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3-130 (Raw)

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author,male,Sinnett, Frederick,26 addressee
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Sinnett, 1856
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The Fiction Fields Of Australia
Man can no more do without works of fiction than he can do without clothing, and, indeed, not so well; for, where climate is propitious, and manners simple, people often manage to loiter down the road of life without any of the "lendings" that Lear cast away from him; yet, nevertheless, with nothing between the blue heaven and their polished skins, they will gather in a circle round some dusky orator or vocalist, as his imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, to the entertainment and elevation of his hearers. To amend our first proposition, then, works of fiction being more necessary, and universally disseminated, than clothing, they still resemble clothing in this, that they take different shapes and fashions in different ages. In the days of Chaucer - 
"First warbler, whose sweet breath 
Preluded those melodious bursts that fill 
The spacious times of great Elizabeth 
With sounds that echo still" - 
didactic and descriptive poetry was almost the only recognized vehicle of fiction. Then came the bursts that Chaucer preluded; and in Shakspere's days the dramatic form prevailed over all others. For some time afterwards every kind of feeling and thought found its expression in miscellaneous verse; and (though he was, of course, not the first novelist) Fielding, probably, set the fashion of that literary garment of the imagination, which has since been almost exclusively worn - the novel. In the shape of novels, then, civilised man, at the present day, receives the greater part of the fictitious clothing necessary to cover the nakedness of his mind; and our present inquiry is into the feasibility of obtaining the material for this sort of manufacture from Australian soil. We are not, of course, questioning the practicability of writing novels in Australia. Thackeray might have begun "The Newcomes" in Kensington, and finished the book in Melbourne, as well as on the Continent. Our inquiry is into the feasibility of writing Australian novels; or, to use other words, into the suitability of Australian life and scenery for the novel writers' purpose and, secondly, into the right manner of their treatment. 
[98] A reference to the second topic almost forestalls the necessity of our stating the distinct conviction by which we are possessed, that genuine Australian novels are possible; and, as a corollary from their being possible, it follows, with apparent obviousness, that they are desirable, inasmuch as it is desirable that the production of things necessary or comfortable to humanity should be multiplied and increased. 
First, however, we must deal with the possibility; for, it has been our lot to fall in with men, by no means altogether given over to stupidity, who deem, what Signor Raffaello calls, "this bullock-drivers' country" to present a field, not by any process whatsoever to be tilled and cultivated so as to produce novels, for some ages to come. The real reason, we take it, why our incredulous acquaintances arrived at the opinion they expressed, is, that such cultivation has not yet prospered to any remarkable extent; and that it is always difficult to believe in the possibility of anything of which there is no existing example and type. But, as this particular reason for disbelief is one which, while it has much actual weight over men's minds, is not often openly advanced, some more specific and respectable arguments were required, and, accordingly, were soon forthcoming. 
In the first place, then, it is alleged against Australia that it is a new country, and, as Pitt said, when charged with juvenility, "this is an accusation which I can neither palliate nor deny." Unless we go into the Aboriginal market for "associations," there is not a single local one, of a century old, to be obtained in Australia; and, setting apart Mr. Fawkner's pre-Adamite recollections of Colonel Collins, there is not an association in Victoria mellowed by so much as a poor score of years. It must be granted, then, that we are quite debarred from all the interest to be extracted from any kind of archeological accessories. No storied windows, richly dight, cast a dim, religious light over any Australian premises. There are no ruins for that rare old plant, the ivy green, to creep over and make his dainty meal of. No Australian author can hope to extricate his hero or heroine, however pressing the emergency may be, by means of a spring panel and a subterranean passage, or such like relics of feudal barons, and refuges of modern novelists, and the offspring of their imagination. There may be plenty of dilapidated buildings, but not one, the dilapidation of which is sufficiently venerable by age, to tempt the wandering footsteps of the most arrant parvenu of a ghost that ever walked by night. It must be admitted that Mrs. Radcliffe's genius would be quite thrown away here; and we must reconcile ourselves to the conviction that the foundations of a second "Castle of Otranto" can hardly be laid in Australia during our time. Though the corporation may leave Collins-street quite dark enough for the purpose, it is much too dirty to permit any novelist (having a due regard to her sex) to ask the White Lady of Avenel, or a single one of her female connections, to pass that way. 
Even if we survive these losses, the sins of youth continue to beset us. No one old enough for a hero can say, 
"I remember, I remember the house where I was born,"
apropos of a Victorian dwelling. The antiquity of the United States quite [99] puts us to shame; and it is darkly hinted that there is not so much as a "house with seven gables" between Portland and Cape Howe. 
Mr. Horne, in his papers on dramatic art, observed very truly, that one does not go to the theatre (or the novel) for a fac simile of nature. If you want that you can see nature itself in the street or next door. You go to get larger and more comprehensive views of nature than your own genius enables you to take for yourself, through the medium of art.