Clarke, Marcus (Andrew Hislop)

views updated

CLARKE, Marcus (Andrew Hislop)

Nationality: Australian. Born: Kensington, London, 24 April 1846. Education: Highgate School, London, 1858-62 (school friend of Gerard Manley Hopkins). Family: Married Marian Dunn in 1869; six children. Career: Immigrated to Australia, 1863; staff member, Bank of Australia, Melbourne, 1863-65; worked on sheep station on the Wimmera River, 1866-67; moved to Melbourne, 1867; contributor to the Argus and the Age; columnist ("Peripatetic Philosopher"), Australasian, 1867-70; owner and editor, Colonial Monthly, 1868-69, and Humbug, 1869-70; editor, Australian Journal, 1870-71; secretary to the trustees, 1870; sub-librarian, 1873, assistant librarian, 1876-81, Melbourne Public Library; columnist ("Atticus"), the Leader, from 1877; declared bankrupt, 1874 and 1881. Member: Yorick Club (founder), 1868. Died: 2 August 1881.



The Portable Clarke, edited by Michael Wilding. 1976.

Stories, edited by Michael Wilding. 1983.

Short Stories

Holiday Peak and Other Tales. 1873.

Sensational Tales. 1886.

Four Stories High. 1877.

Australian Tales. 1896.


Long Odds. 1869; as Heavy Odds, 1896.

His Natural Life. 1874; as For the Term of His Natural Life, 1885; edited by Stephen Murray-Smith, 1970.

'Twixt Shadow and Shine: An Australian Story of Christmas. 1875.

The Man with the Oblong Box. 1878.

The Mystery of Major Molineaux, and Human Repetends. 1881.

The Conscientious Stranger: A Bullocktown Idyll. 1881.

Chidiock Tichbourne; or, The Catholic Conspiracy. 1893.


Goody Two Shoes and Little Boy Blue. 1870.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star; or, Harlequin Jack Frost, Little Tom Tucker, and the Old Woman That Lived in a Shoe. 1873.

Reverses. 1876.

Alfred the Great, with H. Keiley (produced 1878). 1879.

The Happy Land, from the play The Wicked World by W. S. Gilbert (produced 1880).

Other pantomimes, with R. P. Whitworth.


Four Poems. 1996.


The Peripatetic Philosopher. 1869.

Old Tales of a Young Country. 1871.

The Future Australian Race. 1877.

Civilization Without Delusion. 1880.

What Is Religion? A Controversy. 1895.

Stories of Australia in the Early Days. 1897.

A Colonial City: High and Low Life: Selected Journalism, edited by L.T. Hergenhan. 1972.

Editor, History of the Continent of Australia and the Island of Tasmania (1787-1870). 1877.

Editor, We 5: A Book for the Season. 1879.



Clarke: An Annotated Bibliography by Ian F. McLaren, 1982.

Critical Studies:

Clarke by Brian Elliott, 1958; Clarke by Michael Wilding, 1977.

* * *

Best known for his classic novel about the convict system in eastern colonial Australia, For the Term of His Natural Life, Marcus Clarke, a bohemian journalist based in Melbourne, wrote more than 40 short stories. Only two collections of his short fiction, Holiday Peak and Other Tales and Four Stories High, were published before his untimely death, at the age of 35 in 1881. His stories cover three categories: frontier sketches and stories of Australian up-country life, magazine stories that conform to Victorian melodrama, and experimental fantasy stories. They are characterized by a certain "romance of reality" that combines the wide reading of a litterateur—particularly influential are Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, Bret Harte, and Edgar Allan Poe—with a vivid, eclectic response to the strange landscape and itinerant figures of colonial Australia.

"Pretty Dick" is universally recognized as his best story. The plot establishes an indigenous Australian myth: the sentimental, if not harrowing, tale of the child lost in the bush, the primitive landscape. The lost child represents the orphan or outcast identity of transplanted Europeans. Pretty Dick, a seven-year-old innocent, is a doomed victim of an archetypal environment—mysterious, grim, and indifferent. This story effectively combines frontier realism with a melodramatic plot and fantasy.

Clarke's first volume of stories, Holiday Peak, makes a signifi-cant contribution to the pioneering tradition of frontier realism that is developed in Henry Lawson's bush stories of the 1890s. "Bullocktown" uses a first-person identification with the country inhabitants and includes the colloquial speech of workers with emphasis on the social importance of drinking at "the public-house bar." "Grumbler's Gully" presents a dark view of drinking in the dreary, even destructive, restraints of country life. It was Clark's only short story published outside Australia. "How The Circus Came to Bullocktown" depicts a carnival clash of opposites between drinkers, teetotalers, and the crazy itinerants of "Buncombe's Imperial Yanko-American Circus." The Holiday Peak collection is influenced by Clarke's reading of Bret Harte's The Luck of Roaring Camp. Clarke emphasized the importance of "poetry and pathos" in "the ordinary daily life" of a new country. "Poor Joe" imitates Harte's fictional pattern of tragic self-sacrifice in distorted or eccentric figures.

However much Clarke conveys pathos in his stories, he also maintains an ironic distance in his exploration of the macabre, the dream-like and different levels of consciousness. The title story "Holiday Peak" emphasizes a grotesque setting with Egyptian descriptions. A fanciful, most antipodean meeting includes Charles Kingsley playing cards with Newman and Swinburne at Mount Might-ha-been. The exaggeration of a frontier yarn is also evident in the exuberant figure of Captain Sporboy in "Romance of Bullocktown." Two other tales, "The Dual Existence" and "The Golden Island," are reminiscent of Poe's style, but "A Haschich Trance" is a bold psychological experiment and a compelling account of writing about a drug "trip" with objective observations. Clarke refers to De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater, and this literary experiment by a young bohemian is an impressive, radical contribution to Australian literature.

His short fiction is most famous for a passage in "Australian Scenery." Though Clarke does not attempt to individualize the Australian landscape or explore his rather repetitive sense of its strangeness in his outback and mining stories, he cites "the dominant note of Edgar Allan Poe's poetry—Weird Melancholy" as "the dominant note of Australian Scenery." This seductive piece of rhetoric illustrates a topsy-turvy view of the new world, a fantasy version that provides a classic commentary for later Australian writers who depict an alien and hostile landscape.

This self-styled "Peripatetic Philosopher" is a very self-aware literary creator. The extremes of laconic realism and reverie explore contemporary issues and unusual experiences. Clarke's belief in scientific progress, his vivid sense of the surreal, his literary use of the archetypes and clichés of fiction reflect an accomplished writer whom Mark Twain noted aptly as "Australia's only literary genius" in his time.

—Mark L. Collins

About this article

Clarke, Marcus (Andrew Hislop)

Updated About content Print Article