Literary Journals and Literary Aesthetics in Early Post-Federation Australia

By Gelder, Ken; Weaver, Rachael | Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL, October 20, 2014 | Go to article overview

Literary Journals and Literary Aesthetics in Early Post-Federation Australia


Gelder, Ken, Weaver, Rachael, Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL


The first decade after Federation saw the establishment of a significant number of new Australian literary journals and magazines. Steele Rudd's Magazine began in 1904, lasting for three years and then resurrecting itself several times over until the end of the 1920s. C.J. Dennis's South Australian journal the Gadfly also lasted for three years, from February 1906 to February 1909. Journals like these were in one sense off-shoots of the Bulletin, creating alternative literary spaces not only for Bulletin contributors themselves, but also for a newer generation of aspiring writers (and editors) who had come to regard the Bulletin as limited in its range. Even A.G. Stephens- editor of the Bulletin's 'Red Page'-had set up a different journal, the Bookfellow, to provide what AustLit calls a 'sophisticated alternative.' (Stuart Lee in the ADB calls it a 'small, dilettantish magazine.') It ran for a few months in 1899 and then, when Stephens actually left the Bulletin, it started again in 1907 and lasted into the 1920s. Norman Lindsay went on to celebrate a number of Bulletin personalities in his book, Bohemians of the Bulletin (1965); but he, too, sought out alternative publishing venues: setting up the short-lived Rambler in early 1899, for example. The most significant literary journal of the decade was J.F. Archibald and Frank Fox's Sydney-based Lone Hand, which began publication in May 1907 and claimed high levels of circulation: around 50,000 for the first few issues.

Writing about the Bulletin poet Hugh McCrae, Lindsay remarked: 'The Lone Hand came at the right time for both Hugh and myself. It gave us a chance to have our works produced in a decent format, and that has a great deal to do with inspiring works' (Lindsay 125). The view that alternative literary spaces were needed even for Bulletin contributors themselves had been around since at least the end of the 1890s, with the demise of influential journals like Cosmos (May 1899) and Southern Cross (November 1900). The Australian Magazine lasted only a few months, from March to September 1899. One of its editors was Arthur Jose; in The Romantic Nineties (1933), Jose recalls 'a motley collection of artists and authors'-like George Lambert, Roderic Quinn and Christopher Brennan-who were instrumental in getting this journal underway: 'In those days the Bulletin was the only vehicle for their wares, and it did not welcome what they believed to be the best of their stuff' (Jose 4). The short, intense life of the Australian Magazine is in sharp contrast with the sheer longevity of the Bulletin, one of many casualties of a boom-and-bust literary economy. 'It died in September,' Jose writes, 'amid the hilarious laughter of its parents' (5).

So at the moment of Federation-and following in its wake-just when the nation brings its colonies together, there is a splintering of literary activity across a number of journals that fragments, or perhaps continues to fragment, any received sense of what constitutes a national literature. The literary magazine in this instance claims a relative autonomy for itself, distanced from larger, nationally representative projects, an obvious example of which is the Bulletin's slogan 'Australia for the Australians'-which became 'Australia for the White Man' under James Edmond's post-Federation editorship in 1903. Smaller literary magazines can also distance themselves from mainstream literary discourses, a point that is often made about the early modernist magazines circulating in Britain and the United States around the same time: as Eric White notes, 'the predominate feature of the little magazines in the rise of literary modernism was their ability to catalyse and sustain the production of avant-garde artworks and specialised discourse networks' (White 1). In Melbourne in the first decade after Federation, a further suite of new little magazines appeared that seemed to encapsulate exactly these formations: creating alternative aesthetic spaces for Bulletin contributors and a number of other writers, many of whom, like the journals themselves, have long since faded into obscurity. …

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