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Elizabeth Jolley: A Bibliography--1965-2007
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Early Life
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Decades of Debate

Jolley's career in writing divides rather neatly into two periods: an initial twenty years or so, the 1960s/1970s, during which she slowly found her way into print as a short-story and radio-play writer, followed by more than two decades during which she established an inter/national reputation as one of Australia's most important novelists. This division reflects, not simply the “natural” progression of one writer's career, but also the shaping forces of the institutionalised forms and practices of literary production and reception in a particular time and place. Those shaping forces can be glimpsed by considering the vigorous debates about the nature of Australian literature conducted since Federation in publishing houses, universities, literary journals, the media, and like institutions.

In “Literary Canons and Literary Institutions,” Paul Carter identifies an initial period of debate, lasting from the 1890s through the 1930s, during which a national(ist) literature was established, but only in a weak form, in so far as Australian literature largely was regarded as a regional variety of English literature. He then distinguishes three stages in Australia's post-war literary debate: the 1940s/1950s, when an older nationalist tradition found new emphases through the activities of writers and intellectuals; the 1950s/1960s, when this intellectual cadre was displaced by university-based professionals who, applying the twin criteria of literary excellence and Australian-ness, constructed a “new” literary canon; and, finally, the 1980s/1990s, when this reformulated canon gave way to dominant practices of anti-canonical readings inspired by feminist and Aboriginal liberationist movements, by governmental constructions of a multi-cultural society, and by the tertiary sector's embrace of theory in general and feminist, post-colonial and post-structuralist theories in particular.

Carter's analysis is potent, and it certainly relates to Jolley's struggling across the 1960s/1970s to be published in Australia, as well as to the remarkable reception her writing found in the eighties, that period that Bob White, in a review of The Macmillan Anthology of Australian Literature, called the “coming of age” of Australian literature, but which might be more soberly described as another major shift in the discourses and institutional structures that establish our understandings of a national literature. Still, gone missing in Carter's analysis is an entire decade: the 1970s. And yet that decade was critical to Elizabeth Jolley's career in writing.