The following texts proposed by the Literature Text Advisory Panel have been approved by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) as suitable for study in Units 3 and 4 in 2017. Texts were selected in accordance with the following criteria and guidelines.
Each text selected for the VCE Literature text list will:
have literary merit
be an excellent example of form and genre
sustain intensive study, raising interesting issues and providing challenging ideas
reflect current community standards and expectations in the context of senior secondary study of texts.
The text list as a whole will:
be suitable for a diverse student cohort from a range of backgrounds and contexts, including students for whom English is an additional language
reflect the cultural diversity of the Victorian community
include texts by Australians, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
include a balance of new and established works*, including a Shakespearean text
include texts that display affirming perspectives
reflect engagement with global perspectives.
*Established works include texts that are recognised as having enduring artistic value.
Guidelines for text selection
The text list for VCE Literature must adhere to the following guidelines:
The text list will contain 30 texts.
The text list must represent a range of texts in the following approximate proportions:
six collections of poetry
three collections of short stories
four other works of literature
One-third of texts on the text list must be by Australian authors.
Approximately 75 per cent of texts on the text list would be expected to be familiar to most VCE Literature teachers.
The text list must contain titles that are different from those on the VCE English and EAL
The text list will be reviewed annually, with approximately 25 per cent of the texts being changed. No text will appear for more than four consecutive years or fewer than two years.
Texts will be accompanied by full bibliographic details where necessary.
Information for schools
Teachers must consider the text list in conjunction with the relevant text selection information published on page 15 of the VCE Literature Study Design 2017–2020 for Units 3 and 4.
The selection must include:
one collection of poetry
two further texts selected from novels, plays, collections of poetry, collections of short stories, other literature or films.
At least one of the texts selected must be Australian.
Students must study a sixth text for Unit 3 Area of Study 1. The text used for Unit 3 Area of Study 1 must be an adaptation of one of the five required texts selected from the text list published by the VCAA. The text may take the form of, but is not limited to:
a live performance by a professional theatre company
a film, including a film script
a television miniseries
A student adaptation cannot be used as the adaptation text for Unit 3 Area of Study 1.
The literary criticism studied for Unit 4 Area of Study 1 is not prescribed.
The selection of texts should ensure that students experience a range of literature from early to contemporary works, dealing with a diversity of cultural experiences and a range of viewpoints.
Students are encouraged to read widely in both Units 3 and 4 to support the achievement of all outcomes.
While the VCAA considers all the texts on the text list suitable for study, teachers should be aware that with some texts there may be sensitivities in relation to certain issues. In selecting texts for study, teachers should make themselves aware of these issues prior to introducing the text to students.
The VCAA does not prescribe editions; any complete edition may be used. However, it should
be noted that the editions nominated in the text list are those from which the passages for the examination will be selected. For collections of poetry, poems are prescribed; students must study the poems listed in the text list.
The bibliographic information in this document is provided to assist teachers to obtain texts and is correct, as far as possible, at the time of publication. Publishing details may change from time to time and teachers should consult the VCAA Bulletin regularly for any amendments or alterations
to the text list.
Key to codes
The text list is presented alphabetically by author according to text type. Abbreviations in brackets after the titles signify the following:
(A) This text meets the Australian requirement.
(#) Bracketed numbers indicate the number of years that a text has appeared on the
VCE Literature text list; (1) for example, indicates that 2017 is the first year that a text has appeared on the text list.
