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date: 30 April 2017

Australian Fiction, the 1980s, and the U.S. Trade Paperback

Summary and Keywords

The emergence of the trade paperback in the 1980s crucially transformed the way in which Australian literature was received in North America. The publication history of Patrick White on the one hand and Glenda Adams and Peter Carey on the other, shows how younger writers actually made more of a cultural impact, despite White’s Nobel Prize, because the form in which they met the reading public was one freed from the modernist binary between high and low culture. The 1980s saw the emergence of a more globalized and more culturally pluralistic world—though also one much more pervaded by multinational capital—in which Australian writers flourished.

Keywords: Australian fiction, publishing history, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, globalization, magical realism, Australian film, Patrick White, Peter Carey, reception, audience

Deep Entertainment: The Mass-Market Paperbacks of Patrick White

The American reception of Patrick White presents the odd case of a writer possessing the backing of a prestigious publisher (Ben Huebsch of Viking) and attracting critical esteem who was not yet a huge sales success and did not find his way frequently onto academic syllabi. Moreover, White never became a part of the high-cultural conversation. This is unlike what occurred with overseas writers such as Jorge Luis Borges in the 1960s or W. G. Sebald and Roberto Bolaño in the 1990s and 2000s. In reviewing The Twyborn Affair in April 1980, for instance, the Amherst professor Benjamin DeMott remarked that White “was no household word in literary America”—this after his Nobel Prize, which Bolaño and Sebald both died too soon to receive.1 The U.S. publishing industry was able to package these writers as highbrow, sophisticated writers; even so, none became bestsellers on the mass level. Those books that were as highbrow as White’s but did become mass bestsellers, like Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, had the appeal of sex or subversion.

These issues, all attendant in the first place on the hardcover release of White’s books, had implications when it came to the presentation of White’s books in paperback. The mass-market paperback publishers of White’s fiction could not appeal to manifest sexuality in the subjects of White’s fiction. As Roger Osborne has pointed out, the early U.S. marketing of White was as a frontier writer, an Australian equivalent of a writer about the Western United States, a portrayer of outsize lives upon a grand and challenging landscape. Indeed, the cover of the 1966 Pyramid mass-market paperback edition of The Tree of Man—three figures set against an orange-tinged background of trees and horizon—was similar to the far more commercially successful paperback cover of Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds over a decade later. This cover also featured an orange-tinged landscape and was published by Avon, Patrick White’s paperback publisher by then, under the editorship of Robert Wyatt. The Thorn Birds, though, delivered to the reader what the image advertised, whereas White’s novel, for all its emphasis on landscape and character, surveyed an interior landscape of perseverance, death, and spiritual plenitude as tragic and desolate as (to be fair) McCullough’s was, but far less externalized. Generally, even when U.S. critics recognized the modernist affinities of White’s fiction, they could not get over the Australian setting, which they saw as ipso facto non- or anti-modernist. In his post–Nobel Prize review of The Eye of the Storm in the New Yorker, George Steiner, never a White fan, spoke of “the play of European densities against the gross vacancy of the Australian setting.”2

Thus the U.S. critics tended not to see White as an innovative writer the way Borges or Nabokov, and later Sebald or Bolaño, were. This was, however, his Australian reception, which emphasized his experimental technique. Furthermore, despite what Steiner castigated as the grossness of Australia, White lacked a salacious subject matter. Indeed, White’s novels written in the 1960s and 1970s (Riders In The Chariot, released in hardcover 1961, published in paperback by Avon in 1975; The Solid Mandala, released in hardcover 1966, published in paperback by Avon in 1975; The Eye of the Storm, published by Avon in 1975) had as their most provocative aspect a rigorous interiority. Book covers of any sort would have found this trait hard to register.

The 1975 Avon paperback of White’s The Eye of the Storm—the book that came out the year White won the Nobel—mentions that laurel in red block print at the top, but puts “The National Bestseller” in almost equally large and more centrally located black block lettering. This last announcement was somewhat tendentious, as the novel had spent a scant five weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, far less than books by American literary novelists released at the same times, such as by Gore Vidal, John Gardner, and Kurt Vonnegut, and also well behind White’s fellow, if less literary, Australian Morris West. But its literal truth could not be denied. The only photographic element is a small oval image of an old woman who must represent Elizabeth Hunter, although looking younger and comelier than one imagines the character. The novel’s title is written in large red cursive, with a rather small notice from the New York Times printed beneath praising the novel as “deep entertainment.” Unlike The Tree of Man, the cover featured no allusion to Australian topography—inapt for the Sydney-set book—nor is Australia mentioned anywhere on the front or back flap. On the back, in addition to a plot summary and another encomium from the New York Times Book Review, it is mentioned that the book was a selection of the Literary Guild—a paperback equivalent of the Book of the Month Club, and of generally lower prestige. If the Book of the Month Club had selected the book, presumably Avon would have advertised the fact, as it would have carried more cultural capital. The edition does not attempt to commercialize the book, and in general the White mass-market paperbacks were not meretriciously packaged. In fact, Robert B. Wyatt, the Avon executive most closely associated with their design and marketing, won the Carey-Thomas Award for “excellence in quality publishing in a mass market format.”

Avon was best known as a genre publisher of fantasy, science fiction, and romance novels. Although their publishing agenda underwent a more literary turn in the 1970s, under the influence of editor-in-chief Peter Mayer, the Patrick White Avon paperbacks were to a certain extent meant to be marketed to a mass readership analogous to the readers of genre fiction. In other words, the targeted readers of the Avon edition were voracious, curious readers, but not necessarily readers who saw themselves as exclusive, dedicated readers of “literary” fiction. In another way, though, the mass-market Avon paperbacks were steps on the way to the trade paperback, as they mingled low cost, availability, and prestige. Notably, Peter Mayer, who first brought White to Avon, is also associated with the rise of the trade paperback.

Wyatt remarked in a 2016 interview that when he first entered the book business, “Literary backlist paperback fiction was maintained primarily by the hardcover houses that had originally published it. Licenses were granted to just about any old paperback house that wanted to bother with it.”3 Avon’s role as a publisher of paperbacks made it not just an automatic feeder for its hardback counterparts but a firm seen as exercising its own choices of taste and style. With the Patrick White paperbacks Avon was nearing the trade paperbacks but not quite getting there. Wyatt remarks, “Curiously, the body of his work was then issued in ‘mass market’ editions with larger printings than those of ‘Bard Books,’ Avon’s literary line.” The “curiously” here is interesting, as presumably White, as a highly literary writer, should have been a part of Avon’s most literary line, yet he was cast into a mass-market limbo, in a seeming proof of American marketers’ inability to understand or do much with his appeal. Wyatt further asserts that this was “long before paperback companies were publishing in the larger ‘trade’ format.” In general, as Wyatt implies, it was not until the 1980s that the trade paperback decisively emerged.

The 1980s also saw some change in the nature of White’s reception in the United States and in White’s fiction itself. Although there are certainly sexual elements in White’s novels of the 1960s and early 1970s, sexuality did not seem anywhere near the forefront of White’s fiction in the when the Avon paperbacks were released. This situation had changed by 1981 with The Twyborn Affair, which features a protagonist who changes genders and a host of polymorphous sexual situations. We know now that gay themes can be seen in White’s oeuvre from the beginning. Not only, though, were gay themes—outside of the highly particular cases of Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, and Mary Renault—not visible in mainstream American publishing in this era, there was neither a gay publishing culture nor reading public in this time outside of overtly pornographic or illicit material such as the French Line series of paperbacks that seemed to seek an audience simultaneously titillated and repelled by its explicit homoerotic material. The Oscar Wilde Bookstore in Greenwich Village did not feature White’s books in its windows until Flaws in the Glass (1982), the memoir in which he fully came out of the closet. Indeed, the public silence about White’s sexuality might be seen as resulting from the centering of White’s mass marketing around highbrow introversion.

