Reprint: An Australian Literary Melba?

On 29 September 1931 "The Argus" newspaper published the following cable from London:


No Literary Melba.

British Diarist Puzzled.

LONDON, Sept 28

" Peterborough," the diarist of the "Daily Telegraph " apropos of the opening at Australia House of an exhibition of works of Australian authors, writes: -"The discerning have no need of an introduction to the works of Henry Handel Richardson, but names familiar to the majority of British people may be counted on the fingers of one hand such as Marcus Clarke, Rolf Boldrewood, Adam Lindsay Gordon, and Henry Lawson. Visitors to the exhibition familiar only with this genre will find that Australian literature has changed with Australian life. Writers are no longer much concerned with the simple joys and romance of the open air. They have become urban and complex." After paying a tribute to Professor Hancock's study of Australia, the diarist says: - "It remains an odd fact which has never been satifactorily explained that Australia has a less notable record in letters than in music or painting. Where is her literary Melba?"

A few days later, on 2 October, the Melbourne-based writer Nettie Palmer attempted to provide an answer in a letter to the editor:


Sir-Others will doubtless point out the ineptness of the overseas opinion quoted in your cable messages to-day, that "Australia has never produced a literary Melba." May I suggest that the comparison should never have been made. The career of Melba, who as an artist was an interpreter and not a creator, was essentially a public progress, a series of triumphs with the highest possible visibility. It was never suggested that Melba should augment her glory by spending her whole life in strict seclusion and so writing, with great intensity, a masterpiece or two. Why, then, should a writer's true significance be measured by the external fame of a Melba?
- Yours, &c.,
Hawthorn. Sept. '29

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on June 10, 2009 9:30 AM.

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