Writers by Accident?: Recent Stocktaking of ‘Tasma’ and Paterson
Literary reputations and standing tend to follow erratic courses worthy of the sharemarket. Even blue chip stock, like Lawson and White, can plumb the depths, and the host of colonial authors, who once enjoyed broad support but are now no longer 'listed' or barely known, should give even the best-received contemporary authors cause for sober reflection. These wild gyrations, and the ever-present danger of public eclipse, are well illustrated by the fate of two turn-of-the-century figures who have recently received detailed biographical treatment: 'Tasma' and 'Banjo' Paterson. The former, after being a Transatlantic and Australasian celebrity, was virtually forgotten until comparatively recently, while Paterson, despite the popularity of a handful of poems, has largely disappeared from serious research on Australian letters. Fittingly, then, 'Tasma' is presented by Patricia Clarke within the larger feminist project of reclaiming neglected colonial women writers, and Colin Roderick portrays Paterson almost iconoclastically as 'Poet by Accident', in a monograph which seeks to correct national myths and Clement Semmler's popular image of 'The Banjo of the Bush'. Clarke's and Roderick's books will almost certainly play a major part in the future interest in, or neglect of, their respective subjects, while taken together they provide insights into current marketing strategies for Australian biographies and, by extension, highlight areas which are likely to remain lacunae in the colonial record.
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