By the early 1980s, novels by gay American writers such as David Plante and Edmund White were published in trade paperback format and featured pictures of comely young men clearly exercising some sort of sexual allure. Notably, gay material could only fully appear in the publishing market after the trade paperback had introduced a third level of prestige hovering between the high and the low, one with the capability of making experimentation in some muted way commercially viable. Of course, works of high seriousness had been published in mass market before and had reached audiences fully cognizant of their highbrow status, but (especially outside of the United Kingdom and the high-cultural cachet of the Penguin series) to reach these audiences required a careful sifting by the literary consumer of books that might be for them versus the far larger array of books that were not meant for such a reader. With the trade paperback, an immediate glance at the size and format of the book imparted a sense of high-literariness; the reader could find their category—much like readers of series novels or dime/pulp fiction, ironically—and then select their individual choice. The fact that Twyborn appeared in trade marked an evolution not just in White’s own fiction—a complex, clearly experimental, and evidently gay text—but in his presentation. Potentially, the book could now find interlocking sets of high-literary and gay readers, resonating with a more targeted audience than the larger mass audience that had seemed to yet be indifferent to White’s appeal, Nobel Prize notwithstanding.

But although The Twyborn Affair was already potentially in this world, it was not marketed for gay audiences. The 1981 King Penguin (a category itself denoting the larger size of the book than the traditional Penguin) paperback of the novel featured an ivory mask with female contours, hands beneath it gripping a rose, imaging the female identity of Eudoxia Vatatzes rather than picturing, say, Eddie Twyborn as a jackeroo in rural New South Wales, which would have been at once more mass-market and more gay. If in the United Kingdom there was a slight association of queer valences with literariness, this was lacking in the traditionally more puritanical United States. The transgender implication of the hypothetical Twyborn cover might have made good marketing sense in the 2010s, when transgender literature emerged as a small if significant marketing category—in 2012 Raewyn Connell4 referred to Twyborn as White’s “great transsexual novel.”5

But such was certainly not the case at the time of the novel’s publication. This marked one more way White’s last full-length novel, though in one sense having a long tradition of literature of cross-dressing and switched gender identity behind it going back to Shakespeare and the Greeks, in another sense was so extraordinarily ahead of its time. That the protagonist of Twyborn was referred to, when the paperback edition was announced in the New York Times in the autumn of 1981, as a “traumatized bisexual” indicates that the literary culture at the time did not have the word “transgender” at its disposal, which later would have so easily encapsulated the situation of White’s protagonist. In general, Twyborn’s American reviewers were baffled. In her review in the May 3, 1980, issue of the New Republic, Ann Hulbert wrote that White “degrades his characters and disconcerts his readers.”6 If not elsewhere said so explicitly, the lack of resonance of the book in the U.S. market seemed to indicate this response was reasonably general.

The book’s marketing also reflected this shift from modern to postmodern. The paperback editions of both A Fringe of Leaves and The Twyborn Affair were printed on higher-quality acid-free paper, not mass-market—larger, pricier, and packaged in a more literary way, one more resembling their hardbound covers. These two late White novels differed from White’s hermetic and suburban-set Sarsaparilla novels. They embraced, in the case of A Fringe of Leaves, the historical novel and greater realism, and in the case of The Twyborn Affair, queer sexualities and a more visible experimentalism, so their trade paperback avatar could be seen as White’s entrance into the postmodern, rather than modern, publishing market.

Importantly, it was the trade paperback, not the mass-market paperback, that could handle the depiction of these new sexualities and temporalities, a novel with gay themes that was not just salacious and exploitative and a historical novel that asked serious moral and aesthetic questions and was not just a nostalgic potboiler. One can see this in the 1970s paperback packaging of Samuel R. Delany Jr.’s science fiction novel Triton (later republished as Trouble on Triton). This book’s 1976 Bantam mass-market cover had a notably asymmetrical relationship to its actual material. Jo Walton has the heroine of her 2011 novel Among Others, a teenage girl who is reading the 1976 Triton circa 1980, observe that the book “has a cover of spaceship exploding.”7 In fact, much to the confusion of Walton’s character and, no doubt, many readers at the time, Delany’s novel was largely about the play of various sexualities and gender identities, in ways not unlike White’s Twyborn, despite all their different genres and tonalities. One could say in fact that Delany’s novel had a relationship to science fiction as a genre that was analogous to that between Twyborn and White’s previous fiction. The point is that the packagers of Triton had to simplify it in order to sell it as a mass-market paperback. Fascinatingly, given the complexity of Delany’s sexual themes, for once simplifying did not mean highlighting sex but highlighting the scene of the novel. This recalls the covers of the Avon and Pyramid paperbacks of Patrick White, which did not foreground sexuality and in fact indicated there was less sexuality in the books than actually was there, and it explains why Twyborn was free to be at least tacitly gay in its trade paperback self-presentation. Not only were gay consumers a niche market that the trade paperback, which did not need to sell to the greatest number to be successful due to its greater price, could serve, but the complexity of the novel’s sexuality was part of the complexity of its artistic achievement: what could be marketed to the reader, gay or straight, as a challenging, highbrow text. Complicated sex no longer needed the disguise of frontier space—whether in the outer solar system or the Australian outback—to sell books.

As Gordon Hutner argued in What America Read, in the early- to mid-20th century middle-to-highbrow literary readership was extensively mediated by the Book of the Month Club and other literary mediators such as the more upscale Reader’s Subscription and the more downscale Literary Guild that to at least some extent told Americans what they could read that would both be enjoyable and have some cultural and intellectual value.8 These institutions were closely connected to a publishing economy in which nearly all fiction, commercial or highbrow, appeared first in hardcover, reached those in the potential audience who were prepared to buy immediately and at that price point, and then, after the passage of a year’s time, was released in paperback, a format whose main virtues at that point were price and portability. By 1980, the old model sketched by Hutner was no longer reliably there. The trade paperback, though not necessarily always or primarily original in paperback, could be so, and the imprint that publicized the form, Gary Fisketjon’s Vintage Contemporaries, featured all-new books. Even if the trade paperback was a reprint of a hardcover, it often amplified and broadened the audience of that hardcover in a way that was not just popularization. Trade paperbacks did not need the old book clubs and institutions: word of mouth, display in leading independent bookshops such as, in New York, St. Mark’s downtown and Shakespeare and Company uptown and mention in the New York Times Book Review sufficed.

Trade paperbacks assumed a savvier, less directed, more independently discerning audience. To put it another way, the trade paperback reached an audience that did not have to be titillated to buy a book. It was already intent on buying a book. Therefore, a book could be marketed to in a way that led with its most pertinent and complex aspect. The trade paperback addressed a more sophisticated and tolerant audience than the mass-market paperback. In addition, the larger space the trade paperback accorded to cover art allowed for images that challenged or adjusted the general consensus rather than succumbed to it. These images were designed to indicate cultural pertinence and prestige rather than just entertainment appeal. This was because its intermediate level of appeal addressed a more sophisticated and tolerant audience than the mass-market paperback.

