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

The Short Stories of Laurie Clancy

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

The Short Stories of Laurie Clancy

Article excerpt

At his death, on 16 July 2010, Laurie Clancy lefta folder of 100 stories, maybe to see what posterity would make of them. This contained unpublished material, besides pieces that had appeared in newspapers, magazines and journals. There were also copies of the 57 stories that had been published in his three collections of short fiction. These were The Wife Specialist (1979) (its title from the first story by Clancy to be published-in Westerly in 1971), City and Country (1989) and Loyalties (2007). Now there is a fourth gathering, Jovial Harbinger of Doom: Selected Stories by Laurie Clancy. These have been 'selected and edited' by his friend and former La Trobe University colleague, Richard Freadman.

Arranged thematically into eight sections (which to a degree represent a chronological progression as well), there are 44 stories, grouped as 'Catholic Childhood,' 'Student Days,' 'A Dog Eat Bone World: Academic Life,' 'The Literary Life,' 'Burdened by Freedom,' 'Sweet Deceit Comes Calling: Intimacy, Mateship and Betrayal,' 'Family and Estrangement' and 'Later Life.' In addition-and on its own in the section called 'All Done and Said'-is 'The Auto-Eulogy,' that Clancy prepared to be read at his own funeral. The Freadman edition has been used for the following discussion of the short stories of Laurie Clancy.

What the edition allows us to see, among other things and by implication, is the extent of recent critical neglect of Clancy's work. There is much of it to consider (although Freadman's preference is for the stories): novels, including the first, A Collapsible Man (1975), Perfect Love (1983) (for Freadman 'the most successful of the novels') and The Wildlife Reserve: A Tale of One Campus (1994), La Trobe University's only campus novel; four books of criticism, including short monographs on Christina Stead and Xavier Herbert, and a longer one on Vladimir Nabokov, and a Readers' Guide to Australian Fiction (1992).

In addition, as Freadman notes in his Introduction, there is 'a vast, as yet uncounted number of literary reviews and occasional pieces.' Yet there was no mention of Clancy in The Oxford History of Australian Literature (1998), nor in The Cambridge History of Australian Literature (2009). Some of his contemporary authors of short fiction, notably Frank Moorhouse and Michael Wilding, have received more critical appraisal than Clancy, though not to the extent of novelists who have enjoyed similarly long careers. With such exceptions as Bruce Bennett and Stephen Torre, contemporary Australian short fiction has not engaged our critics at length. Until the recent work of Paul Eggert, even Henry Lawson has been in partial eclipse for decades.

Clancy's careers as an academic and an author of fiction ran in tandem from their beginnings. Educated by the Christian Brothers in St Kilda, he went up to Melbourne University in the early 1960s, where he majored in English Literature. While tutoring in the English Department, he won a Harkness Fellowship that enabled him to travel for a year in 1970 in the United States (it is called the Trevalen in several of the stories that issued from that experience). Later he was appointed Lecturer in English at the recently established La Trobe University, where he remained until retiring as a Senior Lecturer.

After he leftLa Trobe, Clancy sustained academic contacts from 2008 with part-time teaching in Creative Writing at the RMIT University. His diagnosis with throat cancer the following year ended Clancy's hopes for at last working full-time as a writer. The dual career that he had enjoyed set him in a distinguished tradition in Australian letters, albeit one whose members are wildly assorted. It extends from Christopher Brennan to Brenda Walker, and includes such poet professors as AD Hope, James McAuley, Vincent Buckley and Peter Steele; Wilding and Margaret Scott. Into their company came Clancy, 'a refugee from a stern Catholic childhood,' 'tall and angular with huge ruckman's hands, bulbous eyes and a "bog-Irish" face'-in Freadman's genial description. …

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