While Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life is unquestionably a valuable contribution to Australian literature, his journalism career also deserves equal attention, particularly as an influential antecedent to the creation of his seminal text not only on a technical basis as John Conley details in “Marcus Clarke: The Romance of Reality”, but also as a social platform. In “Marcus Clarke and the Society of the Spectacle: Reflections on Writing and Commodity Capitalism in Nineteenth-Century Melbourne,” Andrew McCann demonstrates how the “Peripatetic Philosopher”— one of Clarke’s more successful journalistic endeavors—and other selections reveal Clarke’s critique of the colonial Melbourne society and it’s fascination with the spectacle, which Clarke both caters to and critiques in his novel. One of McCann’s points focuses on how the public’s “lust for blood” correlates with urban boredom—a concept that’s mirrored through a relationship between the tedious size of the novel and it’s escalation of the spectacle from parental secrets to child suicides. Part of Clarke’s journalistic aim, according to McCann, is to highlight the demoralizing effects of this societal interest in the grotesque—a concern effectively accomplished in Kirkland’s flogging where Dawes’s moral stance is tortured to the point where he seems to have “abandoned his humanity,” notably so at the hands of Gabbett, a central figure of spectacle in the novel. Clarke’s journalism arguably suggests this demoralization is atavistic in nature through his juxtaposition of barbaric history and contemporary criticism, which introduces a unique approach to the novel, considering the imperialist roots of the transportation system. The sensationalized “trophies” of British colonizers and the European tastes of Clarke’s audience taken together with Patrick Brantlinger’s definition of imperialism in “Imperial Gothic: Atavism and the Occult in the British Adventure Novel, 1880-1914” supports this critical framework, while the novel further explores this perspective primarily through viewing the authority figures as colonizers and convicts as the colonized. This interpretation is supported by the sub-human descriptions of the convicts that reflect imperialist attitudes, and through an analysis of Maurice Frere, with particular focus to his “backsliding” linguistics and his “theft” of the barbaric coracle. If Maurice Frere is the metaphorical embodiment of Clarke’s “colonizer” audience, their fascination with the spectacle is indeed “antithetical to rational discernment” (McCann) and bordering on atavism.
Perkins, Mary E., "Marcus Clarke: Confronting Spectacle with Spectacle in For the Term of His Natural Life" (2014). English 502: Research Methods. 8.
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