In a sense Patrick White as an author—highbrow, philosophical, and, later, sexually transgressive—might have been thought the perfect writer for the format. But there were several roadblocks. First of all, White was too old. He was feeling more and more out of touch with the times in the 1980s—as his reluctance to finish the manuscript later published as The Hanging Garden, which would have necessitated a contemporary setting, would have indicated, and, despite his anti-nuclear activism, the times were feeling out of touch with him. Even the emergence of gay themes in his work, which might have been able to make White more trendy, did not work this way, partially because, as Peter Kirkpatrick points out, White was writing in an older camp tradition distinct from the more direct avowal of gay experience in writers such as David Plante and Edmund White (though this underrates the prophetic nature of the transgender themes in Twyborn), partially because the Nobel in some ways, paradoxically, worked against White, making him see seem a known quantity. Another factor is that White, despite receiving extensive reviews for all of his books in prestige publications across America, never managed to seem relevant enough to the contemporary conversation. Simon During has pointed out that the other writer in English to win the Noble in the 1970s, Saul Bellow, was similar to White in being born in the 1920s; writing long, philosophical, somewhat garrulous works; and being concerned with mysticism in the pith of ordinary humdrum lives.9 But Bellow was always going to be seen as far more central than White in the United States. This is likely not entirely because Bellow was American and Jewish while White was Australian and gentile. Indeed, one could argue that White in The Aunt’s Story wrote more compellingly of the American landscape and in Riders in the Chariot addressed a specifically Jewish mysticism more than Bellow ever did. The key was that Bellow was perceived as relevant—so that even a clunker like 1982’s The Dean’s December occasioned debate and discussion—and White was not. We also then come back to the fact that Bellow was straight, whereas White was gay and was perhaps not the right generation or style of gay author to redress society’s normative prejudices. But these were particularities of reception, which did not impede the general upward drift of how Australian literature was seen in the United States.

Thus, although Twyborn was not the right book nor White the right author for the trade paperback Australian breakthrough in the United States, the trade paperback publication of The Twyborn Affair was a harbinger of a new age of paperback publication in which Australian literature would do well in the United States in part because it had found the right print format.

The Rise of the Trade Paperback

When the Beatles released the song “Paperback Writer” in 1966, the implication of Paul McCartney’s lyrics was that a paperback writer was a different sort of person than a writer per sea writer composing for a cruder, more popular taste, and whose pathos stemmed as much from yoking himself to that taste as from the more traditional splendors and miseries of the creative act. By the mid-1980s, though, being published in paperback was just as prestigious as being published in hardcover. For one thing, college and university courses that assigned contemporary fiction often waited until the books were in paperback—and thus more affordable—to include them on syllabi. Thus, far from the earlier idea of the deliberate, educated reader owning a hardcover and the proletarian, entertainment-minded reader owning a paperback, those readers most likely to be purposive and thoughtful in their reading—those reading in the context of academic study—became linked with the paperback. This is especially when it comes to genre fiction. In an era when nearly all fiction, including detective novels and science fiction novels, was published first in hardcover, the hardcover novels often sold to the hardcore aficionados and the paperbacks to literary readers who wanted to stretch their horizons by reading a carefully vetted set of the best of the detective and science fiction genres. The paperback appearance of a text became as much a sign of the diversification of taste as the vulgarization of it.

Whereas before the 1980s the New York Times did not notice a book’s paperback appearance—assuming its initial avatar in hardcover was also its final—by the 1980s the New York Times Book Review had a regular column noticing prominent books (that it had reviewed in hardcover) that were now in paperback, an indication of a broader view of the physical identity of “the book” that in the 2010s was to eventuate in the periodical regularly reviewing audiobooks. Moreover, the 1980s saw prestige books published as original paperbacks. The leader in this was the Vintage Contemporary series, edited by Gary Fisketjon, whose big success was Jay McInerney’s 1984 novel Bright Lights, Big City This book was seen as emblematic of the idea of the yuppie, or young urban professional, and the cachet of the book had to do with its marketing to the emergent social class it depicted.10 This class may have in the aggregate bought fewer books than the mass readers of earlier decades, but they were looking for insight as well as entertainment, and they were willing to pay as much as 40 percent more per book.

Not only were these readers willing to pay more for this insight, but the Vintage books—even as they mirrored the rise of a new 1980s urban upper middle class unashamed of making money and being well off—were seen as bearing cultural capital, in Pierre Bourdieu’s term, rather than actual capital, and thus standing outside the cash nexus that openly propelled past eras of mass-market publishing. “When the baby boomers went to college, the industry capitulated to market opportunity and began producing what it called the ‘trade paperback.’”11 The wording here is interesting, as if the industry was not really enthusiastic about the idea of the trade paperback but saw that they could make money from it; the next sentence calls mass-market paperbacks more “culturally salient” than trade paperbacks, because the mass market had the subversive and culturally dangerous potential to give the lower middle classes access to a writer like Nabokov (who not only wrote about sex but was an academic and a foreigner), whereas the trade paperback, more expensive and more elegantly packaged, limited its own audience to the already culturally screened upper middle class.

Before the 1980s, the trade paperback format had in fact been around for the past twenty years or so. Indeed, the 1962 Viking Compass edition of Patrick White’s first major novel, The Aunt’s Story, is an early example, with a New Yorker–style cartoon depiction of Theodora Goodman wearing a large black, almost conical hat with short veil and a simple long-sleeved, round-necked, three-quarter-length red dress, with thin black stripes, black purse, flat black shoes, and a watch on her left wrist, sitting among potted palms on an ornate straight-backed chair. This was not an image meant to titillate or bring in fringe readers: it promised a novel depicting a charming, complex, if slightly troubled woman. The cover of this 1962 early trade paperback was designed by James and Ruth McCrea, a couple not only renowned as illustrators and designers but prominent on the New York social scene, clearly soliciting a self-selected, sophisticated audience.

What happened between the McCreas’ design for the Viking Compass Aunt’s Story and the 1980s was that the trade paperback became not just profitable or even prestigious but culturally salient. The 1980s trade paperback was a token of a new, culturally savvy, upwardly mobile elite. The weight of the reading public, in other words, had shifted from the lower middle class to the upper middle class, Russell Lynes’s “upper middlebrow,” with the equilibrium Lynes had postulated between them—the uppers providing the funding and mechanisms for culture and the lowers providing the widest mass audience—now disturbed.12

But it is wrong to say the trade paperback was less commercial and more elite. It was more commercial in that its greater price and resulting affordability by fewer people consolidated the reading public into a more plutocratic elite. Though before the invention of the paperback the hardcover had served diverse audiences across the social spectrum, after the 20th-century introduction to the paperback, the hardcover became more associated with cultural elites and with institutions (libraries, public or private) than with a mass consumer, even though hardcovers continued to sell either to consumers eager for possession of a desired book or to those who valued them as collectibles or considered them more culturally prestigious. Books were chosen to be published in paperback (often by publishers not owned by the hardcover publisher) for their aggregate sales value. The trade paperback brought to the paperback form some of the constituencies that had previously favored the hardcover constituencies that were inevitably more elite. This elite not only had the money to buy the book but had, so to speak, the cultural capital to know what cultural capital was (intuitively, even if they did not know Bourdieu’s term, which only became widely known much later in the Anglophone world). Just to look at the trade paperback was to realize that the old formula by which paperbacks had less cultural capital was inverted, and that what was formerly a liability was now repackaged as an asset.

Although from the criticism of Lynes and Dwight Macdonald in the 1950s, they did not see a paperback and automatically, as in the case of the Beatles song, assume lesser cultural value; they knew the trade paperback had both enlightenment and prestige to offer. Whereas a middlebrow work, as seen in MacDonald’s comments on James Gould Cozzens, had substituted a book of seemingly high-literary but in fact meretricious appeal for the real thing, the upper-middlebrow world of the trade paperback took books that the high-literary consensus already considered good and packaged their appeal for an audience that in wealth and culturally awareness was growing into them.13

In addition, even though the trade paperback foregrounded aesthetic values such as style and profundity and did not try merely to sell the book as entertainment, albeit deep, the new trade paperback form aligned, in the case of both the author and the publisher, artistic success with financial success. In other words, with the trade paperback there was one univocal form of success. In a paradoxical way, the mass-market paperback, by its assumption that literature had to appeal to the vernacular and even to the vulgar in order to succeed, did acknowledge some sort of popular taste and thus gave a more multiple sense of success than did the later trade paperback. In The Culture Industry, Theodor W. Adorno had argued that capitalism fostered mass culture as a mode of social control, in which a “lack of conflict” stilled any kind of critical or self-aware impulse on the part of the consumer.14 Mass culture provided modes of entertainment that were so rigidly categorized as to obviate choice on the part of the consumer. We can see this in the way the Patrick White paperbacks were marketed, filtered into preexisting categories of the epic, the entertaining, the grand, categories which only flattened the subtleties and originality of White’s vision. The trade paperback did not require its readers to leave their critical faculties at the door, nor did it flatten literature into categories of taste. Indeed, it encouraged knowledgeable consumers who were above all aware of what they were purchasing and why they were purchasing it. It would seem as if Adorno’s grim scenario was all a temporary bad dream of a modernity gone wrong. In the 1980s, the publishing industry no longer felt that writers of artistic merit needed to be packaged downward in order to be financially rewarding. They could stand on their merits. Yet their merits were inevitably accessible to fewer. While this led to the growth of an informed readership, this reauthorization of readerly agency did not lead to the trade paperback escaping from the nexus of consumer capitalism.

