Academic journal article Antipodes

Dick the Poet: "Allegorical Tendencies" in Robbery under Arms

Academic journal article Antipodes

Dick the Poet: "Allegorical Tendencies" in Robbery under Arms

Article excerpt

I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion since childhood. [. . .] The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could."

- C. S. Lewis, "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to be Said"

ROLF BoLDREWOOD's NOVEL ROBBERY UNDER ARMS IS KNOWN for its action, adventure and frank depiction of life in Australia during the gold rush. It is also known for its didacticism, which critics tend to find disagreeable (Green 257; Rosenberg 488; Dowsley 75; Turner 240). Despite this recognition, the scholarship that explores the novel's didactic nature is limited to religious scholars like Veronica Brady, who gests that Dick's narrative represents a surrender to cultural norms rather than an allegory symbolizing a genuine spiritual transformation (41). This paper, however, seeks to create a discussion that will draw out the Christian-centered "allegorical tendencies" in Robbery Under Arms.

The basic construct of Robbery Under Arms is that Dick ston, the narrator, is in jail awaiting execution on charges murder. The novel represents Dick's final thoughts, a kind of memoir recounting his life from boyhood and depicting a gradual descent into a life of crime for him and his brother Jim: stealing cattle, robbing mail coaches, and holding up banks. Near the end of the narrative Jim is shot and killed, and the novel's lesson becomes clear when Dick compares the fate of the Marstons with that of their neighbor, George Storefield, who through his honesty, thrift, and hard work becomes a wealthy, respected pillar of the community. Ultimately, Dick's own life is spared because of the kindness and loyalty of his friends and neighbors, allowing him to repent and become an honest man. In this way, Dick's life seems to parallel a Christian conversion story and the novel could be read as a Christian allegory.

While Northrop Frye posits that any reading of that attaches meaning to images is allegory (89), there is an allegorical tradition, which, in part, owes it popularity to tian theology (Quilligan 19). According to Bloomfield, this legorical tradition was adopted in England after 597 CE. (73), and critics agree that this influence can be read in a variety texts including Beowulf, The Faerie Queene, Piers Plowman, and in the works of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and J.R.R. Tolkien. The tradition found roots in Australia as well, and, apart Robbery Under Arms, an exploration of Christian symbolism has been discussed by scholars in the works of Patrick White, cus Clarke, Sally Morgan, Joseph Furphy, Thomas Keneally, Adam Lindsay Gordan, Henry Handel Richardson, and more recently L. Furze-Morrish. There has also been a survey of religious attitudes among Australian writers of the 1890s by Zaunbrecher and work by Elaine Stuart Lindsay dealing with Christian themes in a specifically feminist context.1 Thus, a reading of Robbery Under Arms as a Christian allegory would build on this long-standing discussion.

The definition of allegory, Rollinson argues, is "saying one thing but meaning something else" (16), and the basic question of an allegory is to determine the context "of reference to which the verbal expression being interpreted was probably intended to apply" (22). Christian allegory, in the words of St. Augustine of Hippo, is meant to teach and disseminate "the true Word of God to a wide authence for the sake of furthering the cause of the Church . . . and [there is] a need for . . . deliberate obscurity to ensure that the authence which received the message was worthy and able to understand it" (qtd. in Pendergast 13). …

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