Lawson, Henry 1867-1922
(Full name Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson; also wrote under the pseudonym John Lawrence) Australian short story writer, poet, and autobiographer.
Lawson is highly regarded for his realistic short stories about the Australian "bush," or inland wilderness. Many critics note that his deceptively simple writing style foreshadowed that of many later writers, and his vivid realism and exploration of the concept of mateship, or male comraderie in the bush, influenced an entire generation of Australian writers. Although Lawson produced only two important short fiction collections, he nonetheless is considered a landmark figure in Australian literature.
Lawson was born near Grenfell in New South Wales. He left school at fourteen to work with his father as a painter and builder, and when his parents separated in 1883 he moved with his mother to Sydney. Lawson published his first book, Short Stories in Prose and Verse, in 1894. A slim volume of poetry and short fiction privately printed on his mother's press, it attracted little attention, although it contained stories which would be recognized as among Lawson's best when reprinted two years later in While the Billy Boils, a collection that made him nationally famous. In 1897 he moved to New Zealand for a year, where Lawson was temporarily able to overcome incipient alcoholism and concentrate on writing. In 1900 Lawson traveled to England, where he published his most successful short story collection, Joe Wilson and His Mates. He returned to Australia in 1902. Progressing alcoholism, an unhappy marriage, and declining literary output and quality marked the last twenty years of his life.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Critics agree that Lawson's best work is contained in the short story volumes While the Billy Boils and Joe Wilson and His Mates. Concerned with the hardships of living in the bush, several of these early stories describe the inherent obstacles to human habitation of the region and portray the roughness and cruelty exhibited by people living in such difficult conditions. Lawson's harsh, vivid descriptions countered a tradition in Australian literature that romanticized the outback and idealized its inhabitants. In many of the stories, however, Lawson also depicted kindness in his characters and celebrated the idealistic concept of mateship. In "The Union Buries Its Dead," from While the Billy Boils, a group of men loyally attend the funeral of an unfamiliar fellow union member simply because he has no family or friends in the area, but they nevertheless callously make a farce of the ceremony and fail even to recall the man's name after they learn it. The central stories of Joe Wilson of His Mates—"Joe Wilson's Courtship," "Brighten's Sister-in-Law," '"Water Them Geraniums,'" and "A Double Buggy at Lahey's Creek"—are linked pieces that follow the courtship, marriage, subsequent hardships, loss of affection, and tentative reconciliation of a young man and woman in the outback.
Critics highly commend Lawson's achievements in While the Billy Boils and Joe Wilson and His Mates, in particular the realistic themes and unadorned narrative style of these collections. Lawson wrote authentic stories that overturned false and romantic conceptions of Australian life; as a result, he was acclaimed as a spokesman for the Australian people.