Indeed, even if the proletarian readership of the mass-market paperback (a proletarian status that was more fixed in the United States than in the United Kingdom and Australia, because of the profile of Penguin in the latter two countries) were, as Adorno indicated, deluded stooges of the culture industry, the mass-market paperback had to cater to them. If this meant a debasement of literary taste in the marketplace, it also meant that the comparative statue of multiple genres was leveled and balanced. The mass-market paperback of a high-art novel competed with detective stories, science fiction, spy novels, romance novels, and well-written commercial fiction (such as Morris West’s) and other books that might have appealed to highly divergent audiences but cost about the same and occupied equivalent shelf space in a bookstore. The same was true in terms of hardcover editions, but it was assumed both for reasons of cost and profitability that the more casual reader gravitated to the paperback editions.

It is startling to realize that in the 1960s and 1970s nearly all paperback fiction resembled the look of what in more recent decades would be called ”airport novels,” and even the books of an imposing, cerebral, highbrow novelist such as Patrick White had to be marketed in airport-novel ways if they were to appeal in paperback at all. What happened, then, is something Adorno had not anticipated: those people who may have been cozened and deluded by mass culture nonetheless got enough of a sense of what culture was to make the financial sacrifices to send their children to college. And these children, once educated, formed the basis for an audience that no longer needed the fillip of mass-market populism in order to consume books.

The Film Boom and Magic Realism

This was the environment in which the paperbacks by Australian writers such as David Malouf, Thomas Keneally, Peter Carey, and Glenda Adams were issued in the 1980s. Yet there were other medium-level causes that also assisted these books’ success. When Patrick White had been published in the United States, Australia was not in the news, and few other cultural products were received from Australia that could put his books into a context. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, an Australian film boom occurred in the United States, with films such as Bruce Beresford’s Breaker Morant and The Getting of Wisdom, Gilliam Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career, Peter Weir’s The Last Wave, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli, and, slightly later, The Year of Living Dangerously, and Fred Schepisi’s The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. These films, though never grossing huge aggregate amounts in the United States, captured the imagination of a film-going public for whom they were something between European art cinema and the more experimental and dissenting side of 1970s Hollywood. There was an in-between cast to the audience for Australian film that correlated with the in-between cast—highbrow but also interested in popular culture—characteristic of the college-educated target audience for trade paperbacks. Moreover, the Australian boom in the United States was assisted by the television movie-review show of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, two Chicago-based critics who gained national prominence in the 1980s. Siskel and Ebert both promoted Australian films and placed them in context for viewers whose unfamiliarity with Australian history or culture might otherwise have intimidated them. The movies often dealt with issues of colonialism, gender, race, and class and gave the American public, who had not paid concerted attention to Australia since World War II, a sense of how the country had changed, especially how the nationalism and cultural liberalism of the Whitlam era of the early 1970s had made Australia more pluralist and self-questioning. Importantly, some of these films, such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave, were released in the United States some years after their Australian premieres, giving the impression of a snowball effect, as most of the films mentioned above hit U.S. theaters between late 1979 and early 1981.

Although the image of Australia these films presented might have been codified and exoticized, foregrounding the outback and the past—it is notable that the superb movie adaptation of Helen Garner’s novel Monkey Grip (1982), set in a modern, urban Australia, did not reach U.S. audiences—the films were unquestionably reformist in spirit. They showed an Australia critical of itself, of the treatment of women and indigenous people and of deference to colonial models, and, in a few cases, conscious of the proximity of Asia. They did not posit a view of Australia as primitive or rousingly residual, but showed it as a place that could yield not only diverting stories but serious art that meditated on important social and ethical issues.

There was not a direct correlation, though, between Australian film and Australian literature. Some of the movies—My Brilliant Career and The Getting of Wisdom—were based on Australian classics, by Miles Franklin and Henry Handel Richardson, respectively, while The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and The Year of Living Dangerously were books by prominent living authors, Thomas Keneally and Christopher Koch. Picnic at Hanging Rock was a special case, as Joan Lindsay was still alive, though elderly, when the film was made, and the book, published in 1967, had never been considered an Australian classic. One might think that the success of the movies would make the books canonical in the United States. This happened with Keneally and Koch, the living writers, whose books appeared first in hardback and then in paperback. But with the two classic authors, Franklin and Richardson, the books, previously published in hardback in the United States but by the late 1970s long forgotten in the publishing world, for the most part remained behind the Australian curtain. The Getting of Wisdom appeared in paperback in London from Virago Press, with an introduction by Germaine Greer. But while the Virago paperback did circulate in the United States under the Dial imprint (also in paperback), its reach was largely restricted to academic feminists. St. Martin’s Press released My Brilliant Career in July 1980 as a hardcover movie tie-in, and this edition had some exposure in U.S. bookstores, but it did not make an impact on either academic or belletristic circles. The paperback of My Brilliant Career, released in 1981 in mass market by Pocket Books, made even less impact, because by then the impact of the movie release was exhausted, consumer taste having moved on to other movies. The relative obscurity of the movie tie-in reprints was partly because newspapers did not then generally review reprints, and so the books were left to sink or swim in bookstores without any concomitant journalistic attention, especially after the films had ceased their theatrical run (this was before the widespread availability of movies in VHS or later DVD form at home). A Virago paperback of My Brilliant Career was also published but, like that of The Getting of Wisdom, made little impact beyond academic feminism, although even in university courses in the United States, syllabus adoption was hardly widespread for these books—Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, for all its heft, receiving more exposure.

In sum, the careers of the two re-released books by Franklin and Richardson were secondary to the films with which they were associated. The films were talked about in middle-to-high cultural circles, but not the books from which they emanated. Even in academia, those academics in the United States known for working on Franklin and Richardson in the 1980s, such as Marian Arkin, were already committed Australianists by the time the movies appeared. If Bruce Beresford’s planned epic adaptation of Henry Handel Richardson’s trilogy The Fortune of Richard Mahony ever got off the ground, or if the 1983 Australian TV miniseries of His Natural Life had been of sufficient quality to be televised in America, things might have been different. As it was, though, the Australian classics did not receive a huge international kick-start from the film boom.

