For the Term of His Natural Life

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Echo Library, Sep 1, 2007 - Fiction - 396 pages
The most famous work by the Australian novelist and poet, For the Term of His Natural Life is a powerful tale of an Australian penal settlement, which originally appeared in serial form in a Melbourne paper.

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An enjoyable trip into a literary style of preumable typical of Australia in the 1870's. The language and the unlikely coincidences and behaviours on which the plot depends add to my sense of a period morality play. Nevertheless, the detail of the description of both the treatment of convicts and the physical locations adds great power and interest. I often read "historical novels" specifically to gain a more intimate sense of the personal experience. I try to select authors based on evidence that they have done serious research or are generally expert in the era. I am sure that this trust is often misplaced as all authors serve their art before the truth. I canot even say that the best of artists create art closely around the truth e.g. the political propoganda built into Shakespeare's brilliant plays such as Richard III. When interested in historical topic, I try to add vicarious experience to the wikipedia articles (Yes, I trust them !) by reading historical novels that I beleive are based on the artists best effort at accurate and objective research. It seems trite to focus on the general brutality of the times as compared to the present, as Clarke seems to do even about events so comparatively recent to him. The times were brutal - the experience of navy sailors, the experience of injured commanders, the experience of any person suffering from disease or starvation. The behaviour of penal institutions need to put into the context of the common experiences of the times. Clarke seems to have done research on the recent past in Australia and Tasmania, and makes an attempt to balance of characters and events on both sides of the prison door while passionately expounding on the unfairness of fate and the susceptibility of any power to corruption. 

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About the author (2007)

Clarke was born in London in 1846 and moved to Australia in 1863. He is the author of novels, plays, collections of stories and historical articles.

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