’ literature, will hope that such cooperation will also result in renewed reciprocal interest in French-Australian literary configurations.


  1. This is mentioned by Wallace Kirsop in ‘Paul Wenz and Forbes’ and corroborated by an article on the history of the University of Melbourne, ‘Key 68: Graduate Studies and Research in the Postwar University / Doctor of Philosophy 1946 / Dean of Graduate Studies 1950 / Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) 1975’, https://archives.unimelb.edu.au/resources/keys-to-the-past/keys/key-68.

  2. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Australian Research Council for their funding of this project, ‘Transnational Selves: French Narratives of Migration to Australia’, through the Discovery Project scheme.

  3. For more on transnational writing, see our article ‘French-Australian Writing: Expanding Multilingual Australian Literature’.

  4. Warrego is the name of an Australian river, which may emphasise Wenz’s attachment to Australia.

  5. The exception was the American Jack London, whose short story collection Love of Life had been translated into French by Wenz.

  6. ‘L’Australie est un pays qui se fait, et il n’y a pas lieu d’être surpris qu’il n’ait pas trouvé son expression littéraire. Peut-être même aurait-il dû l’attendre longtemps, si le hasard n’avait assuré et fixé sur son sol, enraciné dans sa vie, un écrivain français capable de la lui donner’. Our translation.

  7. Though Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu is often rendered in English as Remembrance of Things Past, it translates literally as ‘In Search of Lost Time’.

  8. Renowned French-Australian literary and history scholar Colin Thornton-Smith entitled a 1998 article for Explorations (which later became The French-Australian Review) ‘The Delamotte Phenomenon: Cultural Reciprocity’ in which he notes the huge individual effort with which Delamotte should be credited for inspiring Australian scholars in French Studies to increase Franco-Australian cultural exchange.

  9. When Thompson led a management buyout of Imprint and Angus & Robertson, this would become ETT (Editions Tom Thompson) Imprint and would publish both of the translations of Wenz’s novels into English (Thompson, 71).

  10. Wolff devoted a chapter of her thesis to ‘The Place of Paul Wenz in Australian Literature’.

  11. Though the work was published in 2004, it would seem Garner wrote this preface in the late 1990s.

Published 30 April 2021 in Volume 36 No. 1. Subjects: Migrant literature & writers, Transnationalism, Helen Garner, Paul Wenz or Paul Warrego, Paratexts, Gérard Genette, Australian Research Council (ARC), The French-Australian Research Centre, Gough Whitlam, Jean-Paul Delamotte, Australian 'bush writing'.

Cite as: Edwards, Natalie and Christopher Hogarth. ‘Wenz Reinvented: The Making and Remaking of a French-Australian Transnational Writer.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 36, no. 1, 2021, doi: 10.20314/als.be8407d346.