A Classic Year: 2.0 Such is Life by Tom Collins

such_is_life_small.jpg Such is Life
Tom Collins

It may seem as if I'm getting fixated with opening novel sequences after quoting extensively from the first page of Robbery Under Arms last week, yet here I am again with this week's selection. I make no apologies.

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.

Based on this evidence you might assume we are in for a long-winded, evasive, polly-syllabic mess. Nothing could be further from the truth. But getting to the truth of the novel takes a little while, and we have to understand the book's structure as laid out in the preface.
Submitting, then, to the constitutional interdict already glanced at, and availing myself of the implied license to utilise that homely talent of which I am the bailee, I purpose taking certain entries from my diary, and amplifying these to the minutest detail of occurrence or conversation. This will afford to the observant reader a fair picture of Life, as that engaging problem has presented itself to me.

Twenty-two consecutive editions of Lett's Pocket Diary, with one week in each opening, lie on the table before me; all filled up, and in a decent state of preservation. I think I shall undertake the annotation of a week's record. A man might, if he were of a fearful heart, stagger in this attempt; but I shut my eyes, and take up one of the little volumes. It proves to be the edition of 1883. Again I shut my eyes while I open the book at random. It is the week beginning with Sunday, the 9th of September.

And the author is off on his first story. There will be a total of 7 of these. Originally intended to cover only a week of his diary, Collins soon finds that the task he has given himself is too mountainous to contemplate - "anyone who has listened for four hours to the conversation of a group of sheep drovers, named, respectively, Splodger, Rabbit, Parson, Bottler, Dingo, and Hairy-toothed Ike, will agree with me as to the impossibility of getting the dialogue of such dramatis personae into anything like printable form" - so he changes tack, reverting to documenting the events of the 9th day of each month.

Think on this for a while. If I were to tell you it came from a modern literary novel I doubt you would be at all surprised. The fact that this material was written in the 1890s and published in the early 1900s is quite astounding. There is the sense that the author is in total control of his material, and that he has no problem imposing himself into the structure of the novel - I'm thinking here of author John Fowles sitting in a railway carriage contemplating his own main character in The French Lieutenant's Woman.

Such is Life is a novel about bullock drovers, squatters and itinerant workers in the backblocks of Victoria and New South Wales in the 1880s. At times it can be hard to read, with a lot of dialog written in direct vernacular, but it is worthwhile persisting for the humor and the good-natured banter of men working in sometimes very hostile conditions.

You can read more about the author on Wikipedia.
And you can read the full text of the book on Project Gutenburg.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 11, 2008 2:03 PM.

"Adam Lindsay Gordon Memorial Unveiled in Abbey Poets' Corner" by Guy Innes was the previous entry in this blog.

Poem: The Kid by C.J. Dennis is the next entry in this blog.

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