February 16th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Battle lines drawn for US Presidential race

EDITORIAL: Mitsubishi closure a blow to our manufacturing

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Will Rudd summit achieve anything?

BIOFUELS: Sugar industry - execution by policy madness

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: EI inquiry hears of more quarantine failures

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: The lessons of the past we so quickly forget

STRAWS IN THE WIND: A new Bunyip intelligentsia? / Paddy McGuinness dies / The homeless

ASIA: Re-shaping Asia: The Great Game Mark II

INDONESIA: More good than bad: Suharto (1921-2008)

FATHERHOOD: Making men redundant (and harming our children)

FAMILY POLICY: Family-friendly policies at risk

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Melbourne doctor's bid to decriminalise abortion

UNITED STATES: America's wrong course

LEADERSHIP: Five keys to democratic statesmanship

Demise of The Bulletin (letter)

Re-opening of South Gippsland rail? (letter)

Foreign intervention (letter)

The "more committees" fetish (letter)


BOOKS: CLASSICS: 62 Great Books from the Iliad to Midnight's Children, by Jane Gleeson-White

Books promotion page

CLASSICS: 62 Great Books from the Iliad to Midnight's Children, by Jane Gleeson-White

by Michael Daniel (reviewer)

News Weekly, February 16, 2008
How do you define a classic?

CLASSICS: 62 Great Books from the Iliad to Midnight's Children
by Jane Gleeson-White
(Sydney: Random House Australia)
Paperback: 403 pages
Rec. price: $24.95

Readers who have been following the educational debates in the media for the past couple of years are more than aware of the controversy as to which texts should be set reading for students.

Many commentators have renewed their call for a return to studying the literary canon. Public interest in literary texts considered to be classics is not waning. This can be seen in the continued production of television and film adaptations of such texts, recent offerings including serialised versions broadcast by ABC television of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Charles Dickens' Bleak House.

This naturally raises the question of which texts constitute the literary canon.

Sydney writer and book editor Jane Gleeson-White has written a short introduction to 62 texts she believes have exerted a powerful influence upon our culture.

Each article is approximately seven pages long and includes a discussion of the author's life, a summary of the text and references to other texts by the author and the impact of the author's work.

Naturally, compiling a list is challenging and there will always be questions as to why certain texts have should have been excluded.

Gleeson-White has included familiar texts one would expect to find on such a list, beginning with Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid before proceeding to more modern texts such as Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe and Moby Dick.

Often the work she discusses is not necessarily the author's best-known one, but rather is judged to be the best quality one, for example, Dickens' Bleak House.

It is pleasing that Gleeson-White analyses many great works of literature that are often overlooked or little known by Australian readers, such as Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter and Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March.

Texts by Australian authors, such as Henry Handel Richardson, Christina Stead and Patrick White, are also represented. At the end of each section is a reflection by a well-known commentator on the texts or on a short list of favourite texts, which serve to complement Gleeson-White's analysis.

Included in this list are a few controversial works, such as Nabokov's Lolita, which, however objectionable their content, have nonetheless influenced ideas and social trends.

However, Gleeson-White's emphasis is on other recent texts, two thirds of those being chosen from the 20th century. By contrast, there are no texts between Virgil to Cervantes, which means that neither Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales nor any work by Shakespeare is included!

Classics is thus an interesting overview of many significant works of literature. The articles are generally well written and provide a good introduction to the author and the work being considered.

However, the list of works examined therein can by no means be considered exhaustive.

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