Calvino, Italo, ‘Baron in the Trees’, in Our Ancestors,Archibald Colquhoun (trans.) (1)
Stead, Christina, The Man Who Loved Children (2) (A)
Tomasi di Lampedusa, Guiseppe, The Leopard (2)
Vásquez, Juan Gabriel, The Sound of Things Falling, Anne McLean (trans.) (1)
Aeschylus, ‘Agamemnon’, in The Oresteia, Robert Fagles (trans.) (3)
Ibsen, Henrik, A Doll’s House (4)
Ionesco, Eugène, ‘Rhinoceros’, Derek Prouse (trans.), in Rhinoceros, The Chairs, The Lesson (3)
Shakespeare, William, Coriolanus (3)
Shakespeare, William, Twelfth Night (1)
Shaw, George Bernard, Pygmalion (4)
Shepard, Sam, Buried Child (1)
Williams, Tennessee, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1)
Gogol, Nikolay, The Diary of a Madman, The Government Inspector and Selected Stories (2)
Stories for study: ‘Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and His Aunt’, ‘How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled
with Ivan Nikiforovich’, ‘Nevsky Prospekt’, ‘The Nose’, ‘The Overcoat’, ‘Diary of a Madman’,
Kennedy, Cate, Dark Roots (4) (A)
Stories for study: ‘What Thou and I Did, Till We Loved’, ‘A Pitch Too High for the Human Ear’, ‘Habit’, ‘Flotsam’, ‘Cold Snap’, ‘Resize’, ‘The Testosterone Club’, ‘Dark Roots’, ‘Angel’, ‘Seizure’, ‘The Light of Coincidence’, ‘Soundtrack’, ‘Direct Action’, ‘The Correct Names of Things’, ‘Wheelbarrow Thief’, ‘Sea Burial’, ‘Kill or Cure’
Proulx, Annie, Close Range: Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories (4)
Stories for study: ‘The Half-Skinned Steer’, ‘People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water’,
‘The Bunchgrass Edge of the World’, ‘A Lonely Coast’, ‘Brokeback Mountain’
Barnes, Julian, A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (4)
Fitzpatrick, Sheila, My Father’s Daughter: Memories of an Australian Childhood (2) (A)
Stanner, WEH, The Dreaming & Other Essays (3) (A)
Essays for study: ‘Durmugam: A Nangiomeri’, ‘The Dreaming’, ‘The Aborigines’, ‘Continuity and Change among the Aborigines’, ‘Aborigines and Australian Society’, ‘Aboriginal Humour’
Voltaire, Candide, or Optimism (1)
Each poem listed must be studied. In the case of longer poems, extracts from the poem may be used in the examination.
Browning, Robert, Selected Poems (2)
Poems for study: ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, ‘My Last Duchess’, ‘Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister’,
‘The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church’, ‘Love Among the Ruins’,
‘Fra Lippo Lippi’, ‘A Toccata of Galuppi’s’, ‘Andrea Del Sarto’, ‘Two in the Campagna’, ‘Confessions’, ‘Youth and Art’, ‘Never the Time and the Place’
Chang, Tina, Handal, Nathalie and Shankar, Ravi (eds), Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (1)
Poems for study from ‘In the Grasp of Childhood Fields’:
Joseph O Legaspi, ‘Ode to My Mother’s Hair’; Ha Jin, ‘Homework’; Tanikawa Shuntarō,
‘In Praise of Goldberg’; Xuân Quỳnh, ‘The Blue Flower’; Romesh Gunesekera, ‘Turning Point’; Dilawar Karadaghi, ‘A Child Who Returned from There Told Us’; Luis Cabalquinto, ‘Depths of Field’
Poems for study from ‘Parsed into Colors’
Diana Der-Hovanessian, ‘Two Voices’; Leung Ping-Kwan, ‘Postcards of Old Hong Kong’;
Ravi Shankar, ‘Exile’; Gregory Djanikian, ‘The Boy Who Had Eleven Toes’; K Dhondup, ‘Exile’;
Li-Young Lee, ‘Immigrant Blues’
Poems for study from ‘Slips and Atmospherics’
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, ‘The World’s a Printing House’; Arundhathi Subramaniam, ‘Strategist’; Marjorie Evasco, ‘Dreamweavers’; Michael Ondaatje, ‘Proust in the Waters’
Dobson, Rosemary, Collected (3) (A)
Poems for study: ‘The Fisherman and the Moon’, ‘The Ship of Ice’, ‘Painter of Umbria’, ‘The Mirror’, ‘The Tiger’, ‘Out of Winter’, ‘Annunciations’, ‘The Passionate Poet and His Muse’, ‘The Passionate Poet and the Moon’, ‘Eutychus’, ‘Over the Frontier’, ‘The Greek Vase’, ‘The Sanctuary on Overton Hill, Wiltshire’, ‘The Almond-tree in the King James Version’, ‘Reading Aloud’, ‘Poems a Long Way after Basho’
Heaney, Seamus, Opened Ground (4)
