Moorhouse, Frank

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Nationality: Australian. Born: Nowra, New South Wales, 21 December 1938. Education: The University of Queensland, 1959-61. Military Service: Served in the Australian Army and Reserves, 1957-59. Family: Divorced. Career: Journalist, Sydney Daily Telegraph, 1956-59; editor, Lockhart Review, New South Wales, 1960, and Australian Worker, Sydney, 1963; assistant secretary, Workers' Educational Association, Sydney, 1963-65; union organizer, Australian Journalists' Association, 1966; editor, City Voices, Sydney, 1966; contributor and columnist, 1970-79, and night club writer, 1980, Bulletin, Sydney; co-founding editor, Tabloid Story, Sydney, 1972-74; writer-in-residence, University of Melbourne and other Australian universities; traveled in Europe and Middle East, late 1980s; moved to France, 1991. Vice-president, 1978-80, and president, 1979-82, Australian Society of Authors; chairman, Copyright Council of Australia, 1985. Awards: Lawson Short Story prize, 1970; National Book Council Banjo award, for fiction, 1975; Senior Literary fellowship, 1976; Age Book of the Year, 1988; Australian Literature Society gold medal, 1989. Member: Order of Australia, 1985.


Short Stories

Futility and Other Animals. 1969.

The Americans, Baby. 1972.

The Electrical Experience. 1974.

Conference-ville. 1976.

Tales of Mystery and Romance. 1977.

The Everlasting Secret Family and Other Secrets. 1980.

Selected Stories. 1982; as The Coca Cola Kid: Selected Stories, 1985.

Room Service: Comic Writings. 1985.

Forty-Seventeen. 1988.

Lateshows. 1990.

Grand Days. 1993.



Between Wars, 1974; The Disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain, 1984; Conference-ville, 1984; The Coca Cola Kid, 1985; The Everlasting Secret Family, 1988.

Television Plays:

Conference-ville, 1984; The Disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain, 1984; Time's Raging, 1985.


Loose Living. 1995.

Editor, Coast to Coast. 1973.

Editor, Days of Wine and Rage. 1980.

Editor, The State of the Art: The Mood of Contemporary Australia in Short Stories. 1983.

Editor, A Steele Rudd Selection: The Best Dad and Dave Stories, with Other Rudd Classics. 1986.


Critical Studies:

"The Short Stories of Wilding and Moorhouse" by Carl Harrison-Ford, in Southerly 33, 1974; "Frank Moorhouse's Discontinuities" by D. Anderson, in Southerly 35, 1975; "Some Developments in Short Fiction 1969-80" by Bruce Clunies Ross, in Australian Literary Studies 10 (3), 1981; "Moorhouse: A Retrospective" by Brian Kiernan, in Modern Fiction Studies 27(1), 1981; interview in Sideways from the Page edited by J. Davidson, 1983; "The Thinker from the Bush" by Humphrey McQueen, in Gallipoli to Petroiv, 1984; "Form and Meaning in the Short Stories of Moorhouse" by C. Kanaganayakam, in World Literature Written in English 25 (1), 1985; Interview by Candida Baker, in Yacker 3: Australian Writers Talk About Their Work, 1989; "The Short Story Cycles of Moorhouse" by Gay Raines, in Australian Literary Studies 14, 1990.

* * *

Frank Moorhouse is arguably the most influential post-World War II writer of short fiction in Australia. His experiments with the genre have given vitality and relevance to the short story, and he is one of its strongest advocates.

Moorhouse has a special interest in the hints and clues that short fiction can provide on the changing myths of region or nation. His main focus is not on the Australian bush legend but on the evolving social styles and outlooks of an urban generation that he, as a country boy, joined in the mid-1960s when he moved from the New South Wales south coast to Australia's largest city, Sydney. Moorhouse's various fictional or semifictional representations of the inner-city suburb of Balmain have given it a place in the national literary consciousness, reinforced by the work there, especially in short fiction, of Michael Wilding, Peter Carey, and Murray Bail.

Moorhouse's work as a journalist and editor, both in country towns and the city, contributed to his literary style and his view of short fiction as a way of exposing truths about a society and its subcultures. Literary influences on Moorhouse are difficult to discern, but some of his early work especially parallels the concerns of Tom Wolfe and the New Journalism of the 1960s and 1970s. Hemingway may be an earlier influence. Moorhouse is not a spinner of timeless fables or a Borgesian puzzle maker. Rather, he is an artful renovator of realism, constructing his tales from the bric-a-brac of contemporary life—images, slogans, headlines, and remembered conversations—to highlight the emotions and moral dilemmas of his generation.