It was different with the living authors, who were helped by the movies. Thomas Keneally, with his multiple Booker nominations and eventual win, would have had exposure in the English-speaking world anyway, but the Jimmie Blacksmith film certainly helped make him more visible; he had never received the cover of the New York Times Book Review before the issuance of the film, but he did afterward with Schindler’s List. Importantly, though many readers of Schindler’s List would not have known or cared about Keneally’s Australian origins, the fact that both the novel and movie of Jimmie Blacksmith had been visible previously meant that Keneally also had an Australian aspect to his brand as well, which he followed up in 1986’s A Family Madness, a book that encompassed both the trauma of the Second World War and postwar Australia. Keneally was highly successful in the new publishing era, without having to slough off his Australianness in order to achieve this status. Yet, as David Carter shows, Keneally’s path to American prominence, while yielding very positive results, was neither automatic nor easy. The path to North American exposure was even more arduous for the lesser-known or less laurelled writer. Film did not open every portal. Yet it did have manifestly positive effects. The success of The Year of Living Dangerously led to Koch’s next few novels appearing in the United States and being widely reviewed, something that most likely would not have happened in the same way if not for the movie, as Koch agreed in an interview conducted in the spring of 1995 in New York. Yet the greatest effect of the Australian film boom was less to call attention to the books that were the basis for films than to make Australia legitimate in U.S. eyes as the setting for ambitious, imaginative art. Because of the preparation the films had given them, American readers were ready for Peter Carey the way they had not been for Patrick White. This was partially due to the more rigorous nature of White’s fiction, but also was a sign of the times: a White who emerged in the 1980s and 1990s might have done about as well as David Malouf, if less well than Carey. Similarly, the Australian expatriate writer Sumner Locke Elliott, most of whose fiction was published in the 1960s and 1970s, might have done a bit better had he been a phenomenon of the next generation. Carey benefitted from a reader who, unlike those that greeted the initial U.S. publication by the works of White and Elliott, had been prepared for Australian literature by Australian film.

Another factor that prepared the American reader for authors such as Carey was the rise of magical realism as a literary mode. Through the novels of Gabriel García Márquez and others, Latin American fiction in translation had appealed to younger, college-educated book buyers and established a paradigm by which a distant land, with connections to the West but also differences from the metropolis, could convey its unique qualities to the Northern Hemisphere Anglophone reader. Indeed, many Latin American authors saw their paperbacks published in translation in the United States by the same publisher as Patrick White: Avon, under the editorship of Robert Wyatt. Magical realism was as a mode more entertaining than highbrow modernist fiction but also more literary than, say, science fiction, the detective story, or fantasy. This attitudinal level conjoined with the mood of the trade paperback. It must be said that magical realist books achieved their first success in mass market. Even García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude was famously published as a mass-market paperback, as was—perhaps more surprisingly—the first paperback of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, the books whose U.S. publication was influenced by the success of these writers migrated into trade paperbacks, not mass market. Rodney Hall was explicitly compared to García Márquez, and Just Relations appeared in a hefty and robust trade paperback from Penguin in 1984 whose cover featured a woman in a pink dress flying in the air—a clear iconic reference to magical realism. The inference the reader was supposed to make was not that Hall’s novel was derivative or just hopping aboard a modal bandwagon, but that its aims were high literary and modern or postmodern in mode. As Bruce Allen in the Christian Science Monitor said in its review of the book, “Just Relations owes much to Joyce’s Ulysses and Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, but is, nonetheless, an original work distinguished by fluent style, colorful inventiveness, and plain old-fashioned narrative momentum.”15 Hall’s books received prominent reviews in U.S. periodicals through the 1980s. In a 1988 review of Kisses of the Enemy, Pearl K. Bell described Hall as “a prolific Australian novelists and poet” and praised his “inventive brilliance and lyrical virtuosity.” The only thing Bell did not like about Hall’s book was its anti-Americanism. (As the sister of the literary critic Alfred Kazin and the wife of the sociologist Daniel Bell, Pearl Bell had links with the anti-communist side of the New York intellectual world and would not have welcomed anti-Americanism.) But the 622 pages of Hall’s novel impressed the reviewer with their “extravagant imagination”; the novel’s ambition almost overcame what for Bell were the limitations of its theme.16 Conversely, the New York Times daily book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, reviewing Hall’s Captivity Captive (1988), called it a “richly textured” tale that stood as a “parable.”17

If Hall never quite followed up the initial success of Just Relations in the United States, he stands as the first Australian author marketed in the renascent highbrow terms of the trade paperback. That this was not inevitable can be seen in the case of another Australian novelist whose initial U.S. publication took place (via Viking) in the same year as Hall’s, 1983. Blanche d’Alpuget’s Turtle Beach, with its focus on Asian-Australian issues, benefitted from the concurrent release of the film of The Year of Living Dangerously and the brief spurt in Australian appearances in the news following the election of Bob Hawke (who, years later, d’Alpuget married). But the 1984 Penguin paperback lost this momentum as a result of being issued in mass-market format; perhaps the presence of “beach” in the title made the publishers think the novel was best marketed as a beach read. The novel made no discernible impact in mass market when it could have done appreciably well in trade.

Publishers did not often make this mistake afterward. Although in the United Kingdom David Malouf’s Harland’s Half Acre (1984) was published as a mass-market paperback, in the United States and Canada it was published in a large, red-colored trade paperback, with a picture of a homestead evoking both the novel’s rural setting and Frank Harland’s talents as an artist. With a blurb on the back from the rising young author David Leavitt, writing in the Village Voice, comparing the novel to Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse in its depiction of the creative soul of an artist, the book’s marketing was unambiguously highbrow. After decades of seeing books from Australia as Westerns or passionate epics filled with outsize drama, the category of Australian fiction in the United States was beginning to permit the aesthetic and even the experimental. Even the most rigorous and exacting of Australian authors, Gerald Murnane, saw The Plains published in New York in 1985 by the resourceful small highbrow publisher George Braziller, with an Amy Schertzer–designed abstract blue image that captured the indefinite horizon of Murnane’s fictional grasslands. Although The Plains never appeared in paperback in the United States until the New Issues edition of 2003, the fact that an author as difficult and uncompromising as Murnane saw print in the United States meant that Australia was at least associated with the intellect and its concomitant cultural capital. Moreover, the publishers of trade paperbacks had determined there was a market for these among college-educated upwardly mobile consumers for whom the film boom and magical realism had prepared the way for the acceptance of Australian fiction as a highbrow category.

Illywhacker and the Arrival of Australian Literature

Even though Malouf and Murnane were not following in the footsteps of Latin American magic realism the way Hall’s novels were, magical realism overall was a way to present Australia, like Latin America, as both of the West and yet different from it. The very aspects of the two regions that might have seemed off-putting to the metropolitan reader—their perceived provinciality and the atavistic and residual nature of their cultures (as the Global North perceived them)—were made into a virtue by the way magical realism premised its depiction of the Global South in theories of asymmetrical, uneven development. A novel like Peter Carey’s Illywhacker, featuring as its protagonist the 139-year-old unreliable and garrulous Herbert Badgery, was clearly influenced by García Márquez and Borges. Featured on the front page of the New York Times Book Review—a truly rare achievement by an Australian novel—not only was Howard Jacobson’s review a rave, but it was flanked, as it were, by two other major articles that appeared in the New York Times in 1985: Craig McGregor’s “Australian Writing Today: Riding Off in New Directions” and Seymour Topping’s “Being Australia.”18

These articles preceded Jacobson’s review of Carey, which appeared on November 17, 1985, and thus prepared the reader for an Australian work of magnitude and imagination, recognizably parallel to the Australia introduced via the film boom, participating in the mode of representing the strange yet familiar associated with magical realism and being published at a time when Australia was clearly a topic of current interest. It has to be remembered that even though the American intellectual class did not automatically follow these judgments of the New York Times in lockstep, they were aware of the importance and sway commanded by those judgments. If one defines the readership of the trade paperback as people with the cultural capital to know intuitively what “cultural capital” was and using this discernment to avoid being trapped into middlebrow books like Cozzens’s that were posing as highbrow books, the 1986 Harper Torchbook trade paperback of Illywhacker seems designed to appeal to such a consumer. With a light-blue background and a picture of an extravagant and outsize orange tree against a background of smaller and more conventional-appearing green trees, among which a group of people in the middle distance is gazing not at us but at the landscape, the cover gave a compelling image of Australia. The caption, a laudatory notice from the Washington Post Book World, was supernumerary. The cover’s imagery already told its audience to expect high art, in the mode of magical realism. The readers who bought the book, in other words, were expected to do so with an informed sense of what it was. Whereas the marketing of the Patrick White mass-market paperbacks hoped readers might stumble upon the book and find they liked it more than they thought, or simply that a reader would buy it, mistaking it for a more conventional work, the marketing of Illywhacker assumed a reader who was looking for just that sort of thing. It might be said that Carey, with his background in advertising, was peculiarly ripe for this sort of marketability and that a novel like Illywhacker positioned itself as a synecdoche for Australian experience the way Latin American magic realist novels did for their own countries. But the most ingenious marketing in the world cannot work if the time is not ripe. For Illywhacker and Carey in the mid-1980s, the time was ripe.