Poems for study: ‘Death of a Naturalist’, ‘Follower’, ‘Mid-Term Break’, ‘Poem’, ‘Requiem for the Croppies’, ‘The Tollund Man’, ‘Limbo’, ‘Funeral Rites’, ‘Punishment’, ‘Act of Union’, ‘The Strand at Lough Beg’, ‘The Otter’, ‘In Memoriam Francis Ledwidge’, ‘A Transgression’, ‘The Swing’
Wallace-Crabbe, Chris, New and Selected Poems (2) (A)
Poems for study: ‘Shadows’, ‘The Swing’, ‘In Light and Darkness’, ‘Genesis’, ‘Now That April’s Here’, ‘Sacred Ridges above Diamond Creek’, ‘The Thing Itself’, ‘An Elegy’, ‘Sunset Sky near Coober Pedy’, ‘Reality’, ‘Erstwhile’, ‘Timber’, ‘The Rescue Will Not Take Place’, ‘Cho Ben Thanh: Richmond’, ‘At the Clothesline’ (in ‘The Domestic Sublime’)
These annotations are provided to assist teachers with text selection. The comments are not intended to represent the only possible interpretation or a favoured reading of a text. The list is arranged alphabetically by author according to text type.
Calvino, Italo, ‘Baron in the Trees’, in Our Ancestors, Archibald Colquhoun (trans.), Vintage, 1998 (1)
Baron Cosimo Piovasco di Rondo, on 5 June 1767, at the age of 12, rejects a plateful of snails
at the family dining table, climbs a tree and never comes down again. In adopting this eccentric
life in the trees, Cosimo creates a rich and adventure-filled world for himself. Calvino’s ‘Baron in the Trees’ comes from the author’s modernist period, but looks forward to the experiments in
form that were to characterise his later postmodern work. Calvino makes use of allegory and extraordinary characters and situations in order to depict the postwar loss of community and the intellectual’s search for significance in a time of shattered illusions. Calvino’s unreliable narrators make explicit the author’s interest in the writing process and the shifting nature of language.
Conrad, Joseph, Heart of Darkness, Penguin Classics, 2007 (2)
‘And this also,’ said Marlow suddenly, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth.’
So observes the protagonist of Joseph Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness, anticipating
his narration of the nightmarish physical and psychological quest endured as he voyaged into
the African interior in search of the charismatically depraved Mr Kurtz. A work that continues to exert considerable influence on popular culture – notably in Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now – it has taken on some of the power of myth. Heart of Darkness is a layered narrative that not only conveys the enormous power of Kurtz’s African experience,
but questions the nature of civilised society.
Franklin, Miles, My Brilliant Career, Text Classics, 2012 (4) (A)
Franklin’s protofeminist work tells the story of Sybylla Melvyn, the daughter of an impoverished Australian farmer. Disillusioned with her life, she rejects an offer of marriage to the wealthy squatter, Harry Beecham, who offers her everything but control. Franklin’s character provides
a unique insight into the desperate life of the rural poor and the hunger for another life. Written
at the time just prior to Federation, the choices facing Sybylla are seen to reflect those facing
the new country. Described by the author as a ‘yarn’, this passionate voice is as fresh and as compelling today as it was in 1901.
Gaskell, Elizabeth, North and South, Penguin Classics, 2003 (1)
Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South depicts a mid-19th-century England in the midst of rapid social and economic change. The story centres on the developing relationship between the
novel’s heroine, Margaret Hale, a proud woman whose family has fallen from a position of
wealth and superior social status, and the self-made industrialist, John Thornton. Gaskell
weaves subplots that explore the degradation of poverty, the nature of honour, and the potential
for self-improvement and redemption. Both Margaret and John learn that there are complexities within social and political interactions that defy simplistic perspectives. The novel constructs an exploration of the shifting dynamics of social classes and the changing status of women, while simultaneously telling a passionate love story.
