Such is Life
"Such Is Life cannot be described: it has to be read. And when it has been read it will be read again for the pleasure that its human greatness and its subtle craftsmanship give.
"First published in 1903, this book is an Australian classic whose stature has grown with the years, whose intricacies and strength have been the subject of endless discussions and literary essays. 'Tom Collins' (who was Joseph Furphy) is widely held to be the greatest and most individual of Australian writers - partly, perhaps, because his ideals are those which all true democrats most resolutely cherish.
"Such Is Life, described by its author himself as of 'temper democratic; bias, offensively Australian', is not as other novels; and in stressing its Australian core we must not forget that it is also unique in English literature. The author's genius soars above accepted rules and forms, creating in rare and beautiful language a work that is all of life as he knew it.
"No less great as a man than as a writer, Tom Collins wrote with the complete sincerity of one whose independence of mind and essential honesty made him discard all forms of sham. Wit, shrewd observation and delicious humour are blended in this richly entertaining book to give an illuminating picture of humanity and of Australia."
Unemployed at last!
Scientifically, such a contingency can never have befallen of itself. According to one theory of the Universe, the momentum of Original Impress has been tending toward this far-off, divine event ever since a scrap of fire-mist flew from the solar centre to form our planet. Not this event alone, of course; but every occurrence, past and present, from the fall of captured'Troy to the fall of a captured insect. According to another theory, I hold an independent diploma as one of the architects of our Social System, with a commission to use my own judgment, and take my own risks, like any other unit of humanity. This theory, unlike the first, entails frequent hitches and cross-purposes; and to some malign operation of these I should owe my present holiday.
Orthodoxly, we are reduced to one assumption: namely, that my indomitable old Adversary has suddenly called to mind Dr. Watts's friendly hint respecting the easy enlistment of idle hands.
Good. If either of the two first hypotheses be correct, my enforced furlough tacitly conveys the responsibility of extending a ray of information, however narrow and feeble, across the path of such fellow-pilgrims as have led lives more sedentary than my own - particularly as I have enough money to frank myself in a frugal way for some weeks, as well as to purchase the few requisites of authorship.
If, on the other hand, my supposed safeguard of drudgery has been cut off at the meter by that amusingly short-sighted old Conspirator, it will be only fair to notify him that his age and experience, even his captivating habits and well-known hospitality, will be treated with scorn, rather than respect, in the paragraphs which he virtually forces me to write; and he is hereby invited to view his own feather on the fatal dart.
From the Angus and Robertson hardback edition, 1956.
About the author:
Ii was A. G. Stephens of the Bulletin who first saw the manuscript of Such Is Life in 1897, and who was responsible for its publication in 1903. He was Furphy's (Tom Collins's) literary mentor, and we owe much to his literary perception. Stephens writes:
"Furphy came to Sydney while Such Is Life was publishing: a lean, shrewd, proud, modest, kindly man of sixty ...
"He was Furphy, not Joseph: he preferred 'Joe'; he chose the pen-name of 'Tom Collins' to present himself. Collins is cool and collected: Tom is hail-fellow; they suited Furphy's manhood. Furphy is a good old name with the vital red in it; and Furphy was a red man, blue-eyed, a ruddy, rufous man...
"Twenty years of his life passed quietly at Shepparton. With regular hours of labour he had long evenings for reading: he read good books thoroughly, and at length he wrote: he wrote at length. Verses for the Bulletin, short essays of fiction describing deeds 'recollected in tranquillity': then Such Is Life, with a large diary-plan gradually filled. It is a microcosm of the piece of Australia Furphy knew, written by a humorous priestly rationalist with observant eyes, intuitive sympathy, and a cool ironic mind."
The author of Such Is Life and Rigby's Romance did not have the pleasure or stimulus of wide recognition in his own time: but his reputation has grown and he is now held by competent critics to be a great and significant figure in Australian life and letters.
Joseph Furphy, whose pseudonym was "Tom Collins", was born on 26th September i843 in Victoria, at Yering station, near what is now the town of Yarra Glen. His parents had emigrated from Northern Ireland, and as a lad he worked on his father's farm at Kyneton. He earned his living in various ways, travelling with a threshing plant, farming, road-rolling, until he acquired two bullock teams and roamed the Riverina for over seven years following what he described as "this adventurous and profane occupation". When drought came and his bullocks died of pleuro-pneumonia he went to work at the agricultural implement foundry owned by his brother at Shepparton. In 1904 he and his wife (he had married in 1867) went to Western Australia where, at Fremantle, his sons had started a similar foundry. He died at Claremont on 13th September 1912.
In 1949 Furphy's son, Samuel, gave the house in which his father lived to the Fellowship of Australian Writers in Perth. This, named Collins House, is preserved as a memorial.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2003 by Perry Middlemiss,Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Larrikin Literature Page.
Last modified: September 14, 2003.