Peter (Walkinshaw) Cowan Criticism - Essay

John Barnes (review date 1966)

(Short Story Criticism)

"New Tracks to Travel: The Stories of White, Porter, and Cowan" in Meanjin Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 1, Autumn, 1966, pp. 154-70.

[In the following excerpt, Barnes admires the stories collected in The Empty Street for their honest rendering of the human experience.]

Cowan strips his description, seeming to aim at plain statement of fact and nothing more. His language is factual, unemotional, and lacking in sensuous reference. The scene, as always in Cowan's stories, lacks colour and vividness: he refuses the temptation to be picturesque or to create a surface excitement, and allows his sense of beauty to emerge only in the exactness of his details. With a...

(The entire section is 1732 words.)

Bruce Williams (essay date 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

"Behind the Actual: Peter Cowan's The Tins'," in Westerly, No. 3, September, 1973, pp. 39-41.

[In the following excerpt, Williams compares Cowan's early short fiction to his more recent collection The Tins, focusing on the author's changed treatment of such familiar themes as loneliness and isolation in this work.]

All the commentary on Peter Cowan's work makes him out a realist like the Ibsen of the 'social' plays. Cowan is said to be a recorder of certain depleted lives, whose stories extend understanding and compassion to the voiceless. The work is like this, but there is more to say. Myself I am guided by the feeling expressed by Eluard about the...

(The entire section is 1699 words.)

Bruce Williams (review date 1980)

(Short Story Criticism)

"Three Short Story Writers—Peter Cowan, Elizabeth Jolley, Justina Williams," in Westerly, Vol. 25, No. 2, June, 1980, pp. 104-07.

[In the following assessment of Mobiles, Williams considers "The Lake" one of Cowan's strongest short stories due to its "abstract, bony prose," "solid-looking realism," and "symbolic suggestion. "]

At least three characteristics of mobiles might have suggested his choosing it for a title. No part of a mobile is self-sufficent: it is the surprising balance between them that gives the structure its charm. That balance, again, is always rather precarious, even elusive. And thirdly, it is a form less ambitious than bronze or stone,...

(The entire section is 1579 words.)

Bruce Bennett (essay date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

Introduction to A Window in Mrs. X's Place, by Peter Cowan, Penguin Books, 1986, pp. vii-xv.

[In the following excerpt, Bennett traces Cowan's artistic development, focusing on his experimentation with the short story form.]

Cowan has always maintained a distance between his professional demands and his needs as an artist and an individual. In the dual life which he has felt constrained to lead, one consistent association has been with the land, which he has continued to explore at the outer reaches of human settlement. The contending human needs for mobility, on the one hand, and on the other, the desire to settle, are explored in many of these stories, whether they...

(The entire section is 2018 words.)

Bruce Bennett (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

"Of Books and Covers: Peter Cowan," in Overland, No. 114, May, 1989, pp. 58-62.

[In the following excerpt, Bennett examines the minimalist attributes of Cowan's short story collection Voices, concluding that "few writers have used human voices more skillfully to explore the tensions between male and female set against the changing expectations of society."]

Without the trappings of normal narrative conventions, such as authorial commentary or explanation, or even quotation marks to denote direct speech, Cowan's voices . . . speak unclothed, as if out of the darkness. They seem bare of eccentric clothing, mannerisms, the colorful paraphernalia of conventional...

(The entire section is 2003 words.)