Xavier Herbert. Requiem for Genius

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Russell McDougall


In today’s global celebrity culture it’s hard to imagine a word more over-used and abused than ‘genius’. It is a slippery word with a long and contradictory conceptual history. Yet, in the Land of the Tall Poppy, self-confessions of genius invariably have paved a broad road to public ridicule and denigration. Xavier Herbert’s notion of genius was not static. It changed throughout his life and it evolved through his writing. He agreed with Carlyle that the first condition of genius must always be a ‘transcendent capacity of taking trouble’ and on this foundation he built his own concept of genius, as the unending ‘capacity for loving’. This article explores what genius meant to Xavier Herbert and how it translated into his fiction, before considering how our sense of genius today influences the way we respond to his most challenging fictions of love and hate, 'Capricornia' and 'Poor Fellow My Country'.

Article Details

Xavier Herbert: Forgotten or Repressed? (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Russell McDougall, University of New England

Russell McDougall is Professor of English and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences & Education at the University of New England in Armidale NSW, where he was the founder of the Posthuman Literary and Cultural Studies Research Group. He wrote the introduction to the fortieth anniversary reprint of 'Poor Fellow My Country' (2014) and his biography, 'The Haunting of Xavier Herbert', is forthcoming. Other publications include 'The Roth Family, Anthropology and Colonial Administration' (ed. with Iain Davidson, 2009), 'Writing, Travel, Empire: Colonial Narratives of Other Cultures' (ed. with Peter Hulme, 2007) and 'The Muse of Australia: Henry Kendall' (ed.,1992).


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