Reading the electrical experience in cold light: Labour politics and narrative form in Frank Moorhouse, then and now

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This essay seeks to boost Frank Moorhouse’s credentials as a commentator on class consciousness and labour politics, focusing on the oblique representation of labor tension in The Electrical Experience (1974) and addressing thematic and inter-textual connections with Cold Light (2011), the third in the so-called 'Edith Trilogy'. Close reading reveals the lurking presence of labour tension in The Electrical Experience, but rather than it being manifested through a direct collision of social classes, it emerges primarily from the inner tensions and contradictions of its protagonist, the soft drink manufacturer George McDowell. Primarily set in the 1920s-30s, when workers’ rights had more prominence on the political Left than in Moorhouse’s immediate cultural scene in the early 1970s, the stories repeatedly show McDowell in revolt against himself, even as he remains oblivious to his workers. The indirect political insight Moorhouse offers on a more local – even parochial – scale in this fragmented work of historical fiction is in some respects deeper and more nuanced than that in the fullscale historical novel Cold Light, which engages directly with communist agitation in 1950s Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalAustralian Literary Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes

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