Unfortunately this book did not realise my expectations for it. That is perhaps the kindest way I can put it. I was hoping for a reasonably detailed chronological history of the Ottoman Empire, it rise and demise. There is a lot in this book, plenty of interesting detail and some amusing also. However, it is a little … too confusing for my like. It is all over the shop at times and just doesn’t ‘fit together’ enough for me. It is a useful read, but I doubt it will leave a lasting impression on me or an understanding of the Ottoman Empire with me.
This episode of The Conversation’s In Depth Out Loud podcast, features the work of Leon Litvack at Queen’s University Belfast, a world authority on Charles Dickens, on what happened after the death of the author.
His new research has uncovered the never-before-explored areas of the great author’s sudden death on June 9 1870, and his subsequent burial.
Dickens’s death created an early predicament for his family. Where was he to be buried? Near his home (as he would have wished) or in that great public pantheon, Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey (which was clearly against his wishes)? But two ambitious men put their own interests ahead of the great writer and his family in an act of institutionally-sanctioned bodysnatching.
You can read the text version of this in depth article here. The audio version is read by Michael Parker and edited by Gemma Ware.
This story came out of a project at The Conversation called Insights. Sponsored by Research England, our Insights team generate in depth articles derived from interdisciplinary research. You can read their stories here, or subscribe to In Depth Out Loud to listen to more of their articles in the coming months.
The music in In Depth Out Loud is Night Caves, by Lee Rosevere.
Charles Dickens’ first biographer, John Forster, ended The Life of Charles Dickens in 1874 with the Dean of Westminster’s sermon. This was delivered in Westminster Abbey on June 19 1870, three days after the novelist’s funeral. Dickens’s grave in Poets’ Corner would, said the dean:
henceforward be a sacred one with both the new world and the old, as that of the representative of literature, not of this island only, but of all who speak our English tongue.
In the century and half since his death, writers from the southern hemisphere have continued to recast Dickens’s fictions in new forms. Two novels – Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs (1997) and Lloyd Jones’s Mr Pip (2007) – rework Dickens’s Great Expectations (1859-60).
In so doing, they present readers with opportunities to rethink ways in which Dickens was “a representative of literature”; including the power relations around class and colonialism that have shaped the transmission of writing in “our English tongue” for the past two centuries.
In Jack Maggs, Carey – a double Booker Prize-winning Australian novelist – rewrites Great Expectations from the perspective of a convict who returns from his sentence in the new world to terrible risk: the only sure thing that old England can offer him is a noose. Dickens’s original novel sees the world from the shifting perspective of Philip Pirrip – or “Pip” – an orphan boy plucked from obscurity who thinks he has been “made” by the wealthy Miss Havisham. In fact his fortunes have been advanced by Abel Magwitch, a convict who the young Pip had helped in an escape bid.
In Carey’s pastiche, Magwitch becomes Jack Maggs, who has survived transportation to Australia and become a successful and wealthy brickmaker. He returns from the British colony of New South Wales to the London of 1837, the year during which Dickens rose to fame. Maggs wants contact with Pip – rendered here as the young man Henry Phipps, whom he has made into a gentleman.
Instead, he encounters the young, upwardly mobile novelist Tobias Oates: ambitious, anxious to hold onto the new respectability he has secured after childhood poverty, and riddled with emotional and financial insecurities. Oates is of course a version of the young Dickens prior to the consolidated public image of the respectable literary giant commemorated in Forster’s biographical portrait.
Carey reminds us, through Oates, that the Dickens of 1830s closely observed a London world of crime and sexual misdemeanour that could scarcely be rendered in the language of fiction available to him. Dickens also flirted with the new science of mesmerism, a technique which Oates applies to Maggs to exorcise him of the “phantoms” or traumas of brutalised convict life. Oates thereby appropriates Maggs’s story as a series of “burgled secrets” which are to be recast as a crime melodrama for his own literary gain.
Yet Carey reverses this invasive power relation and enables Maggs to tell his own story, restoring him to his own emotionally scarred but resilient origins. Carey concludes with the image of Maggs as redeemed Australian subject who has exorcised the phantoms of English class longings, and is restored to his family in the new world.
Pip in the Pacific
Lloyd Jones’s Mr Pip transports Great Expectations to the Pacific, the conflicted island of Bouganville in Papua New Guinea. The New Zealand novelist writes about the reading and interpretation of Dickens’s novel among a group of black children and their eccentric, self-appointed white teacher, Mr Watts, as an event punctuated by the rebel insurgence, military occupation and horrific violence experienced in the 1990s.
If Dickens wrote Great Expectations as a tale of betrayal, guilt and ambiguous origins in 1860, Jones’s novel shows how that moral and emotional frame can be adapted to new, post-colonial conditions. Matilda is Jones’s 14 year-old fatherless narrator, who comes to appreciate that Pip’s story of mobility and self remaking, which the migrant Mr Watts reads to his pupils as a source of inspiration, is powerfully apt for those whose lives are subject to displacement and migration.
But the “Pip” that Matilda venerates by writing his name, in shells, on the beach is mistaken by military occupiers as the name of a rebel who is being concealed by the villagers. In a terrible unfolding of misunderstandings, both Matilda’s mother and Mr Watts are butchered.
