A Literary Visit to the USA: A Memoir

By Hergenhan, Laurie | Antipodes, June 2012 | Go to article overview

A Literary Visit to the USA: A Memoir


Hergenhan, Laurie, Antipodes


WHILE THE VISIT TO THE US THAT I AM RECALLING TOOK place some time ago, in 1968, I have shaped my reminiscences to express more than a personal interest, hoping to throw some light on the development of American involvement in Australian literary studies and indeed on some of the origins and originators of the American Association of Australian Literary Studies (AAALS, est. 1986). On the other hand, American developments that I observed throw into relief conditions in Australia at the time.

Fortunately, I received one of the last Carnegie travel grants awarded to Australians. The award did not tie recipients down to any specific program. My particular interests shaped an itinerary aimed at traveling widely. Looking back, I am amazed that 1 ranged so extensively but ranging served my purpose best, and my energy levels were high. Memory plays its tricks but I have checked facts against a lengthy report to Carnegie of my trip.1 The color added by filtering memory and hindsight becomes part of the story.

In 1963 I had become the founding editor of ALS (Australian Literary Studies) at the suggestion of my head of Department at the University of Tasmania, poet and Professor James McAuley. Both he and his friend A. D. Hope believed that it was time, now that Australian universities were expanding, to develop a coherent study of Australian literature, instead of allowing it to receive piecemeal attention depending on the personal enthusiasm of individual teachers. Both men believed that a journal might help to achieve this aim. Hope suggested that I look at the role of the journal American Literature in developing studies in its field, though given the differences of the two cultures, and especially of the time spans involved, I thought that it would provide stimulus rather than a direct model. I had recently returned to Australia after postgraduate study in English literature at London University.

Though I had no definite agenda for my trip, I was interested in comparing American approaches in the field of what were in the early 1960s called world literatures in English, or [British] Commonwealth literatures, much later to become known as postcolonial literatures. These studies, begun in the UK and the USA, were stimulated by the rise of the study of American literature as a separate discipline.

On beginning my Carnegie trip I visited the University of Hawaii at Honolulu where I met Professor A. Grove Day (1904-1994), a pioneer in the study of Pacific writing, including works by Australian authors. Day had written a biographical and critical study of popular Bulletin contributor of the 1990s, Louis Becke (1855-1913), and had also compiled anthologies of Pacific stories, including those of Becke (for example, South Sea Supercargo, 1967). This recuperative work prepared the way for later regional studies, but Day's contribution has been underrated by later scholars because it is concerned with popular literature. In addition to work on Becke, Day wrote the first monograph on Eleanor Dark (in the Twayne World Author series, 1967), while also compiling a guide to information sources: Modem Australian Prose 1901-1975 (Gale, 1980). A companion guide is the work of another American, Herbert C. Jaffa's Modern Australian Poetry: 1920-1970 (Gale, 1979). Professor Amos P. Leib at the University of Hawaii also researched in the Pacific region. He was currently working on the use of history and setting in one of James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific, a story concerned with the making of a wartime airstrip by American forces on Norfolk Island. I suggested that he send the article to ALS.

At UCLA, I discussed with Charlotte Spence, Indo-Pacific bibliographer, her project of building up the library's holdings of WWII literature of the Pacific. I also followed up my interests in Victorian literature, meeting Professor Richard Leon, acting editor of the leading journal in the field, NineteenthCentury Fiction. The famous Michael Sadleir collection of Victorian novels, held by UCLA Library, invited a sampling. …

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