Xavier Herbert: Capricornia


Despite its having the pioneering life as its subject and something like the family saga for its structure, Xavier Herbert's Capricornia (1938) has little in common with that documentary strain in Australian fiction referred to as 'the tradition of the nineties' or as 'the Lawson-Furphy tradition'. It has too much sprawling energy, it is too distorted in its vision of society, too much an imaginative projection of a personal response to experience to have any more than a superficial resemblance to such novels of pioneering as those by Eleanor Dark, Vance Palmer or Katharine Susannah Prichard. Yet, even though one might question the whole notion of 'the Lawson-Furphy' tradition as expounded in, for example, H. M. Green's History of Australian Literature, there are similarities to Furphy that should not be ignored. Some of these similarities would be: the apparent shapelessness of both 'chronicles', a shapelessness which is as much a matter of tone of voice as of construction and which conceals the stratagems of a story-teller versed in an oral tradition; the interweaving of a number of plots to demonstrate the way things happen and so as to preserve the known variety of the life of a region within the finite limits of a novel; and a similar toughness, a resilience in the narrative voices which can present so much that is disturbing and yet maintain a sane poise and distance. Perhaps because they are related to a local oral tradition in ways which, for example, the novels of Richardson, White and Stead are not, we might be inclined in each case to see the novel as the vital yet shapeless product of an 'unsophisticated' writer, ingeniously bolting bush yarns and experiences together, and to identify the author with the rawness, spontaneity and looseness of the society he depicts.

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Published 1 October 1970 in Volume 4 No. 4. Subjects: Aboriginal Australians - Literary portrayal, Civilisation, Literary portrayal, Nature, Reality, Xavier Herbert.

Cite as: Kiernan, Brian. ‘Xavier Herbert: Capricornia.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 4, no. 4, 1970, doi: 10.20314/als.a447a79e34.