It might be remarked that Illywhacker never reached the bestseller list, whereas The Eye of the Storm did. One could riposte that White’s book got its sales largely as a result of White’s winning the Nobel Prize, whereas Carey’s novel got its sales as the product of reviews and readerly enthusiasm. Robert Wyatt indeed remarks, “As far as I can make out, Viking had not done well enough with White to bother paperbacking him. When he won the Nobel Prize, there was a handle for Avon to launch him with.”19 That it took the Nobel to make White a promising candidate for a paperback incarnation is a sign that he had not developed any autonomous appeal before the prize. Illywhacker, on the other hand, established an autonomous reputation for Carey among New York publishers and booksellers even before he won the Booker three years later for Oscar and Lucinda. In addition, Carey’s novel generated buzz in the New York literary world and resonated within what Lionel Trilling called “the hum and buzz of implication” at the back of any overt assertions of merit or readership in a literary culture in a way that White simply never did. Probative here is Benjamin DeMott’s comment vis-à-vis Twyborn quoted in the section “Deep Entertainment: The Mass-Market Paperbacks of Patrick White.” The model of the trade paperback meant that a book did not have to be a bestseller in quantitative terms to make money. Indeed, there was no trade paperback bestseller list until the 2000s, so the only option for making such a list was the mass-market one. In a deeper way, though, it did not have to. The bestseller list generated its own momentum. Once a book was on the bestseller list, people heard of it and then bought it, simply because it was there. The trade paperback phenomenon of the “steady seller” meant that presence in independent bookstores and word of mouth, as well as mentions in prestige publication, mattered more than sheer numbers of sales. Robert Escarpit defined the “steady seller” as one with respect to which “sales figures do not soar sharply at an early date, but maintain a regular level and seasonal variations recur in roughly the same form each year.”20 The trade paperback, and the ability of booksellers to display and promote it on an individual basis, was the ideal vehicle for this phenomenon.

Carey’s book was the linchpin of Australian literature in the United States, the book that turned the tide and made writers from Australia a permanent publishing presence in North America. Previous Australian writers such as Eleanor Dark, Henry Handel Richardson, or Jon Cleary had been successful in terms of critical esteem or, less frequently, high sales and had been widely reviewed and had their works chosen as major selections by book clubs. But they had never gained the ongoing cultural currency, the word of mouth, and the informal excitement in New York literary circles that Carey’s work generated, and even if they had done so, there was, after a point, no continuity. It is important to realize that although there were many regional and local newspapers that reviewed books and had dedicated book reviewers, only the New York Times Book Review and, to a far lesser extent, the Washington Post Book World had a national readership and national influence. In other words, serious readers—as well as buyers for independent bookstores—in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1985 were far likelier to be influenced by the review of a book by the New York Times than in the St. Petersburg Times, even if the latter paper had a competent and discerning book critic. Local book reviews could help sales in the aggregate, but in a late age of print culture before the Internet made reviews published anywhere accessible everywhere, cultural capital was accumulated only by the major publications that resounded nationally.

This cultural capital did not just arise spontaneously. The Australian film book was enabled by Whitlam-era government financing and the cultural politics of an Australian Labor government willing to spend money on promoting not just national but nationalist imaginative products. The Hawke government of the 1980s was not nearly as nationalist as the Whitlam government had been, but it was still willing to spend money, through the Australia Council and other agencies, on tours to Australia by U.S. academics and tours abroad by Australian writers, and to provide seed money for publications abroad devoted to Australian literature, such as Antipodes, the journal of the American Association for Australian Literary Studies, which started publishing in 1987, a year after the organization itself had been founded at Columbia University. The Literature Board of the Australia Council also hired Selma Shapiro to serve as its New York publicist, a role she served in productively for over a decade.21 Another key New York operative on behalf of Australian literature was Pearl Bowman, the New York representative of the University of Queensland Press.22 These publicists could not work magic—in her Diaries, Barbara Hanrahan records her disappointment that Bowman could offer her nothing more tangible in the way of rewards than strong moral support for her work and that the generally increasing acceptability of Australian writers in the United States did not extend to her.23 But women writers in general did well in this era: Elizabeth Jolley, Jessica Anderson, and Thea Astley all received prominent reviews in major newspapers and journals, and Carolyn See’s article in the May 14, 1989, New York Times Book Review highlighted Jolley in particular as a presence in the field.24

All these writers were published in trade paperback, some as trade originals, and the trade paperback became the means whereby a highbrow Australian literature finally reached a sustainable global audience. There was nonetheless a difference between the academic and commercial trade paperback. Jacques Derrida’s books were published in trade paperback as much as Peter Carey’s were, and were often in the same bookstores. But other than in a few highly academic contexts, college bookstores and bookstores located near major universities such as New York’s St. Mark’s Bookshop, the Derrida paperbacks would be toward the back of the store, in specialized sections devoted to literary criticism and philosophy, while the Carey books would be on a front table, along with paperbacks of the most prestigious and prize-wining American and British novels, with which Carey’s book had achieved international comparability. Necessarily, the Derrida paperbacks would cost more, as their buyers would be even fewer in number and willing to spend more money on them. That being said, it is notable in this respect that Peter Carey’s Australian publisher was the University of Queensland Press (UQP), and that this press played a major role not just in publishing books that reached the American market but, as we have seen in the hiring of Pearl Bowman, in financing their penetration. Indeed, in the 1980s, UQP was the Australian publisher that interacted most with the world market and whose writers had the greatest international reach, even more than the Australian branch of Penguin/Viking. Craig Munro, the publisher of UQP, and the firm’s senior manager, Frank Thompson, could be said to have pioneered an academic-commercial hybrid model with a “creative publishing spirit” that foreshadowed that adopted over a decade later by Harvard University Press and the University of Chicago Press.25 UQP straddled the academic-trade divide in a mode perfectly equipped to tap into the rise of a self-aware intellectual-consumer class concomitant with the trade paperback mode.

Glenda Adams and the Limits of Trade Paperback Publishing Culture

But all was not utopian or stable. Precisely as the highbrow-lowbrow divide became less binary, the rich-poor divide became more binary. Ironically, just as trade paperbacks became a way for an affluent middle class to buy books affordably and conveniently without succumbing to the merely trashy or popular, the bottom began to drop out from that middle class itself. Still, the publishing industry no doubt calculated that there remained enough people with money, cultural aspirations, or a combination of the two to provide an audience for the pricier but more prestigious print form. Thus books like Glenda Adams’s Dancing on Coral, with its sympathetic portrayal of 1960s hippies who wanted to change the world, or Carey’s Bliss and Oscar and Lucinda, with their protest against a constraining, metropolitan commercial culture and their exaltation of unconventional people, were paradoxically made available to an American society of the 1980s increasingly divided into winners and losers by wealth, earning power, and educational status. Part of this was unintentional, but in another way the gamble the trade paperback publishers made, that there would be enough people willing to pay a bit more for prestige books to make publishing firms reap as much financial reward as selling to more people at lower cost, presumed a greater concentration of wealth in the hand of the top tier of society.

