The presentation of old age in selected twentieth century Australian novels

Hartshorn, Alma (1993). The presentation of old age in selected twentieth century Australian novels Master's Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Hartshorn, Alma
Thesis Title The presentation of old age in selected twentieth century Australian novels
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1993
Thesis type Master's Thesis
Supervisor Alan Lawson
Total pages 202
Language eng
Subjects L
420101 English
Formatted abstract

The aim of this study was to examine concepts of old age and the process of ageing as they are presented in selected Australian novels of the twentieth century. It has long been recognised that a country's literature is one of the most fruitful sources of information about its social history, and there is an abundance of books and articles which owe their origin to that recognition. Scholars from many different disciplines have sought to throw light on their own particular interest through a study of the relevant literature. My own choice of topic came as a natural result of a long-standing interest in old age, which grew spontaneously from my professional experience as a social worker, and a conviction that some of the best insight into the meaning of old age and attitudes to it, both in the old themselves and in people of other generations, is to be found in creative writing, rather than in the so-called "professional literature". It could also be described as an "insider" study, since I began it after my retirement and am completing it some years after reaching the threescore years· and ten of the Psalmist which is often referred to as "the allotted span" of human life. My personal experience of the vicissitudes of old age has at times presented me with very real problems and slowed the progress of my work but in compensation it has broadened my understanding and deepened my interest in the topic I have chosen to study.

The potential scope of such a study was fearsome, and for practical purposes it was necessary to set some firm limits. It was an easy decision to focus on Australian literature of the present century, and although other forms such as poetry and drama would undoubtedly have yielded much of relevance, I chose to concentrate on prose fiction and specifically on the novel. Having decided not to explore the potentially rich resources of the short story and of children's fiction, I was left with the need to determine which of the many novels that have succeeded in getting into print in the twentieth century should be included in the study. The ten novels finally selected are by only four authors, all of whom are accepted by literary critics as writers of consequence. In each book there is a significant focus on old age, although it is not necessarily the main theme. It is, then, far from being a comprehensive study, and it is possible that other novels which are not included, either through rejection or because they escaped attention, would have had equal or greater claims to selection. The final choice, which I made after reading many novels and seeking advice on the direction of my search, was, inevitably, subjective. I set out initially to consider books which were published between 1900 and 1970, since there clearly had to be limits of time and it seemed reasonable, in the context, to use the seventy years which would correspond roughly with the normal life-span. In the event, the novels chosen were published between 1 9 1 7 (the first of Henry Handel Richardson' s trilogy) and 1971 (the last of George Johnston' s) . It was tempting; of course, to extend the time limits to take in Patrick White's The Eye of the Storm (1973) and perhaps also Jessica Anderson' s Tirra Lirra by the River (1978) , but to do so would have taken the length of the study beyond what was intended and appropriate to the purposes of the thesis. Perhaps someone else will later write about the flowering of interest in old people in Australian fiction which began in the 1970s with these two novels and was continued into the early 1980s with the publication of Elizabeth Jolley' s Mr Scobie' s Riddle (1983) . White, of course, had written a good deal about age and ageing before The Eye of the Storm, and I was certainly aware of the many memorable old people he had portrayed in books published before 1970. I did consider including him among the chosen authors, but finally rejected the idea on the grounds of the limited scope of my research project, and the difficulty I should have encountered in dealing adequately with this aspect of White's work within its confines. I had also become aware quite early in my own work that a full scale study on the subject was then in progress, in the Ph. D. study of the Swedish scholar, Mari-Ann Berg, which was published in her own country in 1983 under the title Aspects of Time. Ageing and Old Age in the Novel s of Patrick White. 1939- 1979……………………………………………

Keyword australian novels
Twentieth century

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (non-RHD) - UQ staff and students only
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