In the port of Colombo in the early 1950s, 11-year-old Michael boards the huge ocean liner, the Oronsay, bound for England. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly ‘cat’s table’ with an eccentric group of adults and two other unaccompanied minors, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, the boys become involved in the worlds and stories of the adults around them. Ondaatje charts the mischievous antics of the trio as they move from one discovery to another, until they make the most mysterious discovery of all – that of the shackled prisoner, whose crime and fate will haunt them forever.
Scott, Kim, That Deadman Dance, Picador, 2013 (3) (A)
This novel by Aboriginal writer Kim Scott tells the story of white settlement on the south-west
coast of Western Australia between 1826 and 1844. Initially, there are largely peaceful exchanges between Indigenous and settler cultures; later, the two groups come to the brink of war due to
the actions of the newcomers. The heterogeneity of the novel’s narrative form and its multiple viewpoints mirror the treaty proposed by the central character, Bobby Wabalanginy (but rejected
by the settlers), in which all would have a voice. In so doing, it offers a powerful vehicle for rethinking relations between the first and later Australians.
Stead, Christina, The Man Who Loved Children, The Miegunyah Press, 2011 (2) (A)
Set in Baltimore in the 1930s, The Man Who Loved Children is the story of a profoundly dysfunctional family. Sam Pollitt, dubbed ‘the great I-Am’ by his wife Henny, is the patriarch
who makes his children accessories to his narcissism and uses procreation as a form of subjugation. Under the yoke of marriage, child bearing and financial strain, Henny has become
‘a black hag’, a ravaged harridan who finally can only find a tragic resolution in suicide. The
pair has long ceased to communicate with each other directly and use the brood of children
as go-betweens. Denigrated by her parents, Louie (Sam’s daughter by his first wife) becomes
Sam’s true nemesis and the heroine of the novel. Louie embraces the role of ugly duckling and resists her father’s manipulation and her stepmother’s rage. Stead draws the reader’s attention to the fact that language provides an escape, false confidence or, indeed, pure vengeance. Angela Carter described Stead as possessing ‘a rare capacity to flay the reader’s sensibilities’. The Man Who Loved Children is a powerful and disturbing work by an uncompromising Australian author.
Tomasi di Lampedusa, Guiseppe, The Leopard, Vintage, 2007 (2)
In The Leopard, which spans the years from 1860, when Garibaldi took control of Palermo,
to 1910, the author employs the Salina family as a metaphor for Sicily. Tomasi di Lampedusa,
himself the last member of an aristocratic Sicilian family, uses Don Fabrizio, last Prince of Salina, to portray the inexorable decline and dissolution of the Salinas, but also to convey the seductive beauty of the decadent and doomed world they represent. The seven chapters trace the changes as Tomasi di Lampedusa simultaneously celebrates, condemns and mourns the opulent extravagance, entrenched privilege and corruption rooted in the past. The Leopard is constructed on a system of opposed values and images and, like its protagonist, evaluates what it portrays.
A clear-eyed cynicism is in Tomasi di Lampedusa’s description of both the Church and Garibaldi’s men as ‘fanatical … self-absorbed … avid for power or rather for the idleness which was, for them, the purpose of power’.
Vásquez, Juan Gabriel, The Sound of Things Falling, Anne McLean (trans.), Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012 (1)
Set in Bogota and the Colombian countryside during and after the most difficult years of the drug wars, The Sound of Things Falling investigates the impact of the drug trade on the private lives of everyday Colombians. Narrated by the central character, Antonio Yammara, the novel charts his friendship with the mysterious Ricardo Laverde. When Antonio and Ricardo are shot in a drive-by shooting, Ricardo dies and Antonio’s attempts to deal with his own trauma expose Ricardo’s past. In this example of Latin American literary noir fiction, Antonio is an innocent bystander who becomes the victim of violence and crime. The Sound of Things Falling is an intergenerational mystery that explores fate and destiny, and how certain events can send ripples throughout time, bringing people together while other relationships and structures, physical, psychological and social, fall apart.
