Thomas Keneally

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In addition to his long fiction, Thomas Keneally (kuh-NEE-lee) has written four plays: Halloran’s Little Boat (pr. 1966), Childermass (pr. 1968), An Awful Rose (pr. 1972), and Bullie’s House (pr. 1980). He has also written two television plays: Essington, produced in the United Kingdom in 1974, and The World’s Wrong End (1981). In addition, he has published several works of nonfiction, including Now and in Time to Be: Ireland and the Irish (1991), American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles (2002), and A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable Birth of Australia (2006), as well as a memoir, Homebush Boy (1995).


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Thomas Keneally, one of the most successful modern Australian writers, has received international acclaim for his fiction. He has been short-listed for the Booker Prize on four occasions: for The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1972), Gossip from the Forest (1975), and Confederates (1979), before winning the prize with Schindler’s Ark (1982). He has received the Miles Franklin Award (1967, 1968), the Captain Cook Bicentenary Prize (1970), and the Royal Society of Literature Prize (1982). The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith won for him the Heinemann Award for literature (1973), and Schindler’s Ark won the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize (1983). Keneally’s other honors include the presidency of the National Book Council of Australia and membership in the Australia-China Council.

Discussion Topics

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Although Thomas Keneally lives and works in Australia, critics have argued that he deserves to be read by an international audience. Defend this argument.

Keneally’s work has often been singled out for the author’s attention to historical detail. Explore the validity of this argument.

Many of Keneally’s principal characters seem at odds with systems of authority. Find examples.

How might the author’s Catholic upbringing inform his work?

The issue of social injustice plays a prominent role in much of Keneally’s fiction. Trace this theme in more than one work by the author.


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Gelder, Ken. “‘Trans-what?’ Sexuality and the Phallus in A Dutiful Daughter and The Flesheaters (Analysis of Novels by Thomas Keneally and David Ireland).” Southerly 49 (March, 1989): 3-15. Discusses Keneally’s work in the light of his representation of sexuality. Includes some references.

Petersson, Irmtraud.“‘White Ravens’ in a World of Violence: German Connections in Thomas Keneally’s Fiction.” Australian Literary Studies 14 (October, 1989): 160-173. Addresses the question of Keneally’s “cultural specificity” in his writing. Petersson discusses the historical and naturalist perspectives in Keneally’s works such as Schindler’s List and A Family Madness. Includes some reference information.

Pierce, Peter. Australian Melodramas: Thomas Keneally’s Fiction. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 1995. Argues that Keneally uses techniques and situations of melodrama in the manner of nineteenth century writers such as Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov. Contends that Keneally’s melodrama is a source of renewal and that the extreme moral choices, exaggerated characters, and grand scale of his fiction portray Australia itself and Australia in the larger world.

Quartermaine, Peter. Thomas Keneally. New York: Viking Penguin, 1991. A monograph that addresses Keneally’s life and major works.

Thorpe, Michael. Review of To Asmara, by Thomas Keneally. World Literature Today 64 (Spring, 1990): 360. Thorpe concentrates on Keneally as a “noncombatant novelist of war.” Includes references for further information on Eritrea and on Keneally.

Willbanks, Ray. Australian Voices. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992. A collection of interviews with major Australian writers that includes an interview with Keneally in which he discusses views of art and his aims as a writer.

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