Study Guide

Thomas Keneally

Thomas Keneally Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Thomas Michael Keneally (kuh-NEE-lee), one of Australia’s best-regarded and most prolific writers, was born to Catholic parents of Irish ancestry. He was educated at St. Patrick’s College in Strathfield, New South Wales, and studied first for the priesthood—the young priest in Three Cheers for the Paraclete reflects Keneally’s training, and Keneally’s Catholicism pervades his novels—and later for a law career. He taught in a high school in Sydney from 1960 to 1964 before marrying Judith Martin in 1965, a year after he had published his first novel, The Place at Whitton. Keneally later disparaged this novel, as well as the second, The Fear, which he has termed the “obligatory” account of a novelist’s childhood. Despite his later disdain for these early novels, they won critical acclaim (the Miles Franklin Award in 1967 and 1968, and the Captain Cook Bi-Centenary Prize in 1970) and established Keneally as a leading novelist.

In 1966 and 1968, Keneally’s first two plays were produced, and in 1968 he became a lecturer in drama at the University of New England in New South Wales. His third novel, Bring Larks and Heroes, the account of a young soldier’s exile to Australia, was followed by two novels in the English novel-of-manners tradition. In A Dutiful Daughter, however, he abandoned the realistic psychological novel for an expressionistic portrait of an Australian family with two normal children and a mother and father who from the waist down are half cow and half bull. After A Dutiful Daughter, Keneally retreated from these fantastic extremes, but he has retained his use of myths, fable, and parable.

In his post-1971 novels, he often focuses on historical figures, some of legendary or mythic stature. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, more accessible and more popular than A Dutiful Daughter, concerns a half-Aborigine forced into crime; Blood Red, Sister Rose examines the myth associated with Joan of Arc; and Schindler’s Ark (Schindler’s List in the United States) recounts a German industrialist’s...

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Thomas Keneally Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Thomas Michael Keneally was born in Wauchope, New South Wales, Australia, on October 7, 1935. He studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood in his youth but left the seminary two weeks before he was to take Holy Orders. He completed his education at St. Patrick’s College, New South Wales. He married Judith Martin in 1965. Before becoming a full-time novelist, he taught high school in Sydney from 1960 to 1964 and published his first book, The Place at Whitton. In 1967, he won the Miles Franklin Award for Bring Larks and Heroes. From 1968 to 1970, he was a lecturer in drama at the University of New England, New South Wales. He lived in London in 1970-1971, and from 1975 to 1977 he lived in the United States, working as a university lecturer at New Milford, Connecticut. In 1982, he published Schindler’s Ark, which was published in the United States in 1983 as Schindler’s List; an internationally successful film adaptation of the novel was released under the latter title in 1993.

Keneally demonstrated his concern for Australian nationalism as a leader of the Republican Movement during the 1990’s, working for separation from the British Commonwealth and recognition of national status for Australia. His work as a novelist, examining the human soul in the most dramatic of situations as well as looking at Australian history and culture, is paralleled by his political activism. In 1998, Keneally was elected as one of twenty delegates from New South Wales to Australia’s Constitutional Convention. In his novels, he has focused on the individual in the midst of moral and existential chaos, on the individual’s growth into heroism in the most extreme circumstances. As a prominent national figure, he was one of several who signed Community Aid Abroad’s Global Charter for Basic Rights. Having served as distinguished professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine, from 1991 through 1994, Keneally was awarded that university’s medal for service and commitment. He has also been awarded the Order of Australia for Services to Literature in 1983 and has been named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Thomas Keneally Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Thomas Keneally (kuh-NEE-lee) was born to Edmund and Elsie Keneally in New South Wales, Australia. The Keneally family—Irish and Roman Catholic—moved from the small town of Wauchope to Homebush, a suburb of Sydney, when Keneally was just an infant, and he was educated at the Christian Brothers’ school in Strathfield. Both devout and studious, Keneally went immediately from school into the seminary, and from 1953 to 1959 he prepared for a career as a Catholic priest. He left the seminary only a short time before he was to be ordained. Keneally has explained his decision to do so as the result of the strain of pursuing “sanctity according to the Irish.” More specifically, he had come to despair that the Church would ever change to meet the needs of modern Australian society.