Aeschylus, ‘Agamemnon’, in The Oresteia, Robert Fagles (trans.), Penguin Classics,
The first play in The Oresteia, ‘Agamemnon’ opens after the fall of Troy with the king’s return to Argos, ruled by his wife, Clytaemnestra, in his long absence. Agamemnon brings with him the Trojan princess, Cassandra, who speaks of the ancestral curse on the house of Agamemnon, predicting his death and her own, and the arrival of an avenger. Clytaemnestra kills them to avenge the death of their daughter, Iphigenia, whom Agamemnon sacrificed to Artemis in exchange for a fair wind for the Greek ships. When Clytaemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus, assume government, the Chorus sings of the return of the avenger, Orestes. The play is a chilling exploration of rivalry for power, family betrayal and guilt, in a cycle of violence where one act of vengeance leads to the next.
Ibsen, Henrik, A Doll’s House, Penguin Classics, 1965 (4)
Set against the backdrop of a Norwegian winter in 1879, Ibsen’s play was both controversial and innovative for the times. The protagonist, Nora, finds herself trapped in a ‘doll-like’ state by her patronising and domineering husband, Torvald Helmer. Like Nora, Torvald avoids reality until it is too late. Both characters, to some degree, live in a world of illusion. Nora escapes from the reality of her marriage through reckless spending, while Torvald’s treatment of his wife maintains his control over her and, thus, contributes to the final unexpected outcome of the play. This popular classic play continues to resonate with modern audiences and provides students with a rich discussion around themes such as marriage, truth, self-sacrifice and honour.
Ionesco, Eugène, ‘Rhinoceros’, Derek Prouse (trans.), in Rhinoceros, The Chairs, The Lesson, Penguin Modern Classics, 2000 (3)
Berenger, the protagonist of Eugène Ionesco’s play, ‘Rhinoceros’, must choose to remain human or conform and become a rhino like those around him. Ionesco was active in the theatre of the absurd genre, which emphasised the meaninglessness of the modern condition as defined by existential thinkers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre. Ionesco sought to portray these philosophical ideas theatrically through allegory, symbolism and humour. In the context of post-Holocaust Europe, the play reveals the insidiousness of ‘group-think’ and shows how people can fall victim to collective unconscious thought by allowing their wills to be manipulated by others.
Shakespeare, William, Coriolanus (The Pelican Shakespeare), Penguin Books, 1999 (3)
Composed in the twilight of the great tragedies, Coriolanus is Shakespeare’s tragic epilogue. An intensely political play, it lays bare the complex, often capricious relationship between the rulers and the ruled. Its protagonist, the Roman general, Caius Martius Coriolanus,
is an incisive study in the evanescence of charisma; here is a man of action seen in action, possessed of enormous bravery and valour, yet one whose pride and obstinacy deny him the capacity to inspire loyalty or love. Coriolanus is a bitter meditation on a man who fights alone
and who chooses to find no place in the common world.
Shakespeare, William, Twelfth Night (Cambridge School Shakespeare), Anthony Partington and Richard Spencer (eds), Cambridge University Press, 2014 (1)
Shakespeare explores love in all its manifestations in his comedy Twelfth Night. In Illyria, Duke Orsino pines for the love of Countess Olivia, who has sworn to mourn her brother for seven years, while in Olivia’s household, her uncle, Sir Toby Belch, carouses with the servants and the gullible Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who is also love-struck by Olivia. Add to this the arrival of the shipwrecked Viola, who, believing her twin brother Sebastian drowned, disguises herself as a eunuch and enters the employment of the Duke, with whom she falls in love. ‘Twelfth night’ refers to a festival which, in Shakespeare’s time, was an occasion for revelry and misrule, when the social order was overturned and the hierarchy was reversed. In Twelfth Night, disguises, twinning, dualities and mistaken identity all contribute to a general sense of madness. Although the play adheres to the comedic conventions, the joy and exuberance in Twelfth Night is muted by the play’s finish.
