Review: C.J. Dennis: A Collection of Verse by C.J. Dennis

cjdnla_small.jpg Review of C.J. Dennis: A Collection of Verse by C.J. Dennis.

The National Library of Australia, as part of its publishing programme, has released a new collection of C.J. Dennis's works lavisly illustrated with reproductions of a number of Hal Gye painting and illustrations.

Dennis is best known in this country as the best-selling author of The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, which was originally published in 1915, and which has subsequently sold well in excess of 100,000 copies in this country alone. In the mid-1980s, Angus and Robertson publishers re-released all of Dennis's major books and collections, with the exception of The Singing Garden, and yet, in the past twenty years, only The C.J. Dennis Collection edited by Garrie Hutchinson in 1987, More Than Sentimental Bloke compiled by John Derum in 1990, and The Complete Sentimental Bloke edited by Neil James in 2001, have been published. So a new collection of Dennis's works is certainly due.

This current book "samples" Dennis's work, taking a chapter or poem from each of his major works and presenting them in near-chronological order. The collection starts with "The Australaise", Dennis's entry into a national song-writing competition run by The Bulletin in 1908. This is a pretty good lead-off for the rest of the entries, showing Dennis's strong rhyming skills and use of humour to make his point. What follows are excerpts from the Sentimental Bloke sequence, The Glugs of Gosh, and poems from BackBlock Ballads and Other Verses, A Book for Kids and The Singing Garden. The work ranges from war poetry to childrens' ditties to paeans to nature.

All of Dennis's major themes and styles are covered, providing a good representation of his life's work. But the one thing that makes this collection stand out from those that have come before is the use of Hal Gye's artwork. Gye was the artist reponsible for the winged cherubs of the Sentimental Bloke, the tree-climbing Glugs and the contemplative ex-soldiers that illustrated the original Dennis books. I've always been a little ambivalent about the Gye cherubs, but have come to the conclusion over the years that the two are now basically inseparable. There is no point complaining about their use: Dennis approved of them and that's really all we need to know. The illustrations here are from the Harry Chaplin Collection, housed at the National Library, and liberal use has been made of Gye illustrations that have previously gone unpublished, such as the one of "C.J. Glug" that graces the front cover of the book.

This collection is therefore a timely reminder of the genius of Dennis and will introduce all his works to modern readers and, hopefully, bring the works of Hal Gye to a wider audience.

On a personal note I was in the National Library of Australia a couple of years back looking into the Harry Chaplin Collection for Dennis material when I was asked to have a chat with the chief archivist of the library. I was led to believe this was the standard thing for new researchers as the library wanted to make sure that their archived material was being treated with respect. I was asked if I was researching for possible future publication. Not wanting to burn any bridges before I got to them, I did say that publication was a possibility. Of course, I shouldn't assume that this chat wasn't anything more than normal procedure, but it is interesting to see this book come directly out of the material I was studying.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 9, 2005 9:12 AM.

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