I love this idea: Meanjin are having a tournament where they match up a whole list of canonical Australian novels by women authors and then let them duke (duchess?) it out until one of them is ultimately declared the winner.

If it was up to me, and it isn’t, and speaking from a position of not having read all the books, I’d say Henry Handel Richardson is going to be hard to beat, although Christina Stead is already looking like tough competition.

Personally, I love a canon.

I’m not sure whether the idea of a canon is fashionable or not just now. I remember when canon-busting was quite the thing, but that was when we thought canonical texts were so secure in their position in the cultural firmament that you could afford to start questioning and tinkering around the edges and setting up alternatives. But anyway, fashionable or unfashionable, I love a canon, largely because there are just TOO MANY BOOKS in the world and a canon, however contested, gives you some idea about where to start and what to read and lets you participate in the conversation.

A canon of works by Australian women authors is something that has always been important to me, not just because it gives you something to aspire to. As a reader I’ve always been attracted to books that came with a female perspective: I was like those boys who will only read books about other boys, except, y’know, in reverse. So I’ve been reading books about/by/for women as a matter of preference for a long time. As a writer I’m interested in reading the best writing by women, partly because it’s inspiring, and partly because they often have something to say on the experience of being a woman which describes things you’ve felt or known or experienced yourself but might not have been able to put into words with such clarity. Women’s fiction from earlier times also has important information to give us about what being a woman used to mean, what it used to be like, and how the world used to be. This is information that is still important, because it tells us where we’ve been and where we’ve come from, and that still matters. (The past is never dead. It’s not even past, etc etc)

I’m also interested in a more general sense in what great women’s writing, and in this case great Australian women’s writing, is about: its subjects, its point of view, its concerns, its repeated themes. What do women write about, most thrillingly and engagingly and grandly? It’d be kind of cool to do some kind of survey of the books in this list, or maybe just the semi-finalists, and look at what the similarities and the differences are. Do they change over time? Or is there an element of timelessness about it? And if you compared this list to a male-only list, how different would the concerns be? And then if you had a run-off between the blokes list and the womens list to put together an all-time champions list, who would make the cut?

Champions trophy of Australian literature. Would love to see it.

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