Shaw, George Bernard, Pygmalion, Penguin, 2003 (4)
The phonetician, Professor Henry Higgins, in order to win a bet, undertakes to turn a Cockney flower-seller, Eliza Doolittle, into a duchess. He teaches her to speak standard English and successfully introduces her to society. Higgins wins his bet and reinforces his point about English speech and the class system. For her part, Eliza rebels against Higgins’s insensitive and tyrannical behaviour and emerges as ‘a tower of strength: a consort battleship’. Shaw’s brilliantly witty ‘romance in five acts’ reveals the new Eliza as a transformed human being who now understands, as Higgins does not, that what really matters is not how she speaks and acts, but how people speak and act towards her.
Buried Child is centered on a homecoming. Vince returns to his grandparents’ home in the
Midwestern United States after a long absence. From the outside, their house seems an embodiment of the American Dream, but when he and his girlfriend, Shelley, step inside they find the stuff of nightmare. Although Vince is reunited with his father, uncle and grandparents, they do not recognise him and he cannot make sense of their actions. His relatives are divided from each other and bound tightly together by a secret. Using motifs drawn from Gothic fiction, Buried Child explores the aftermath of family violence, the grip of the past on the present, the gap between dreams and reality, and the problem of unpalatable truth. Shepard’s subversion of family archetypes remains as relevant today as when it was first written.
Williams, Tennessee, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Penguin Modern Classics, 2009 (1)
Tennessee Williams’s 1955 Pulitzer-Prize-winning play is set in the home of a wealthy Mississippi cotton tycoon. This intense family drama explores themes of family rivalry, secrets, lies and truth, homosexuality and repression. Big Daddy’s cancer is kept a secret, while his favourite son, Brick, represses his sexuality, using alcohol to conceal his loneliness and grief after his friend Skipper’s death. Brick’s wife, Maggie, trapped in a loveless marriage, projects a facade of glamour, while
his jealous brother, Gooper, and his mean, grasping wife, Mae, want Big Daddy’s regard and the family fortune, respectively. The drama exposes the family’s illusions, revealing the self-interest and self-deception at its core. Williams’s dramatic use of the plantation servants’ voices adds
a further layer of complexity as part of the social context of the play.
Gogol, Nikolay, The Diary of a Madman, The Government Inspector and Selected Stories, Penguin Classics, 2005 (2)
This collection of Gogol’s tragicomic stories is set in mid-19th-century Russian society. The characters are burdened by bureaucracy, rigid social convention, censorship and the alienating ennui of modernity. ‘Diary of a Madman’ traces the descent into insanity of a downtrodden clerk, Poprishchin, satirising the tendency for bureaucracy to be self-perpetuating and self-inflating.
This reflects Gogol’s recognition of the debilitating environment of the government machine.
The increasing scale of the delusions that beset Poprishchin is carefully and accurately portrayed. Perhaps the most well-known story in the collection is ‘The Overcoat’, which establishes the humble minion Akaky Akakievich as the central character. After saving for months to purchase
a much-needed new overcoat, he experiences an evening of joy before it is stolen from him by street thugs. Faced with indifference from government officials and his peers, he dies cold and lonely before returning as a ghost to punish those who failed him in life. Other stories in the collection explore human foibles and satirise the trivial nature of human tensions and expectations.
Kennedy, Cate, Dark Roots, Scribe, 2012 (4) (A)
Dark Roots provides 14 self-contained glimpses of life in Melbourne and rural Victoria.
In ‘Seizure’, as a woman watches a stranger tend to a man in the midst of an epileptic fit,
she realises that the handsome man she is involved with lacks all compassion. In ‘Cold Snap’, a boy takes revenge on a pompous interloper. In ‘Soundtrack’, a woman’s relationship with her teenage daughter must adjust to the news of an unexpected midlife pregnancy. With a clear voice and strong sense of place, Kennedy reveals the hopes, disappointments and small epiphanies of ordinary people.
