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

Jocoserious 'Ignorance Shifting' or 'Aestho-Psycho-Eugenics'?: Interrogating Joseph Furphy's Bulletin 'Apprenticeship'

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

Jocoserious 'Ignorance Shifting' or 'Aestho-Psycho-Eugenics'?: Interrogating Joseph Furphy's Bulletin 'Apprenticeship'

Article excerpt

Furphy spent a period of ten years before publishing Such is Life (1903) writing short paragraphs ('pars') and occasionally essays for the Bulletin (Hoffmann 1984). Indeed, one might assume that the short articles he wrote for the Bulletin constituted his apprenticeship as a writer. Collaborative participation in the vivid reading and writing community that was the Bulletin certainly fed the larger fictional projects which eventually became Such is Life (1903), Rigby's Romance (1906 and 1946) and The Buln-buln and the Brolga (1948), but there is a striking disjunction between the rather abject and pliable writer of letters to J. F. Archibald and A. G. Stephens and the rather more swashbuckling writer who was concurrently being published in the Bulletin. This essay argues that from his very first venture into the Bulletin, the defining characteristics of Furphy's idiosyncratic writing style are firmly in place: the inventive allusiveness, the Tom Collins manner but not the character, the jocoserious thematics, and the orientation to 'ignorance shifting' (Letters xiv, 15, 23) as a mode of being for the writer. Indeed, Furphy, like Trellis's characters Furriskey and Orlick in Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds, seems to have been a case of aestho-psycho-autogamy, born fully formed as a writer: 'already matured, teethed, reared, educated' (40-1, 144), rather than one who was evolving into a mature style. Indeed, his first par, 'The Mythical Sundowner' (as 'Warrigal Jack', Bulletin, 5 Oct. 1889, 8) could, just as appropriately as his novel, have been titled, 'Unemployed at Last'.

One can be seriously misled by the abject tone of Furphy's letters to A. G. Stephens (hereafter referred to as AGS) in Barnes and Hoffmann's edition of letters, Bookman and Bookworm, and could be forgiven for thinking he was a passive writer, malleable in the hands of the editor, the 'three initialled terror' (Letters 107) of the Bulletin. On first sending the uncut manuscript to Archibald, and later to his agent, AGS, Furphy's tone is modest and undemanding:

I cannot even myself look over the MS. without noticing countless opportunities for correction, interpolation, and elimination.... (to Archibald, 2 May 1897, Letters 28)


If you can find a victim, I would suggest that you re-read MS., ruthlessly drawing your blue pencil across every sentence, par. or page which offends your literary judgment, and re-mail to me. (to AGS, 30 May 1897 Letters 30)

Even when it was clear that publication would probably happen, Furphy nonetheless continued to express self-doubt, and complied readily with AGS's directives. Most dramatically, he caved in, apparently with no resistance, to the major (and undoubtedly necessary) overhaul and shortening of the manuscript. This entailed removing two large chapters which he would later expand into Rigby's Romance and The Buln-buln and the Brolga. He was very pliable in the matter of delays, agreeing carte blanche and sight-unseen to be guided editorially in the matter of changes. Although generally compliant with AGS, Furphy offered flashes of resistance as he attempted to teach AGS how to read his complex novel. There is not a lot of evidence, then or subsequently, that AGS had a very competent handle on the intricacies and subtleties of Such is Life, and one can only be grateful that he deferred to Furphy on the centrality of the Molly/Alf story, a matter of some debate between them (Letters 53). But the content and disposition of the pars tell a curiously different story.

Furphy was 46 when he first published 'The Mythical Sundowner' under the pseudonym, Warrigal Jack. It was probably his first publication.1 Lois Hoffmann's invaluable checklist identifies 35 pars.2 Among these, there are five debate threads, comprising 13 pars, and almost all of them are in one way or another a response to a Bulletin or Argus offering, sometimes an editorial piece, but more often they are responses to other contributors, both celebrated and anonymous. …

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