The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3

By John Clement Ball | Go to book overview

K

Keneally, Thomas
TRACY WARE

Thomas Keneally is a prolific and popular author of fiction and history, much of it about his native Australia. Convinced that history “is a parable for the present” (1975a, 29), he is best known for his historical novels. Two of his earliest novels, Bring Larks and Heroes and Three Cheers for the Paraclete, received the Miles Franklin Award for the best Australian fiction of the year, while three subsequent and very diverse novels were shortlisted for the Booker Prize: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1972; filmed by Fred Schepisi in 1978), about the persecution and murderous rampage of the son of an Aboriginal mother and a white father; Gossip from the Forest (1975b), about the signing of the armistice at the end of World War I; and Confederates, about the American Civil War. In 1982 he won the Booker for his meticulously researched Schindler’s Ark (filmed as the Academy Award-winning Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg in 1993), about an epicurean German businessman who saved the lives of more than 1,000 of his Jewish workers during the Holocaust. Keneally has spent time in England and the United States, but he lives in and writes mostly about Australia, and he is a strong republican. He received a New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award in 2008.

Keneally was born on October 7, 1935 in Sydney, where his family returned in 1942 after seven years in the north coast of New South Wales. His enduring interests in war originated in the stories that he heard from uncles who had been wounded or gassed in World War I, and from his father’s service in the Australian Air Force in World War II. In Homebush Boy: A Memoir (1995a), he writes of his youthful admiration for the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and his uneasy discovery after reading Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter that modern literature was not always approved by the Catholic authorities. To the surprise of his family, he decided in 1952 to train for the priesthood, but after “something very close to a crack-up,” he left the seminary in 1960 just before being ordained. “I had the sort of absolutist tendencies which led me to become a writer, I suppose,” he told Ray Willibanks, and so he turned to writing “almost immediately” (Willibanks 132).

His first novel, The Place at Whitton (1964), is a mystery in which the murderer is one of the men studying at a monastery to become a priest, while his peers try to cope with the strain. Confronted with one who believes that he communes with Joan of Arc, Father Onions responds, “The glory of the Church is mysticism, but the secret of the Church is administration” (101). Here is the birth of one of Keneally’s great themes: the fate of the good but wayward individual in such overwhelming institutions as the church and the army. In his fourth novel, Three Cheers for the Paraclete (1968), Keneally writes with more sympathy of the religious life that he abandoned. The story of Father James Maitland’s struggle to balance his priestly duties with the humanism that leads him to quote the likes of Nietzsche and Pound in his sermons, it displays what Graham Greene calls (on the back of the Penguin edition) “the rather awful comedy inherent in a priest’s life.” When asked by his superiors to comment on an unsettling book

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The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editors i
  • The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Literature WWW.Literatureencyclopedia.Com ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Notes on Contributors to Volume III xv
  • Introduction to Volume III 937
  • A 942
  • B 980
  • C 995
  • D 1034
  • E 1052
  • F 1066
  • G 1094
  • H 1121
  • I 1145
  • J 1154
  • K 1167
  • L 1180
  • M 1198
  • N 1252
  • O 1270
  • P 1277
  • Q 1296
  • R 1300
  • S 1325
  • T 1365
  • U 1370
  • V 1373
  • W 1378
  • Z 1398
  • Index 1400
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