Biography of a Book traces the life of an iconic Australian literary work in the lead-up to, and for a century after, its initial publication: Henry Lawson's 1896 collection While the Billy Boils. Paul Eggert follows Lawson's gradual development of a pared-back bush realism in the early 1890s, as he struggled to forge a career, writing short stories and sketches for the newspapers.
Lawson's famous collection came out at a decisive moment for the development of a fully professional Australian literary publishing industry, then in its infancy in Sydney. The volume's editing, design and production were collaborative events that changed the feel and nature of Lawson's writing. He had to give ground on his texts and their sequencing.
The collection went on to be reprinted and repackaged countless times. Its production and reception histories act like a geological cross-section, revealing the contours of successive cultural formations in Australia. In unravelling the life of Lawson's classic work, Eggert's book-historical approach challenges and clarifies established understandings of crucial moments in Australian literary history and of Lawson himself.
Paul Eggert is professor emeritus of English literature and Australian Research Council professorial fellow at the University of New South Wales (Canberra).
List of illustrations
Note on currency
Introduction: lives of works1. A writing career in the making: Lawson’s early life
2. Lawson in the literary marketplace: the Worker, the Bulletin and Short Stories in Prose and Verse
3. Author and publisher: Lawson and Angus & Robertson
4. The revision and copy-editing of While the Billy Boils: Lawson and Arthur W. Jose
5. The making of a book: texts and illustrations
6. Respecting the marketplace: the publishers’ natural wish to make a fat 5s. volume
7. Lawson’s no longer: publication of While the Billy Boils
8. Early reception of While the Billy Boils: the first five years
9. Who made the money, and how much?; or, why Lawson went to England
10. ‘Pursuing literature’: Lawson’s stories in Britain 1900–1902
11. The afterlife of While the Billy Boils
12. Lawson’s reputation in the postwar period
'The text was a collaborative effort – Lawson was not in sole control – and it is this collaboration which is so skilfully unwoven and dissected in Biography of a Book ... Biography of a Book rewrites literary history. For example, the myth of the 1890s, the spuriousness of which has been adumbrated previously by others, but without the benefit of the empirical evidence which Eggert now brings to the table, is severely shaken.'
Paul Brunton Australian Book Review
‘Biography of a Book: Henry Lawson's While the Billy Boils is ... beautifully designed and produced. It is highly readable and intellectually audacious: the biography of a book rather than an author.’
Craig Munro Sydney Morning Herald
Size: 210 × 148 × 23 mm
14 colour illustrations and 2 b&w tables
Copyright: © 2013
Publication: 20 Feb 2013