After completing his education at St. Patrick’s College, he became a high school teacher in a Catholic school in Sydney, but teaching did not satisfy him, and he took up the study of law. On vacation in 1962 and 1963, Keneally began his first novel. Prior to this time, he had done very little serious writing, except for some poetry and a few short stories. In 1963, an Australian magazine, The Bulletin, accepted some of his short fiction, and in 1964 his first novel, The Place at Whitton, a mix of murder and gothic romance, was published. By 1965, when his second novel, The Fear, appeared, Keneally was fully committed to the precarious objective of making his living as a writer. In the same year he married Judith Martin, a former nun; they had two children, Margaret and Jane.

Keneally received recognition as a writer from early in his career; in 1967, he was the recipient of his first Commonwealth Literary Fund Award for his novel, published that same year, about convict life in Australia, Bring Larks and Heroes. In 1968, he received the award again for his comic novel of life in a Catholic seminary, Three Cheers for the Paraclete (1968), which also won a Miles Franklin Award. This novel gained him international recognition, and it was subsequently translated into six languages. He has, since that time, been considered a novelist of international reputation.

Keneally has always had an interest in the theater and has done some acting. He was a lecturer in drama from 1969 to 1970 at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales. In 1970, he followed the pattern of many Australian writers and spent time in London, England, where A Dutiful Daughter (1971) was published; it became a Book-of-the-Month-Club choice in the United States. In 1972, one of his most admired novels, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, his study of the tragic plight of an Australian aboriginal, was published. It was later turned into a fine film in which Keneally had a small but powerful part as a priest.

From early on, Keneally has written fiction that has a strong allegiance to historical facts. His novel...

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Thomas Keneally Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Thomas Keneally has produced novels, often based on historical fact, that tell the story of the many by focusing on the lives and experiences of the few. He believes that novels should offer moral commentary on human triumphs and human failures—but not without some sense of the sometimes amusing and sometimes ridiculous nature of human conduct.

Thomas Keneally Biography (Novels for Students)

Thomas Keneally Published by Gale Cengage

Thomas Keneally was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1935 into an Irish Catholic family. He completed his schooling at various schools on the New South Wales north coast before starting theological studies for the Catholic priesthood in 1958. He abandoned this vocation in 1960, working first as a laborer and then as a clerical worker before becoming a schoolteacher. In 1964, he published his first novel, The Place at Whitton. He then left teaching and took a part-time job as an insurance collector while he continued to write. He married Judith Martin in 1965; their daughters were born in 1966 and 1967. In 1967, Keneally won the Miles Franklin Award for literature for Bring Larks and Heroes, and since then he has pursued writing as a full-time profession.

Four of Keneally's novels have been short-listed for the Booker Prize, Britain's most prestigious award for fiction writing. They are The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1972), which explores the impact of the meeting of European and Aboriginal cultures from an Aboriginal point of view; Gossip from the Forest (1975), set during the First World War; Confederates (1979), about the American Civil War; and Schindler's Ark (1982; later published in the United States as Schindler's List), for which he won the prize. There was considerable controversy when Schindler's Ark won the Booker Prize, as many considered the book to be a work of journalistic reporting rather than a fiction novel. The following year Keneally was awarded the Order of Australia for his services to Australian literature. Keneally's other novels include A Family Madness (1985), To Asmara (1989), Flying Hero Class (1991), Woman of the Inner Sea (1993), and A River Town (1995). The Great Shame (1999), a nonfiction work, explores the fates of nineteenth-century Irishmen forced to emigrate to Australia.

Keneally also writes for the Australian press and travels widely, lecturing and presenting seminars and workshops. He lives in Sydney with his wife.