Glenda Adams’s Dancing on Coral (1987) was published at the peak of the 1980s Australian literature boom in the United States. Adams’s trajectory as a writer indeed reflects some of the sociopolitical and affective sources of this book. Lark Wilder is a young Sydney ingénue, a later version of Teresa Hawkins in Christina Stead’s For Love Alone, who yearns to get out of her provincial environment. Yet this environment is no longer so provincial, as the great world has taken an interest. American tabloids are eager for “weird news from down under”; a young American agitator traveling in Sydney has “a perspective on White Australia”; and Australia is ready for the realization that America is “a complex country.”26 Lark goes to the United States in time for the social upsurge of the 1960s, and it is indicative that the book links America and Australia through the counterculture, as the essence of the trade paperback audience of the 1980s was that it was a reformed, conventionalized counterculture, with its curiosity about the world retained but with responsible jobs and disposable incomes and more interested at this point in their lives in exploring the world at arm’s length than directly. Crucial to Dancing on Coral, though—indeed embodied in its very title—is the stop Lark makes at a Pacific island on the way to reaching the United States for the first time. Manfred Bird, the father of Lark’s “sophisticated” friend Donna, is a fraudulent anthropologist who exploits native peoples. It is as if Australia and America are connected literally by atolls in the Pacific. We have to remember the key role of World War II for the U.S. view of Australia, in which Americans saw Australia as General MacArthur’s redoubt, the anchor for the series of island-hopping initiatives that dislodged the Japanese from the Pacific, and as the endpoint of a long series of archipelagoes stretching from Hawaii to the Antipodes whose possession was strategically important in the war. Dancing on Coral retraces this Pacific/World War II connection, which is essential if one is to construct how Australia was seen in the United States before the 1980s.

An interesting sidelight here is that one of the major Australians to make news in the United States in the early 1980s was Derek Freeman, the New Zealand anthropologist who spent most of his career at the Australian National University in Canberra. In January 1983, Freeman mounted a major attack on the methodological assumptions of the American anthropologist Margaret Mead, accusing her in essence of a sentimental primitivism. This attack got huge press, especially in the New York Times, whose publishing correspondent (note how the paper treated this as a matter of publishing), Edwin McDowell, wrote the initial story on the controversy.27 Freeman’s attack and not only went far to delegitimizing Mead as a thinker but, as Nancy Lutkehaus has argued, was used in the “period of political conservatism under President Ronald Reagan” to rebut the entire mode of anthropology as a means of cultural critique of the Western mainstream, a search for alternative lifestyles, that Mead represented.28 The effect of Freeman’s attack is to say that Mead was wrong to see Samoan society as laden with alternative value systems to the West; the implication of Freeman’s work was, to echo Margaret Thatcher’s phase, that there was no alternative.

That Adams’s Dancing on Coral at once links the United States and Australia via Pacific islands but also sees Manfred Bird’s anthropological work as exploitative and fraudulent registers this shift in Pacific cultural politics. That Mead was a social thinker who sold well in mass-market paperback—the mass-market paperback of Coming of Age in Samoa was omnipresent in the households of college-educated Americans in the 1960s and 1970s—once again registers the loss of social coverage inherent in the turn from mass-market to trade. Mead’s inarguable successor as the leading U.S. anthropologist was Clifford Geertz, and his works were in trade, not mass market, and for all their academic appeal stayed at the back of most bookstores. Whereas Mead had sold much better than White, Carey sold much better than Geertz.

The trade paperback, while catalyzing a self-aware audience, did not reach out to the broader circles of the semi-educated as Mead’s work, even if sentimental and flawed, did, in such a way as to bring the insights of modern social sciences into the worlds of many who saw themselves as ordinary readers. Similarly, Patrick White’s mass-market U.S. paperbacks—surely designed to make money for their publisher in the wake of the Nobel, were also an attempt by Avon, adept in breaching the bounds of high and popular culture, to bring White’s aesthetic and ethical achievement into the world of everyday Americans. The positive aspect of the trade paperback’s dependence on cultural capital meant that when a book came at a propitious moment, as happened with Illywhacker, the surrounding atmosphere could have a multiplier effect, putting Carey’s ingenious and engaging novel in the hands not just of a lot of people in the aggregate but of people whose readership meant a genuinely increased profile for Australian literature on the literary scene. Yet, as with the stock market, what goes up can also go down. Although Carey, who moved to New York full time in 1990, and Keneally, who spent some years teaching at New York University and the University of California, Irvine, remained canonical on the American scene, and although David Malouf’s profile only increased after he won the first IMPAC award in 1993, the profile of the women writers—Astley, Jolley, Anderson—fell off, affected by their own aging and death as well as by crises within feminism, but also showing that the model for what an Australian was was still white and male. (No indigenous writers—if one excludes B. Wongar, who some thought was Aboriginal—were widely distributed in the United States during this time.)

An example of how certain authors were eclipsed in the U.S. publishing environment is Glenda Adams. Like Carey, she moved to the United States, on a more or less permanent half-time basis. Her work had the potential to connect the United States and Australia. Yet with Dancing on Coral—winner of the 1987 Miles Franklin Award—Adams’s U.S. hardcover publishers, Viking, seemed reluctant to market her as Australian, with neither the book’s cover alluding to Australia nor any of the blurbs on the back mentioning Adams’s Australian origins. The front flap does mention Lark Wilder as coming from “Sydney, Australia,” but before Sydney is mentioned there are comparisons to the work of J. D. Salinger and Ken Kesey.29 Though receiving respectful reviews, the book was not a steady seller and did not do well in trade paperback.

Eight years later Adams published The Tempest of Clemenza, a book with multiple layers and settings including Australia and the American state of Vermont. This book might have seemed ideal for an American audience, but Publishers Weekly disagreed, characterizing Adams’s novel as “a brave but muddled mishmash of interlocking novels within novels” that “may not persuade American readers of her talent.”30 The review particularly criticized Adams for being metafictive and crossing the line from reality to fantasy, which is just what Illywhacker had been so hailed for doing. It is less that U.S. audiences only wanted conventional fiction—The Tempest of Clemenza was published the same year as David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest—than that they wanted unconventional fiction with a certain set of assumptions and procedures in which Adams was not seen as participating. The era of magical realism had passed; the Australian film boom was a memory; and the explicit Australian-American negotiation that had worked so well in Dancing on Coral seemed to pose more of a problem with the far more ambitious and risk-taking Clemenza, a book that deserved to do much better, and which was Adams’s last novel published before her death in 2007.

The issue underlying the neglect of Clemenza was that although the trade paperback enlarged the circle of the literary, what the literary itself was had grown more monochromatic. When whether a book sold in the aggregate was the only criterion, all sorts of books could be put out there in hopes that they would sell. In the era of the trade paperback, when fewer sales to more moneyed people were seen as being guaranteed or guaranteeing cultural capital, the individual tastes of a tight circle of publishers, agents, newspaper book critics, and buyers from chain and independent bookstores had a huge influence on what collective taste was. Unlike in the mass-market era, when collective organs such as book clubs played huge roles, these people were not just trying to milk a property for sales but trying to generate enthusiasm for books of real complexity and aesthetic magnitude, in a way much more individuated and which allowed the selective reader more agency Yet this only fortified the role these individuals and interests played as cultural gatekeepers. Once again, and pace Adorno, a more self-aware culture industry is not necessary a more enlightened one. There was, in national and cultural terms, diversity in abundance here, but only a certain sort of diversity. Thanks to Carey, Australia as a literary source had arrived permanently in the United States. Thirty years after the publication of Illywhacker, it and Carey’s other major works are still in print; thanks to print-on-demand technology, even if Carey suffers a pronounced critical declivity, it will never totally recede from the stage as Henry Handel Richardson did after her initial American reception. But this did not mean the course of the reception of Australian novels in the United States would be either steady or serene.

