Saturday, March 27, 2010

Merlin: knowledge and power through the ages

Merlin has been a recurring character in literature, particularly but not exclusively in the many retellings of the Arthurian legend. Stephen Knight explores the myth of Merlin from his initial appearance in early Welsh legends as Myrddin through to the many modern works of fiction in which Merlin features. Knight looks at the evolution of the character as a figure of wisdom, provider of advice, cleverness and in more modern times as an educator. Two bibliographies are provided - the first is a long list of works in which Merlin is a character while the second is a list of books and articles about Merlin. This detailed study of the many guises of Merlin and his role in literature is a little ponderous but would be a useful resource for those fascinated by the story of Merlin.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The ruling caste: imperial lives in the Victorian Raj

David Gilmour provides a detailed account of the role of the British Civil Service in India during the reign of Queen Victoria. The mutiny in 1857 was a watershed in the British administration in India. Prior to the mutiny the East India Company administered the Indian Civil Service and the men holding positions in India were educated at Haileybury - the East India Company College established in the early 1800s - after being nominated by directors of the Company. A high percentage of men from Scotland served in India at this time. The two year course purported to provide the skills the young men required to work in India however the relevance of many of the subjects and the seriousness that some of the students viewed their studies is debated in the early chapters of the book. After the mutiny the British government took control of the Indian Civil Service with opportunities for positions opened to a wider range of people trained at a variety of institutions and the age of new civil servants raised to early twenties.

The book concentrates on describing what life was like for the British in India in the years after the mutiny until the beginning of the twentieth century. It primarily describes the lives of the British living in India during the reign of Queen Victoria, particularly after 1857 when the management of the Indian Civil Service was taken over by the British government.

From Jolimont to Yering and along our Yarra Valleys with Neuchatel's bachelor vignerons

Raymond Henderson has written a history of the Yarra Valley focusing on the early wine industry and featuring the de Castalla, de Meuron, de Pury and Leuba families from Switzerland.

This well illustrated book provides detailed information on the European families that settled the area in the nineteenth century and also has a chapter on the Aboriginal settlement at Coranderrk.

Brief reference is made to the property, Cooring Yering, owned by the Hutton family from the 1870s to the 1920s. Walter and Maurice Hutton planted 30 acres of grape vines on the property in the 1890s twenty years after Samuel de Pury had uprooted his crop on the same property (pages 141 and 220).

Bottersnikes and other lost things: a celebration of Australian children's books

Juliet O'Connor has produced a fascinating insight into early children's book illustration in Australia. Divided into five major sections - schooldays, morality and family, home and land, journeys, other worlds - the book describes the development of illustrative material produced for Australian children.

Schooldays, for example, looks at nineteenth century educational texts, the development of alphabet books from The Young Australian's Alphabet published in 1871 to more recent publications such as Graeme Base's Animalia (1986) and A is for Aunty by Elaine Russell (2000) as well as school papers and readers including John and Betty (1951).

Each page of the book contains illustrations from the books described in the text demonstrating changes in art reproduction and style as well as the type of material made available for children. A great addition to the history and understanding of Australian children's literature.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Corduroy Mansions

Alexander McCall Smith's latest offering is Corduory Mansions. Like the Scotland Street series the book introduces us to a series of characters living in or associated with a locality - this time a four storey building in Pimlico, a suburb of London. The reader enjoys the company of an eccentric group of characters including William, a wine merchant who is encouraging his adult son, Eddie, to leave home; Dee, Jenny, Jo and Caroline who share one of the flats; Oedipus Snark the politician and Jenny's employer; Barbara Ragg, a publisher and one time friend of Oedipus; Berthea Snark, a psychotherapist and mother of Oedipus who wants to write an unauthorised biography about her son; Terrance Moongrove, Berthea's brother, who lives in his own world in the country to name just a few. Not to forget Freddie de la Hay who comes to share William's flat. McCall Smith obviously enjoys these characters and uses them is comment on attitudes and misconceptions of our times.

Like the Scotland Street series the book is based on a series of articles, this time appearing on the website - The sequel to Corduroy Mansions is The dog who came in from the cold and (audio) chapters can be downloaded from this site.

I certainly want to know more of the lives of these characters in Corduroy Mansions and look forward to reading the next installment.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A short history of the University of Melbourne

The University of Melbourne was incorporated in 1853. In 2003 two publications on the history of the university were published to mark its first 150 years - a detailed account, The Shop, by Richard Selleck and a smaller volume, The short history of the University of Melbourne (193p), written by Stuart Macintyre and Richard Selleck. This account with many illustrations describes the challenges and tensions faced in the development of the university from its initial intake of 15 students to a major tertiary institution.

Lachlan Macquarie: his life, adventures and times

2010 marks 200 years since Lachlan Macquarie arrived in New South Wales as Lieutenant Governor, a post he held until February 1822. This detailed biography, written by M H Ellis, was first published in 1947. In 2010 the book has been republished with a new introduction.

Ellis, in great detail, describes events in Macquarie's life including his first career was in the army in India. Macquarie arrived in Australia after Bligh had been deposed and the military had been in control of the colony for several years. His time in New South Wales was to restore stability to the colony and promote its growth though many of his projects were criticised by the 'gentry' of the colony who opposed his appointment of emancipists in positions of trust. One of the emancipists who benefited from Macquarrie's time in New South Wales was Simeon Lord.

Macquarie's name is commemorated in the naming of many important sites and institutions in Australia.

Ellis undertook many years of research before writing this book and provides a detailed list of resources for each chapter. It is not necessarily an easy book to read however it is an important contribution to the early history of Australia.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


This is a crime novel with a difference. The 'hero' of the novel is a man who has has made a successful living stealing jewellery, artworks and cash, but with improvements in electronic surveillance and increased use of electronic tranfer of funds, his opportunities are diminishing.

When during a heist Wyatt is double crossed, he seeks revenge and attempts to regain his prize.

Most of the action, except for brief interludes overseas, is set around Melbourne including the city, Frankston, Ringwood and Yarra Junction adding to the interest of the book for those of us living in Australia.

The plot is action packed and a book hard to put down. I must now look for earlier books in this series.

Writng history

Increasingly people are writing family or community histories. Writing these books is not just telling the story but also presenting the information in an interesting manner that people want to read as well as recording the sources used when researching the information for the book.

How to write history that people want to read by Ann Curthoys and Ann McGrath (2009) is a useful addition to books on writing history. These Australian authors provide information about research, selecting information, advice on writing, choosing a style, acknowledging sources, editing and revising the work and marketing the final product.

Gavin McLean in his practical guide, How to do local history, looks at the topic from a New Zealand perspective as he provides advice on ideas and questions, research, writing and publishing.

Style manual for authors, editors and printers, 6th ed, 2002 is an extremely useful resource for information on writing, presentation, use of grammar and spelling, use of citations, indexes, design and illustrating, editing - all facets of producing a book. A must for all Australian writers.

In 2006 the Federation of Australian Historical Societies published Publishing history: a guide for historical societies by Helen Doyle and Katya Johanson. Topics include planning projects, how to publish, drawing up a budget, contracting an author, components of a history book, images, editing and design, identification and access requirements and selling the finished product.

These are only a small selection of titles now available in libraries and bookshops to assist in the writing of readable history.