Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Finding Furphy Country: Such Is Life and Literary Tourism

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Finding Furphy Country: Such Is Life and Literary Tourism

Article excerpt

Joseph Furphy, considered to be 'the father of the Australian novel', is best known for Such is Life, a little-read and often baffling novel about life in rural Australia. In 1981 Manning Clark claimed that Furphy is 'the author of a classic which few were to read and no one was ever to establish clearly what it was all about'. Julian Croftobserves that Such is Life is a 'cultural monument' which is 'more often referred to than read for pleasure' since it 'tests the skill, patience and endurance of those who attempt it' (TC 275).

The demanding nature of the novel, with its unusually complex narrative structure, inter-textual references and playful use of language, can be off-putting to many readers but it has attracted a small number of dedicated followers, who have been largely responsible for the efforts to memorialise Furphy and his contribution to Australian literary culture. This paper will consider various sites within the nascent Furphy heritage industry, arguing that they offer tourists opportunities to engage imaginatively with aspects of Australia's frontier past.

Literary geographies

Literary geography dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century, as exemplified by William Sharp's Literary Geography (1904). One of Sharp's achievements was to locate the novels of Walter Scott onto a map of Scotland. As Barbara Piatti et al argue, early experiments in literary geography often attempt to visualise the distribution of literary settings, but maps perform a secondary function to the written text.

Territorial and topographical aspects of literature have awakened new possibilities for researchers in recent times. Also described as a 'spatial turn' within the humanities, this renewed focus on landscape has generated a range of literary projects including Malcolm Bradbury's (1996) The Atlas of Literature in which detailed maps and street plans are used to highlight the spaces that writers and writings inhabited, created and transformed. Franco Moretti's Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900 (1998) uses maps to show the spread of interwoven literary geographies. Moretti's work has been groundbreaking in its extensive use of maps as tools to interpret patterns of literary production and dissemination. Inspired by Moretti, the Literary Atlas of Europe project is currently attempting to visibly render complex overlays of real and fictional geographies.

Literary tourism, which involves the interconnected practices of visiting and marking sites associated with writers and their work, has been evolving in Anglophone countries since the nineteenth century. Various systems of memorialisation have been developed, ranging from the official and topographical such as the setting up of memorials and plaques, to more intimate rituals such as following in the footsteps of writers or their characters (Watson 2-3). While literary tourists may seek out the settings of their favourite fiction, some writers choose settings which have a 'real world' counterpart and some are not reproduced realistically at all. As Piatti et al observe, settings can be completely invented; a cross-fading of two spaces; an existing region with fictitious elements; a likely place with an invented name or an existing region remodelled, like Furphy's Riverina in Such is Life (Piatti 180).

The business of literary tourism in Australia is under-developed compared to the thriving heritage industries of Britain and America but there is increasing interest in tracking places that are connected with local authors and their work. The sites associated with Joseph Furphy, including the Tom Collins and Mattie Furphy houses in Perth and the Furphy memorial in Shepparton, are still in the early stages of their evolution as tourist locations, and there is little research to indicate what these places represent to visitors. This article relies on my own impressions along with first person accounts from a handful of scholarly tourists.

Shepparton, the birthplace of Such is Life

To go to the precise location where Such is Life was written is to engage in a kind of literary tourism, since this practice effectively links the text to place by supplementing reading with travel (Watson 5). …

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