‘Something we can only desire’: writing the past in recent Australian literature & an extract from the novel 'To name those lost'
AuthorWilson, Rohan David
AffiliationSchool of Culture and Communication
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2014 Dr. Rohan David Wilson
In the last decade, the novel in Australia has come under increasing scrutiny from historians, academics, and the wider public as novelists offer a vision of our past that often sits uneasily beside more formal historiographic investigations. There is a general expectation that fiction should be truthful with the past. Fiction, however, often undermines the empiricist view of referentiality that history promotes, instead exploiting the paradoxical break from the referent that the imagined topography of fiction allows. This leads to what Ellison has called ‘referential anxiety’, or an uncomfortable awarness of the loss of reciprocity with the world. Given this range of responses and the paradox of which they are indicative, to claim that the novel is a form of historiography misunderstands the nature of truth in fiction. This dissertation focuses on three Australian novels that exemplify the problematics of reference, Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance, Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish, and J.M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year. The dissertation is paired with an extract from the novel To Name Those Lost, the story of an itinerant labourer and Black War veteran named Thomas Toosey. His journey takes him along the Launceston-Deloraine railway line during the early years of its operation as he searches for his son, William. Arriving in Launceston, Toosey finds the town in chaos. Riots break out in protest at a tax levied on citizens to pay for the rescue of shareholders in the bankrupt Launceston and Western Railway Company. Toosey is desperate to find his son who is somewhere in town amid the looting and general destruction, but at every turn he is confronted by the Irish transportee Fitheal Flynn and his companion, the hooded man, to whom Toosey owes a debt that he must repay.
Keywordshistory; literature; Australia; Richard Flanagan; J.M. Coetzee; Kim Scott; Rohan Wilson
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