Frank Moorhouse Critical Essays


(Short Story Criticism)

Frank Moorhouse 1938–-

Australian short story writer, novelist, screenwriter, and essayist.

Moorhouse is considered one of the most important and influential contemporary short story writers in Australia. Critics praise his deft portrayal of the urban landscape in modern Australia, particularly the changing sexual and social mores of post-World War II society. His experiments with the genre of the short story have spurred critical commentary, and many critics have compared his work to that of Sherwood Anderson and William Faulkner.

Biographical Information

Moorhouse was born in Nowra, New South Wales, on December 21, 1938. In 1956 he moved to Sydney and began working as a journalist for the Daily Telegraph. For the next several years he worked as a journalist and editor in Sydney, an experience that contributed to his literary style and the thematic concerns of his short fiction. In 1969 he published his first volume of short stories, Futility and Other Animals. With fellow Australian writer Michael Wilding he co-founded the influential literary magazine Tabloid Story in 1972. Moorhouse has been a writer-in-residence for several Australian universities. In 1985 he adapted stories from The Americans, Baby and The Electrical Experience for the film “The Coca-Cola Kid.” Throughout the 1980s Moorhouse traveled extensively and settled in France in 1991.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Moorhouse refers to his short fiction as “discontinuous narratives,” which indicate his attempt to link his stories through characters, locations, and themes. Two of Moorhouse's recurring themes are the effects of American culture on Australians and the changing sexual mores of Australian society. Several of his stories examine the impact of an American visitor on his Australian hosts. In his collection The Americans, Baby, “The American, Paul Jonson” introduces an American businessman who gets involved in a sexual relationship with Carl, a young Australian college student. At first, Carl believes he has the moral responsibility to exploit Jonson to counter the deleterious effect of American culture, but the story ends on Carl's discovery of his homosexuality. Yet Moorhouse's main focus in his fiction is on the complexity and vicissitudes of contemporary Australian life. The Electrical Experience features stories from the life of T. George McDowell, a self-made manufacturer of soft drinks in Australia. In Conference-Ville the stories revolve around an academic seminar, with its concomitant rituals and affectations. In Forty-Seventeen, the stories involve an affair between a forty-year-old man and a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl in Australia. As the affair continues over several years, Moorhouse examines the nature of sexual attraction, love, and commitment and how it changes with age and responsibility.

Critical Reception

Moorhouse's tendency to link his stories across different short fiction collections by character, location, and thematic concerns has prompted critics to view his work in short story cycles. In this way, he has been compared to such short story writers as Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, J. D. Salinger, and James Joyce. With his focus on topical contemporary themes such as the change in sexual attitudes and Australia's relationship to American culture, commentators often discuss his work as anthropology, sociology, or social history. In his realistic portrayal of contemporary urban, academic, and suburban life, reviewers praise his ability to draw material from everyday existence to illustrate the moral issues of his generation.