Thomas Keneally Keneally, Thomas (Vol. 117)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Thomas Keneally 1935–

(Full name Thomas Michael Keneally) Australian novelist, playwright, nonfiction writer, and author of children's books.

The following entry provides an overview of Keneally's career through 1996. For additional information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 5, 8, 10, 14, 19, 27, and 43.

Since the publication of The Place at Whitton in 1965, Keneally has published over thirty novels, plays, and non-fiction books. His work is noted for being as diverse as it is prolific. The settings of his fiction range from Australia and Europe to America and cover such topics as the settlement of Australia, the life of Joan of Arc, the First and Second World Wars, and issues of contemporary life. Keneally's writings often focus on the role of faith and religion in society, and human interactions in time of war.

Biographical Information

Keneally was born October 7, 1935, in Sydney, Australia. His parents, Edmund Thomas and Elsie Margaret (Coyle) Keneally, were of Irish Catholic descent; Keneally entered the seminary, but he left two weeks short of taking orders. Two of his early novels—The Place at Whitton and Three Cheers for the Paraclete (1969)—are set in seminaries and reflect Keneally's conflict with church dogma. In 1965 he married Judith Martin, and they had two children, Margaret Ann and Jane Rebecca. Keneally taught high school, then college in Australia, then at the University of California at Irvine and New York University. He served on the board of several literary and cultural organizations, and became involved in the movement for Australian independence. He was an advisor to the Australian Constitutional Committee in 1985–88, and Chairman (1991–93), then Director (1994—) of the Australian Republic Movement, a political organization with the goal of Australian independence from Great Britain.

Major Works

Keneally's first novel, The Place at Whitton, is a Gothic horror set in a seminary. The play Halloran's Little Boat (1966) was expanded into the novel Bring Larks and Heroes (1967). Both works deal with moral and ethical conflicts in the early convict settlements of Australia. Ethical conflict is also the subject of Three Cheers for the Paraclete, the story of a young, idealistic priest teaching in a seminary. Keneally ex-plores race relations and the effects of power and poverty in Australia in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1972), the story of a young aborigine turned outlaw. The backdrop of war is used in several Keneally novels as a setting for the exploration of stress, conflict and hard ethical choices. In Blood Red, Sister Rose (1974), Keneally uses the story of Joan of Arc to examine conflict and ethics. Gossip from the Forest (1975) looks at the difficult compromises involved in negotiating the armistice at the end of World War I. Matthias Erzberger, head of the German delegation, recognizes the compelling need to end the conflict. Pressured by both sides, he accepts the ruinous terms demanded by the French. These conditions, Keneally suggests, lead to the disastrous economic conditions which follow in Germany, and ultimately sow the seeds of World War II. Confederates (1979) uses the United States Civil War as a setting for a more personal conflict between neighbors. In the midst of the war's climactic battle—Antietam—anotherconflict is underway. Ephie Bumpass' husband Usaph and Ephie's lover Decatur Cate are thrown together to fight in the Shenandoah Volunteers. Cate's emasculating injury in the battle is a symbolic punishment for his sin. In Schindler's List (1982), Keneally examines war, man's inhumanity, and the complex moral and ethical issues present in difficult and perilous times. The novel focuses on the story of Oskar Schindler, a less-than-perfect hero who saves the lives of over a thousand Jews through clever manipulation of the Nazi war machine. In Woman of the Inner Sea (1992), Keneally's protagonist , Kate, is an urban housewife who loses, in rapid succession, her husband to another woman and her...

(The entire section is 39,518 words.)