Frank Moorhouse Biography
Frank Moorhouse comments:
Nationality: Australian. Born: Nowra, New South Wales, 1938. Education: The University of Queensland, 1959-61. Military Service: Served in the Australian Army and Reserves, 1957-59. Career: Journalist, Sydney Telegraph, 1956-59; editor, Lockhart Review, New South Wales, 1960, and Australian Worker, Sydney, 1962; 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 nightclub writer, 1980, Bulletin, Sydney; co-founding editor, Tabloid Story, Sydney, 1972-74. Writer-in-residence, University of Melbourne and other Australian universities; travelled 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; South Australian Festival Award, 1993. Member: Order of Australia, 1985.
Grand Days: A Novel. New York, Pantheon Books, and London, Picador, 1993.
Loose Living. Sydney, Picador, 1995.
Futility and Other Animals. Sydney, Powell, 1969.
The Americans, Baby. Sydney and London, Angus and Robertson, 1972.
The Electrical Experience. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1974.
Conference-ville. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1976.
Tales of Mystery and Romance. London, Angus and Robertson, 1977.
The Everlasting Secret Family and Other Secrets. Sydney and London, Angus and Robertson, 1980.
Selected Stories. Sydney and London, Angus and Robertson, 1982; asThe Coca Cola Kid: Selected Stories, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1985.
Room Service: Comic Writings. Ringwood, Victoria, and London, Penguin, 1985; New York, Penguin, 1987.
Forty-Seventeen. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, and London, Faber, 1988; San Diego, Harcourt Brace, 1989.
Lateshows. Sydney, Pan, 1990.
Between Wars, 1974; The Disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain, 1984; Conference-ville, 1984; The Coca-Cola Kid, 1985; The Everlasting Secret Family, 1988
Conference-ville, 1984; The Disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain, 1984; Time's Raging, 1985.
Editor, Coast to Coast. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1973.
Editor, Days of Wine and Rage. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1980.
Editor, The State of the Art: The Mood of Contemporary Australia in Short Stories. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1983.
Editor, A Steele Rudd Selection: The Best Dad and Dave Stories, with Other Rudd Classics. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1986.
Fryer Library, University of Queensland, Brisbane; National Library of Australia, Canberra.
"The Short Stories of Wilding and Moorhouse" by Carl Harrison-Ford, in Southerly (Sydney), vol. 33, 1974; "Frank Moorhouse's Discontinuities" by D. Anderson, in Southerly (Sydney), vol. 35, 1975; "Some Developments in Short Fiction 1969-80" by Bruce Clunies Ross, in Australian Literary Studies (Hobart, Tasmania), vol. 10, no. 2, 1981; interview in Sideways from the Page edited by J. Davidson, Melbourne, Fontana, 1983; "The Thinker from the Bush" by Humphrey McQueen, in Gallipoli to Petrov, Sydney, Hale and Iremonger, 1984; "Form and Meaning in the Short Stories of Moorhouse" by C. Kanaganayakam, in World Literature Written in English, vol. 25, no.1, 1985; interview in Yacker 3: Australian Writers Talk About Their Work by Candida Baker, 1989; "The Short Story Cycles of Moorhouse" by Gay Raines, in Australian Literary Studies, vol. 14, 1990.
(1991) Futility and Other Animals, The Americans, Baby, The Electrical Experience, and The Everlasting Secret Family are described as "discontinuous narratives" and are experiments with interlocked and overlapped short stories. The individual books also overlap and characters recur.
* * *
Frank Moorhouse entered Australian fiction during the 1960s speaking a voice politically radical, witty, unabashedly intelligent, and—in a society engaged in widespread censorship—sexually explicit. Moorhouse and his contemporaries took on the hegemony of English culture as it was being played out in not quite postcolonial circumstances. They were a generation who, instead of sailing to London as soon as they were old enough and able, stayed in their homeland and remapped its literary space. At a time when fiction to most Australians meant social realist tales of the bush and rural life, Moorhouse wrote about his countrymen as an urban tribe changed utterly by the Americanization of its culture and by immigration which from World War II onward had altered the ethnic mix. Alert to the fracturing of social certainties, Moorhouse developed the structure he called "discontinuous narrative."
This phrase, the subtitle for his first three books, Futility and Other Animals, The Americans, Baby, and The Electrical Experience, called attention to the shape which remains characteristic of Moorhouse's fiction. His books of short stories are more cohesive than conventional collections, though their unity is never linear. Within meticulously constructed fictional locales, realistic in their surface detail, episodes are structured. Characters and incidents from one episode may reappear in other stories in the same volume, or turn up years later in some altogether different work. These repetitions are not continuities: Moorhouse's Australia is a world without underlying harmony, a world fragmented and isolating.
Reaction to the first volumes was mixed. Among Australians of Moorhouse's own generation, and those who were younger, were many admirers delighting in an audacity others found shocking and profoundly distasteful, as they did the social changes about which he wrote. In The Americans, Baby the milieu is a Sydney under-40 population who, hoping that being earnest or outrageous will make them feel real, are left saturated with anxiety instead. Carl, moving into the arms of the American journalist Paul Jonson, afterwards feels guilty, humiliated, trapped—though he will return. Throughout these stories dramatic tension develops between impulse, figured as sex in various combinations, and an obsessively cerebral approach to life, an approach which suffocates physicality and seems to offer nothing much more appealing than an ideologically correct dinner of baked potatoes with lemon, served in a beautiful dark wooden bowl beside a pile of coarse black bread. Refusing all social pieties, Moorhouse pushes against his audience's expectations of the territory a writer can inhabit while remaining "serious." In the title story of The Everlasting Secret Family, a politician who has seduced a schoolboy brings to him years later his own son for initiation into a secret and unrecognized "family." Some readers recoiled from a prose enfusing political allegory with detailed homoeroticism.
Moorhouse is undoubtedly one of Australia's best writers of the erotic; unexpectedly, he is also its most acute observer of bureaucratic forms and process. In Conference-ville he uses the conference as a social ritual during which people detached from their ordinary life become vulnerable. Tales of Mystery and Romance details the narrator's intricate relationship with a Sydney academic and affords an opportunity to chart university life. The narrator of these collections is so given to ironic detachment, self-deprecation, and world-weariness that the prose was threatened by the enervation portrayed. It is in the League Nations about which Moorhouse writes in Grand Days that he finds a bureaucracy and cast of characters sufficiently significant to sustain his focus on the tactics of life as played out in the workings of an organization. In this long novel, a departure in form from the earlier fiction though recognizably evolving from the discontinuous narrative, the young diplomat Edith Campbell Berry—like some American counterpart in a novel by Henry James—brings to Geneva an Australian innocence both attracted to and repelled by what she finds in Europe.
Though Grand Days won the South Australian Festival Award, it was judged insufficiently "Australian" to be considered for the important Miles Franklin prize, a decision hotly debated in the literary community and the newspapers. In any case, Frank Moorhouse has won many of the country's most prestigious literary prizes, and his contribution to letters has been recognized in the national honors list by his appointment as a Member of the Order of Australia, perhaps an ironic tribute to a persistently disturbing writer.
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