Proulx, Annie, Close Range: Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories, Harper Perennial,
Set against the backdrop of the barren landscape in the mountain region of Wyoming in the western United States, this collection of stories by Annie Proulx includes the well-known ‘Brokeback Mountain’. Sometimes confronting, the stories describe the grim reality of life on
the land and the difficulties faced by her characters as they eke out an existence in such an unforgiving physical environment. Proulx uses spare and lyrical prose to bring her characters
to life, creating a sense of immediacy and authenticity that has become a trademark of her
craft. Teachers should be aware that some stories contain content that some readers may
Barnes, Julian, A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, Vintage, 2009 (4)
This hybrid text begins with a subversive revision of the story of Noah’s Ark and, from there, takes readers on a captivating and witty journey through the history of civilisation, where ‘one good story leads to another’. The blend of fiction and history provides opportunities to explore our concepts of historical truth and our interpretation of fact. Moving effortlessly between high drama and humour, Barnes challenges readers to consider their roles as participants within the grand scale of history. The past intriguingly becomes ‘just voices echoing in the dark; images that burn … and then fade; stories … strange links … impertinent connections’.
Fitzpatrick, Sheila, My Father’s Daughter: Memories of an Australian Childhood, Melbourne
University Press, 2010 (2) (A)
In her memoir, Fitzpatrick, a world authority on Soviet Russia, writes about both her life in suburban Melbourne in the 1940s and 1950s, and her educational journey, which was to take
her to Oxford University. As a child, she believed her father ‘bestrode [her] narrow universe like a colossus’, yet as a young adolescent she begins to apply the critical detachment of the emerging historian, deeply resenting his drinking and disregard of family responsibilities. Fitzpatrick explores the fluidity and unreliability of memory, looking at the complicated nature of family relationships in Melbourne during the Cold War.
Stanner, WEH, The Dreaming & Other Essays, Black Inc. Agenda, 2011 (3) (A)
WEH Stanner, an Australian anthropologist and essayist, spent many decades from the early 1930s in close contact and friendship with the peoples of the Daly River in the Northern Territory. His aim was to preserve the knowledge encompassed in their language and belief systems.
The essays that emerged from this work, written between 1938 and 1972, convey the complexity and uniqueness of Aboriginal culture. The collection includes a portrait of a Nangiomeri elder,
a fine account of the Dreaming and a piece on Aboriginal humour. The essays vary in tone
from the dispassionate observation characteristic of the social scientist, to empathetic despair as they chart the devastating impact of cultural change and dispossession. The essay ‘Durmugam:
A Nangiomeri’ has been described by Robert Manne as ‘the finest essay by an Australian I have ever read’.
Voltaire, Candide, or Optimism, Theo Cuffe (ed. and trans.), Penguin Classics, 2005 (1)
Published in 1759, Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism is his satirical attack on the popular
18th-century philosophical idea advocated by Candide’s tutor, Pangloss, that this is the best
of possible worlds and that the unavoidable physical, natural evils that occur in life along with human moral evils all happen for some ultimately good end. Candide’s voyages are littered with outrageous events, some humorous and some deeply horrific, yet Candide and his companions seem to emerge morally, if not physically, unscathed. At the same time, his travels through the Old and New Worlds force Candide, his companions and readers to confront an age-old philosophical problem: how to reconcile the existence of an all-good, all-knowing, omnipotent God with the world’s many physical and moral evils. Amidst the humour and the horror, Voltaire’s praise of and argument for rational conduct perhaps provide readers with an answer to the profound problem explored in this hilarious text.
The intellectual and artistic strivings, the political and spiritual ferment, and the personal,
inner conflicts that mark the 15th and 16th centuries are brought vividly to life in the dramatic monologues and romantic lyrics of Victorian poet Robert Browning (1812–1889). Browning portrays the complex motives and influences of his real and imagined characters: their successes and failures, their prideful religion, worldliness and hypocrisy, their desires for artistic freedom of self-expression, their tender regrets, wistful melancholy and disillusionment, their fleeting, illicit passions, their love and jealousies. Each character’s life is depicted from a startling and immediate perspective in language that is direct, vigorous, convincing and powerful.
