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This review is taken from PN Review 49, Volume 12 Number 5, May - June 1986.

COUNTRY MATTERS Les A. Murray, Persistence in Folly: Selected Prose Writings (Angus & Robertson) £4.95

The titles of Les Murray's books indicate something about his sense of himself and his ambivalent stance toward the world of literature. The title of The Peasant Mandarin, his first collection of essays and reviews, describes his own social mobility: the son of a farmer, descendant of free Scottish immigrants to New South Wales, he left the country and his extended clan for the promise of the city. He acquired - slowly, and erratically - a degree from Sydney University and enough foreign languages to make him attractive as a government translator, though he has never enjoyed secure employment for very long at a stretch. Peasant by origin and Mandarin by education (and both labels characteristically exaggerate), Catholic by conversion, his commitment to The Vernacular Republic (the title of his selected poems) entails a celebration of the virtues of his fellow-peasants against the coercive high-culture domination of his fellow-mandarins. An example of Murray's combative popularist-cum-learned mixture occurs in The Peasant Mandarin (now out of print in Australia and never apparently available in this country) in a long and fully-illustrated discussion of possible designs for a new Australian flag, in which he devoted considerable knowledge of the arcana of heraldry to the republican cause. Persistence in Folly is consistent: vigorous, opinionated, and honest. Unlike many other poets of his stature, he is not employed by a university, and his essays are not the literary-critical studies of the academic, but mainly reviews or specially-commissioned pieces. More essays in this second volume ...


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