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

Adelaide: A Literary City

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

Adelaide: A Literary City

Article excerpt

Philip Butterss, ed. Adelaide: A Literary City. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press, 2013. 280 pp. AU$33.00 ISBN 9781922064639 (Paperback) 9781922064646 (PDF Ebook: Free) http://www.adelaide.edu.au/press/titles/adelaide-literary/

The contribution of literature to the placed understanding of Australian culture has long been a fertile area of academic and artistic interest (e.g. Bennett 1991; Carter 2000; Gelder 2013; Goodwin & Goodwin 1986; Hadgraft 1960; Hodge & Mishra 1991; Knudsen 2004; Moore 1971). Establishing its independence from a more empirical British canon over time, Australian literature has sought to describe those unique landscapes, both urban and rural, which demarcate particular ways of being that we might term 'Australian,' even in all their plurality. Contributing to this body of literature, Adelaide: A Literary City begins with a grand gesture: 'All cities are literary cities: places where people read, places where people write, places people write about' (1), but it immediately draws the reader's focus towards the local by continuing, 'Perhaps though, not all cities can claim to have their very origins in the domain of the literary' (1).

In this way, the text lays the foundations for the claim that Adelaide is perhaps the literary city within Australia, its very establishment based upon several key writings, including Edward Gibbon Wakefield's (1829) A Letter from Sydney, which identified the centrality of literature to the building of a successful city. With this, the purpose of this book is made clear-to showcase the influence of Adelaide's literary culture in both the national and local context; the latter in particular, where literature formed the foundations of settlement, due in part to the discursive establishment of Adelaide as a utopian, enlightened, and 'untainted' colony, free of convicts. The significance of this influence is then tracked across the chapters, identifying those periods when the literary culture of Adelaide was at its most vibrant, and simultaneously, most troubled by conservatism, explaining the ways in which literature can speak actively to political and social concerns. In this way, Adelaide: A Literary City contributes significantly to the historical accounts of Australia's literary traditions and figures, as prior to this point, little had been written about 'the texture of Adelaide life' (8), or those who would attempt to be writers within it.

The book begins by recounting the establishment of Adelaide as a city, describing it as an imagined place, given physical, social, and economic existence through several descriptive texts. As Kerryn Goldsworthy (21) explains, 'The city of Adelaide was brought into being by a succession of acts of writing . . . of projection.' These acts of writing included Wakefield's (1829) A Letter from Sydney, Captain Sturt's Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia, The South Australia Act of 1834 and the ship diaries of local travellers, each working to bring into existence the concept of a city, though none of these actually mention any sort of capital. In this way, Adelaide may be an exception, where the writing of place preexists the very place being written about; perhaps explaining why many of the writings are so utopian in nature, describing a city that would be perfect in its execution through detailed planning. Of course, as the author acknowledges, utopias are by their very nature, nonexistent and the realities of pre-confederation Adelaide were quite different. It is Goldsworthy's insights into these historical oppressions of utopian ideals that makes this chapter so engaging, helping the reader to understand perhaps why there is so little written about Adelaide specifically: 'If the map is already perfect, then it doesn't leave you anywhere new to go. And if the society is already perfect, then it doesn't leave you anything new to say' (35). This juxtaposition of the idealistic nature of literature and the problematic realities of the colonial context set the scene for the engaging chapters that follow. …

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