In his first volume, Futility and Other Animals, Moorhouse presents himself as an ironic chronicler of the "urban tribes" of young Australians experimenting with new lifestyles in the late 1960s. This first book, like Moorhouse's next two, is subtitled "a discontinuous narrative," indicating his attempt to link stories loosely by various means, including location, theme, and character. Later, the practice of linking, or even repeating, stories across different volumes contributes to a view of his work as a combination of autobiography and reportage, circling around certain key obsessions and desires. Gay Raines has placed Moorhouse's books in a wider literary history by calling them short story cycles and by linking them with the work of Sherwood Anderson, James Joyce, William Faulkner, and J. D. Salinger.

One of Moorhouse's recurrent topics is the influence of American styles and attitudes on contemporary Australians. In his second volume, The Americans, Baby, his urban independents are more swayed in their sex, drug taking, protest marches, and communes than they know. The ironic, observant narrator in "The American Poet's Visit" is more independent than his confreres when, in a semidrunken state, he contemplates the fate of his nation: "Actually we're Anglo-American. A composite mimic culture. Miserable shits." Yet why should not Australians constitute "a remarkably rich synthesis," he reflects resiliently. In other stories American corporate institutions such as Coca-Cola, Rotary, and Reader's Digest are shown to enter the common discourse of Australians, achieving a distinctive inflection and reverberations in the "new" country.

Moorhouse's short fiction may be seen as a species of dialogue. As the author has himself remarked, his work comprises "dialogues with gender, with the notion of 'commitment', with nationality, with self—and with form." His work has been criticized for lacking moral passion, but Moorhouse's approach is subtle, various, and clever in a mode of truth telling that strips the illusions from cherished assumptions and beliefs. Humor is a major weapon in this campaign, which resists authoritarianism in all its forms. Consistent with this outlook, Moorhouse resists the role of authoritarian author, preferring those kinds of short fiction that are "an arrangement of fragments within a personal field, which have a carefully judged incompletion." Moorhouse's apparently autobiographical persona nonetheless achieves a persuasive presence in many of his stories.

Screen writing has been an important complementary activity to Moorhouse's short fiction, and an interaction of techniques is evident. His use of "time-frame traps," crosscutting of images, and compressed dialogue are elements of this. In The Electrical Experience a principal focus is the changing technologies of small-town Australia in the interwar years, but the wireless and the refrigerator are only precursors to the postwar invasion of film and video technology. Conference-ville holds up for ironic inspection the principal road show of our times—the conference or congress. Here, as elsewhere in society, the video camera and the interview are integral, even determining elements of behavior.

Moorhouse's short stories continually scrutinize the fissures between private and public cultures. In a typically humorous dialogic story of the 1970s, "The Commune Does Not Want You," Moorhouse's first-person narrator is driven to ask, "Is there a commune for people who do not fit very well into communes?" This question reverberates through the volume The Everlasting Secret Family, which interrogates the private and public cultures of homosexuality. The strength of community here, it is suggested, is in its secrecy.

Moorhouse's most powerful scrutiny of personal behavior in relation to public expectations occurs in his ninth volume, Forty-Seventeen. The stories in this volume revolve around a love affair that commences between a 40-year-old man and a 17-year-old schoolgirl in Australia and proceeds discontinuously across a number of nations for some years. Fascinated by aging and the desires and expectations of different generations, Moorhouse continually interrogates the romance genre as he questions the possibilities of erotic and emotional satisfaction. In Moorhouse the private life is always linked to a wider public life. Thus, the opening piece in Forty-Seventeen, "Buenaventura Durruti's Funeral," reveals the narrator's personal canons of anarchism and libertarianism as being linked to his reading about the Spanish anarchist's life and death and to films by Bunuel and Antonioni. When the secret romance, culminating in a rendezvous of the lovers in Madrid, seems suddenly possible, it is aborted by a postcard from the girl, who says that she has fallen in love and will marry someone else. Nevertheless, the remembered romance flares recurrently throughout the book, providing a counterpoint to the narrator's more frequent state of "numbed control."

Moorhouse has traveled widely in the 1980s and 1990s. The literary, social, and political styles he now entertains are from Europe, Asia, and North America as well as from Australia. He has found a receptive audience in France. His hard-edged tales of mystery and romance continue to probe the taboos of personal and social experience.

—Bruce Bennett

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