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Xavier Herbert Biography

(1901–84), Capricornia, Seven Emus, Poor Fellow My Country, Soldiers' Women, Larger than Life, Disturbing Element

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: William Hart-Smith Biography to Sir John [Frederick William] Herschel Biography

Australian novelist, born in Port Hedland, Western Australia. After working in a pharmacy and studying medicine in Melbourne he led a varied existence in Australia, the Pacific, and Britain. His novel Capricornia (1938) was a vivid portrait of the Northern Territory; completed in 1932, it was an indictment of white Australians' abuse of land and of the Aboriginal peoples from the 1880s to the 1930s, detailing in particular the difficulties experienced by half-castes. Seven Emus (1958), with its eccentric experiment in punctuation, explored similar themes. These Herbert expanded in the monumental Poor Fellow My Country (1975) with its epic treatment of the period 1936 to the late 1970s. Outstanding in both its scope and its passion, the book won considerable praise and brought Herbert national recognition. Herbert's writing early engaged issues now increasingly seen as central to contemporary Australian culture and identity, and his recognized mastery (despite spectacular lapses) of narrative and setting have assured him a place in the history of Australian writing. His other work includes Soldiers' Women (1960), about wartime Sydney; Larger than Life (1963), collected stories; and Disturbing Element (1963), an impressive autobiographical account to the year 1925. Herbert's short stories from 1925 to 1934 were edited by Russell McDougall in South of Capricornia (1991).

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