Chang, Tina, Handal, Nathalie and Shankar, Ravi (eds), Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond, WW Norton & Company, 2008 (1) (A)
In the aftermath of 11 September 2001, Chang, Handal and Shankar (all poets who were born
into families from non-Western backgrounds) decided to respond ‘to the destruction and unjust loss of human lives [in New York] while protesting the one-sided and flattened view of the East being showcased in the media’. This anthology of poetry is the result. It gathers together poems written in 40 different languages (in translation), from 61 nations and from 400 poets, in the belief that these diverse poetic voices would ‘converge in the dream of shared utterance’, confounding otherness or, at least, writing it into visibility. ‘In putting this anthology together’, they write, ‘we had an alternative vision of the new century in which words, not weapons, could define our civilisation’.
The poems are in many forms: lyric, narrative, dramatic monologues, prose and more. They represent richly diverse material worlds and cultural traditions. Reading one poem alongside others, the reader is invited to move beyond personal perceptions and understandings, and glimpse or share sensibilities across cultures. The common ground is striking – in evocation
of childhood worlds; in relationship to homeland; in experience of loss or exile; in yearning for
love, and peace and security.
The poems chosen for study come from the first three of the book’s nine sections: ‘In the Grasp
of Childhood Fields’, ‘Parsed into Colors’ and ‘Slips and Atmospherics’. They move from the experience/memory of ‘home’, to the experience of migration or exile, and then to the riches
and surprises of language, which make it possible to tell the story of our own life.
Dobson, Rosemary, Collected, University of Queensland Press, 2012 (3) (A)
Rosemary Dobson is one of Australia’s most important poets. Her oeuvre represents a search for illumination, born from a desire to see something more than just ‘through a glass, darkly’. Elegantly restrained and deceptively austere, her poetry meditates on the transcendent potential of art, the paradox of time, the poignancy of existence and the mystery of death. These beautiful poems, replete with the author’s deep passion for life, are, as Dobson herself said, ‘part of a search for something only fugitively glimpsed; a state of grace which one once knew, or imagined, or from which one was turned away … a doomed but urgent wish to express the inexpressible’.
Heaney, Seamus, Opened Ground, Faber and Faber, 2005 (4)
For Seamus Heaney, ‘opened ground’ is a necessity, a way of getting right to the core of things. This is one of his main concerns in this body of his work that spans three decades. The Nobel Laureate draws his inspiration from a range of sources, including the natural world, contemporary Ireland and his family history. Through his poems, he explores enduring themes such as personal identity, love, death and the individual’s place in history. The selected poems offer a variety of insights into Heaney’s interest in the poetic form and his ability to create powerful sensory experiences for his readers. The book closes with Heaney’s Nobel Lecture, ‘Crediting Poetry’.
Szymborska, Wisława, Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems by Wisława Szymborska, Princeton University Press, 1981 (4)
Wisława Szymborska is a Polish Nobel Laureate. Her poetry often explores the sense of
fulfilment experienced in re-imagining the particulars of life. In her own words, she focuses on
the ‘importance of the unimportant’. Without becoming obscure, her carefully crafted verse rarely makes categorical statements or provides definitive answers; there is an awareness that truth is complex and ambiguous, that reality consists of a myriad of details. The poetry is often deceptively simple and engaging; greater complexity emerges upon reflection and study. In describing her work, she has observed, ‘I am, a question answering a question’.
Wallace-Crabbe, Chris, New and Selected Poems, Carcanet, 2013 (2) (A)
The poetry of Chris Wallace-Crabbe, one of Melbourne’s most well-known writers, is centred
on the world of everyday experience – its quotidian beauty, its sensuous complexity and the multifaceted, rapidly changing reality it offers to us all. His exploration of the forms, colours and moods of experience lead to powerful meditations on place, nature, existence, friendship, emotion and mortality that allow him to record the glimpses we are occasionally offered, always tentative and provisional, of meaning and truth. Wallace-Crabbe is alive to the power and limits of language – the power it gives us to see the world in new ways and the limits that ensure words remain inadequate to the things we want them to describe. His poetic voice is at different times serious and comic, innocent and urbane, and hopeful and despairing, but it is always alive to the miracle