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This review is taken from PN Review 55, Volume 13 Number 5, May - June 1987.

LUXURIES OF CHOICE Christopher Brennan, edited by Terry Sturm (University of Queensland Press, Portable Australian Authors) £16.95, £9.95 pb.
Judith Wright, Phantom Dwelling (Virago) £3.50
Katherine Gallagher, Passengers to the City (Hale and Iremonger) A$16.95, A$8.95 pb.

Among the objects of Judith Wright's compassion is the phantom of C. J. Brennan (1870-1932), that solitary representative of Symbolism in Australia. Brennan's life has long served as an exemplum in the Australian literary and intellectual martyrology: a Catholic youth in Sydney; intellectual awakening; travelling scholarship which provided a brief European sojourn and a long, embittering legacy in the form of an unhappy marriage to the German girl he fell in love with there; a fringe existence on the borders of academic recognition (one of his contemporaries said that Brennan would have adorned chairs in three separate Arts subjects); a period inside the academy as a spell-binding lecturer; late romance terminated by the premature death of his mistress accompanied by a devastating prosecution for gross moral turpitude (when the affaire became public knowledge) which cost him his job; a long alcoholic decline. Brennan, attuned to European literary movements, trying to find a place as a man of letters, attempted to introduce and stimulate internationalism in Australian literary life, to create a literary and intellectual life for himself in Sydney; Europe scarcely attended to him (though he corresponded with Mallarmé) and he failed in his own country. His essays are of little except historical interest now; his poetry, of which the same must be said, derived from French symbolism and the kind of 'decadent' verse associated with Dowson, full of archaisms and abstract pronouncements about Woman and The Universe. Severed from the European intelligentsia which might have provided him with ...


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