Remapping Capricornia: Xavier Herbert’s Cosmopolitan Imagination

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Ellen Smith


Since its publication in 1938 critics have generally read Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia as a nationalist novel, even when its nationalism is seen to be structured by contradiction. But little attention has been given to the ways in which Herbert’s complex, multifarious and heteroglossic novel exceeds and challenges the very possibility of coherent national space and a coherent national story. This essay considers moments and spaces in Herbert’s novel where the national is displaced and unravelled. Drawing on Rebecca Walkowitz’s idea of cosmopolitan style and Suvendrini Perera’s work on Australia’s insular imagination I identify a critical cosmopolitanism that inheres in the novel’s geographical imagination and its literary form, particularly the narrative voice which retains a critical distance from the nationalist sensibility of various characters and plot lines, performing a detached and restless homelessness that I identify with the cosmopolitan. Ultimately I ask how the novel’s spatial and environmental imagination displaces its nationalist agenda, making space for a different kind of social imagination—one that does not confine itself to the terms of the nation or organise itself around a central figure for the nation.

Article Details

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

Ellen Smith, Deakin University

Ellen Smith has published essays on Australian modernism, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Xavier Herbert and the Indigenous artist, Julie Gough. She has a PhD in English from Princeton University (2012) and has held postdoctoral research fellowships at the University of Melbourne and the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King’s College London. She currently teaches Literary Studies at Deakin University.


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