As Matilda escapes to a life of education and possibility, reunited with her migrant father in Australia, she comes to realise that the Great Expecations that Mr Watts read to them was in fact an abridged format for the children of empire: that Dickens’s “sacred” text existed in multiple versions.
Jones’s story casts powerful new light on the way in which Dickens can be seen as a leading “representative of literature”. In one sense, Dickens was the great author of Forster’s biography, buried in Poet’s Corner. In another, as Matilda comes to recognise, the name “Dickens” helped to drive and commodify the global transmission of Victorian literature in many different formats to many new parts of the globe.
As Regenia Gagnier’s research on the global circulation of Dickens and other Victorians shows, literature itself is always in a process of migration to and through new power relations.
The Black Summer bushfires may have ended, but the cultural cost has yet to be counted.
Thousands of Aboriginal sites were likely destroyed in the 2019 bushfires. But at present, there is no clarity about the numbers of precious artefacts lost.
Though recent by comparison, relics from Australian literary heritage have also been reduced to ash. Last year’s bushfires destroyed a hut built specially for author Kylie Tennant (1912–1988) at Diamond Head, and many High Country huts associated with A.B “Banjo” Paterson’s The Man From Snowy River.
Thankfully, NSW Parks and Wildlife Service are making plans to rebuild Kylie Tennant’s hut. But after this devastating loss, it’s impossible to ever fully recreate the authentic atmosphere of Tennant’s writing retreat.
The undeniable romance of Kylie’s hut
During the second world war, Tennant moved to Laurieton with her husband and their daughter Benison, and lived there until 1953. At nearby Diamond Head, she met Ernie Metcalfe, a returned serviceman from the first world war and well-known local bushman.
Metcalfe felt Tennant had paid him too much for the land she bought from him, which was partly why he offered to build the hut. Bill Boyd, who later restored the hut, remembers
Kylie would insist on paying him […] she only paid him about 25 pounds which was a lot of money in that time.
Metcalfe was memorialised in her non-fiction book The Man on the Headland (1971). From the beginning, fire played a part in the hut’s life.
The first summer, as though Dimandead [Diamond Head] had made a sudden bid against this new invasion, a fire leapt the creek and came so close to the house that one window cracked in the heat.
Ernie fought the fire single-handed and when we arrived he was standing sooty with ash in his beard in a blackened desert with the house safe in the middle.
While appearing to be an ordinary bushman’s dwelling, “the romance” of Kylie’s Hut was “undeniable”, according to Andrew Marshall, a marine wildlife project officer in the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service. It’s fondly remembered by locals, tourists and aspiring writers who have visited since the 1980s.
Its location in a campground was unique because it quietly coexisted with holidaymakers rather than being relegated to a specially demarcated, curated space. However, this lack of protection left it exposed to the elements and the predations of climate change.
Protecting Crowdy Bay National Park
In 1976, Tennant donated the hut and the surrounding land to Crowdy Bay National Park, partly to try to protect the environment from ongoing rutile mining.
The creation of the Crowdy Bay National Park was facilitated not only by Tennant’s gift, but also by the earlier dispossession of the Birpai peoples and the re-zoning of their land.
It’s also important to acknowledge Tennant’s tendency to erase the Indigenous presence in this book. In the opening chapter, Tennant writes that Diamond Head’s “aborigines were gone, all gone, like the smoke blown from their fires”.
The erroneous belief that previous inhabitants had “disappeared”, meant the story of Tennant and Metcalfe’s friendship, symbolised by the hut, effectively obscured earlier stories of the Traditional Owners.
Restoration worthy of preservation
Local bush carpenter Bill Boyd substantially refurbished Kylie’s Hut in the early 1980s. A master of old forestry and timber working tools, Boyd used the restoration of Kylie’s Hut as a way to share his knowledge of the uses of broad-axe and adze (an axe-like tool with an arched blade).
Aside from its association with Tennant, the hut has additional significance because it was built using “unpretentious construction techniques” and displays “a unity of form, design and scale”, according to Libby Jude, a ranger from the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service.
It was composed of “strong, natural textures” associated with the fabric of the place in which it stood. And the specialised restoration methods Boyd used are heritage practices that are themselves worthy of preservation.
Boyd also passed on his knowledge to younger carpenters while restoring many of the High Country huts, some dating back to the 1860s and associated with The Man From Snowy River. Most of these were also razed by the recent bushfires.
Members of the Kosciuszko Huts Association have expressed their desire to restore the huts, but a conversation about when and how they could be reconstructed will be well down the track.
Australian literary heritage is often forgotten
Unlike the United Kingdom, where literary properties are routinely listed on maps, Australia tends not to proudly celebrate sites related to its writers.
Aside from the work done by the National Trust, literary societies and enthusiasts in regional communities mostly drive the protection of Australian literary sites.
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Ideally, there should be a more coordinated approach to our literary heritage which could identify vulnerable structures and take steps to ensure that, wherever possible, they’re not wiped out by natural and man-made disasters.
The memorialisation of Kylie’s Hut, which began in the 1980s as a response to her book The Man on the Headland, rendered black history peripheral to the central story of bushmen like Metcalfe living in the area. Nevertheless, it was an accessible literary site stimulating awareness of aspects of our cultural history, which might otherwise remain almost completely unknown.