It is obvious that the global by definition is changeable. Yet the incongruity between Australia and the global center has at times seemed so great that when Australia connected to the globe, the temptation is to see the globe itself as central or static. Only if the global is static, it seems, can Australian interaction with the globe seem to resonate. Yet the global does change. The America in which Peter Carey’s work came in the 1980s was not the same America in which Patrick White’s had arrived in the 1960s and 1970s. The country, the world had changed seismically. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri put it, “Beginning in the 1970s, . . . the techniques and organizational form of industrial production shifted toward smaller and more mobile labor units and more flexible structures of production, a shift often labelled as a move from Fordist to post-Fordist production.”31 And the publishing industry, as the transition from mass-market to trade paperback showed, had changed accordingly. Whereas in the 1950s there had been many independent paperback publishers, by the 1970s consolidation within the publishing industry had led most hardcover houses to also have their own paperback imprints. Having all the book options in-house led to the companies finding ways to export the cultural prestige of hardcover to the commercial lucrativeness of paperback. Yet these structurally autonomous publishing industry factors also mirrored the move through Fordism to post-Fordism outlined by Hardt and Negri. The standardization of the mass-market paperback indeed further intensified in a sense by the two now being published by the same ownership—thus Viking Penguin in the 1980s could publish a hardcover in Viking and a paperback in Penguin. Hardcover and paperback sales no longer competed against each other so much; thus the paperback did not have to be marketed to a substantially different, less highbrow audience; it could continue the marketing trajectory of the hardcover by other means. The binary division between high and low book culture had—by the very agency of standardization itself, the large commercial publisher—given way to the simultaneous flexibility and elitism of the trade paperback. It was no longer lowbrow versus highbrow, or even middlebrow versus highbrow, but instead a highbrow status consummately marketable by formerly middlebrow and even lowbrow means. Australian literature certainly gained here. But there may have been no advance for the ethical values many Australian writers felt they represented.

Review of the Literature

Two books relating to the history of the University of Queensland Press—Craig Munro’s 2015 memoir and his 1998 edited omnibus history, are all-important to this material, as, in the sense of larger background, are the relevant volumes in The History of the Book in Australia and The History of the Book in America, respectively. The online archives of the New York Times Book Review give substantial evidence of the reception of Australian literature during this period, as do databases such as LexisNexis. Overviews of Australian literary history such as the two volumes by Ken Gelder and Paul Salzman, The New Diversity and After The Celebration, and Nicholas Birns’s Contemporary Australian Literature, especially chapter 4), as well as Paul Giles’s Antipodean America, surveying the literary relation between the United States and Australia, are indicative of a more general background.32

Further Reading

Adams, Glenda. Dancing on Coral. New York: Penguin, 1987.Find this resource:

Adorno, Theodor. The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. New York: Routledge, 2001.Find this resource:

Birns, Nicholas. Contemporary Australian Literature: A World Not Yet Dead. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Carey, Peter, Illywhacker. New York: Knopf, 1985.Find this resource:

Gelder, Ken, and Paul Salzman, The New Diversity: Australian Fiction, 1970–1988. Melbourne: McPhee Gribble, 1989.Find this resource:

Gelder, Ken, and Paul Salzman, After the Celebration: Australian Fiction, 1989–2007. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Giles, Paul. Antipodean America: Australasia and the Constitution of U.S. Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Hutner, Gordon. What America Read: Taste, Class, and the Novel, 1920–1960. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Lynes, Russell. The Tastemakers. New York: Harper, 1954.Find this resource:

Macdonald, Dwight. Masscult and Midcult: Essays against the American Grain. New York: New York Review Books, 2011.Find this resource:

Munro, Craig, and Robyn Sheahan-Bright, eds. Paper Empires: A History of the Book in Australia, 1946–2005. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Nord, Daniel Paul, John Shelley Rubin, and Michael Schudson, ed. History of the Book in America, vol. 5. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Walton, Jo. Among Others. New York: Tor, 2011.Find this resource:

White, Patrick. The Eye of the Storm. New York: Avon, 1975.Find this resource:


(1.) Benjamin DeMott, “The Perils of Protean Man,” New York Times Book Review, April 27, 1980, 3.

(2.) George Steiner, “Carnal Knowledge,” New Yorker, March 24, 1974, 109–113.

(3.) Author interview with Robert Wyatt, March 10, 2016.

(4.) Raewyn Connell, “Transsexual Women and Feminist Thought: Towards New Understanding and New Politics,” in “Sex: A Thematic Issue,” Signs 37.4 (Summer 2012): 867.

(5.) Connell, “Transsexual Women and Feminist Thought,” 867.

(6.) Ann Hulbert, review of The Twyborn Affair, by Patrick White, New Republic, May 3, 1980, 37.

(7.) Jo Walton, Among Others (New York: Tor, 2012), 98.

(8.) Gordon Hutner, What America Read: Taste, Class, and the Novel, 1920–1960 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

(9.) Simon During, “Saul Bellow, Patrick White and the Problem of Literary Value,” Australian Literary Studies 27.2 (2012): 1–17.

(10.) See Ann Powers, Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 124.

(11.) Linda M. Scott, “Markets and Audiences,” in History of the Book in America, vol. 5: The Enduring Book, Print Culture in Postwar America, eds. David Paul Nord, Joan Shelley Rubin, and Michael Schudson (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 78.

(12.) Russell Lynes, The Tastemakers (New York: Harper, 1954), 328–329.

(13.) Dwight Macdonald, “By Cozzens Possessed,” Commentary 25 (January 1958): 31–47.

(14.) Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture (New York: Routledge, 2001), 74.

(15.) Bruce Allen, “Rich, Fluent Australian Novel,” Christian Science Monitor, September 7, 1983.

(16.) Pearl K. Bell, “Better the Blows of a Friend,” New York Times Book Review, November 27, 1988, 9.

(17.) Michiko Kakutani, review of Captivity Captive by Rodney Hall, New York Times, January 20, 1988.

(18.) Craig McGregor, “Australian Writing Today: Riding Off in New Directions,” New York Times, May 19, 1985; and Seymour Topping, “Being Australia,” New York Times, September 29, 1985.

(19.) Robert Wyatt, interview by Nicholas Birns, March 10, 2016.

(20.) Robert Escarpit, The Book Revolution (London: Harrap, 1966), 118.

(21.) Craig Munro and Robyn Sheahan-Bright, eds., Paper Empires: A History of the Book in Australia, 1946–2005 (St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 2006), 231.

(22.) Pearl Bowman, “West 85th Street, New York,” in UQP: The Writer’s Press, 1948–1998, ed. Craig Munro (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1998).

(23.) Barbara Hanrahan, The Diaries of Barbara Hanrahan (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1998), 176. 181. 183.

(24.) Carolyn See, “Why Australian Writers Keep Their Heads Down,” New York Times Book Review, May 14, 1989, 1.

(25.) Craig Munro, Under Cover: Adventures in the Art of Editing (Melbourne: Scribe, 2015), 19.

(26.) Glenda Adams, Dancing On Coral (New York: Penguin, 1987), 53.

(27.) Edwin McDowell, “New Samoa Book Challenges Margaret Mead’s Conclusions,” New York Times, January 31, 1983, 1.

(28.) Nancy Lutkehaus, Margaret Mead: The Making of an American Icon (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 245.

(29.) Glenda Adams, Dancing on Coral (New York: Penguin, 1987), cover.

(30.) Review of The Tempest of Clemenza, by Glenda Adams, October 2, 1996.

(31.) Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 409.

(32.) Munro, Under Cover; Munro, UQP; Munro and Sheahan-Bright, Paper Empires; Nord, Rubin, and Schudson, History of the Book in America, vol. 5; Ken Gelder and Paul Salzman, The New Diversity: Australian Fiction, 1970–1988 ( Melbourne: McPhee Gribble, 1989); Ken Gelder and Paul Salzman, After the Celebration: Australian Fiction, 1989–2007 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2009); Nicholas Birns, Contemporary Australian Literature: A World Not Yet Dead (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2015); and Paul Giles, Antipodean America: Australasia and the Constitution of U.S. Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).