Over at the 19th Century Yahoo book-group, we’re just about to start spending the next four weeks reading the classic Australian novel, (For the Term of) His Natural Life, by Marcus Clarke. So I am delighted to be able to share a guest post by my dear friend and long-time member of the ANZ LitLovers online reading group, Dr Lurline Stuart, who edited the definitive edition of this ever popular Aussie example of Tasmanian Gothic. I have already read this book twice some years ago, but for this read-along, I’ll be reading the Academy Edition (at left) edited and with an introduction by Lurline, (with her autograph inside it – of course!)
Lurline has generously agreed to share her expertise about this book not only here at ANZ LitLovers with a guest review, but also in the book group so it’s going to be a great discussion.
Marcus Clarke’s great convict novel has scarcely been out of print since its first publication as a serial story in he early 1870s.
The subject – that of a man wrongly accused of a crime that would see him transported and imprisoned for life – was hardly a popular one at the time of writing. Gold had been found in the Australian colonies, transportation to eastern Australia had ceased, and the colonists were more focused on building up a place in a civilised society where recollections of harshness and repression had no place.
Why then would Marcus Clarke have decided to write about the circumstances of events that had occurred in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) or even worse, the ultimate experience of convictism on Norfolk Island? The answer lies in his eagerness to be recognised as a writer. He had arrived in Melbourne in 1863 and, after a few false starts in other occupations, was beginning to make his name as a journalist. But it was as an author that he was hoping to make his name in the colony.In 1868 he purchased the Australian Monthly Magazine with a group of friends, changing its name to the Colonial Monthly. The first requirement for a successful magazine at the time was a good serial story which would encourage more and constant subscribers. Clarke wrote Long Odds for the Colonial Monthly, a story of horse-racing in England which was later published as a book. Then, as editor of the Australian Journal, a somewhat similar but more lasting magazine, he felt he needed a stronger subject for a new story.