Shaped on the anvil of mars: Vance and nettie palmer and the great war

Deborah Jordan

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1 Citation (Scopus)


In Australia as elsewhere within the belligerent nations of the Great War, dissenting thinkers were marginalised with the mobilisation of militarism. Vance and Nettie Palmer, Australia's most important literary partnership in the interwar period, were initially critical of the war, their response typical of the English radical intelligentsia among whom they were living at the time of its outbreak. Forced back to Australia in 1915, the Palmers had to re-establish themselves in its increasingly turbulent intellectual battlefields. Nettie's earlier anti-war beliefs and cosmopolitanism were undermined while Vance became ever more deeply enmeshed in a discourse concerning the virtues of the "ordinary people", which encompassed the men of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Nevertheless, in their extensive writings about Australia, neither Palmer ever endorsed the legend of the heroic Anzacs. The Great War, however, profoundly shaped their political consciousness and their choice of genre and writing strategies, as it did others of their literary generation. This article will show that the war was a far more important influence on their work than usually acknowledged in Australian literary scholarship, and thereby reveal some of the cultural patterns that shaped their generation of Australian radical writers and intellectuals - particularly in Melbourne, arguably the heartland for the tradition of democratic literary nationalism which the Palmers have been seen to epitomise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-391
Number of pages17
JournalAustralian Journal of Politics and History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2007
Externally publishedYes

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