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Aspects of metamorphosis in the fiction of David Malouf


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Hamilton, VM 2001 , 'Aspects of metamorphosis in the fiction of David Malouf', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Central to David Malouf's fiction is the importance of individual perception and
interpretation in the determination of a reality which ultimately must be subjective and
relative. Although his narratives include significant changes of place and circumstance it is
through characters' psychological and spiritual development that transformation, or
metamorphosis, is most apparent. In other words, external changes remain subordinate to
the internal ones of individual growth of consciousness and altered perception. Malouf also
focuses on transforming readers' perceptions through creating a new mythology. His is a
mythology based on imaginative recreation of the past which is then synthesised with the
present. It is these aspects of metamorphosis which will direct my analysis of Malouf's
novels. Diverse thematic levels in Malouf's fiction afford a variety of critical perspectives.
A review of the extensive range of material written about Malouf reveals that three critics
dominate the field: Amanda Nettelbeck, Ivor Indyk and Philip Neilsen. Nettelbeck's
analysis of Malouf's fiction demonstrates her claim that 'the tendency to look for national
definition is [...] being replaced by a more critical concern with the processes and effects
of national myth-making.' 1 The significance of language and memory, defining aspects of
Malouf's style, form the basis for her detailed study. The value of 'memory' was also
intrinsic to the nineteenth-century Romantic vision and indeed Nettelbeck acknowledges a
Romantic influence in Malouf's novels: 'Malours writing is imbued with both a romantic
aesthetic (in its appeal to enduring universals and natural cycles) and a political
consciousness (in its review of cultural history in general and Australia's cultural history in
particular).' 2 Despite her claim that his work contains 'contradictions' Nettelbeck asserts
that Malouf achieves a perpetual balance or compromise between these two opposing critical perspectives: `Malouf forges a tentative but persevering balance between
potentially oppositional ways of viewing and of knowing the world' (iii).
Post-Romantic elements in Malouf's fiction are also noted by Philip Neilsen who
published a revised edition of his 1990 critical volume Imagined Lives, in 1996. In this
analysis of the binary oppositions underlying Malouf's writing, he also discusses the
recurring themes of 'a yearning for self-transformation and for wholeness; [and] a postRomantic
deference to Nature and the imagination' which prevail in Malouf's writing
(218-9). Ivor Indyk, in David Malouf, provides a detailed analysis of post-Romantic aspects
of Malouf's novels which include Malouf's portrayal of 'imagination as "the first principle
of creation,' the significance of the organic cycles of nature, and psychological and
spiritual self-transformation from fragmentation to wholeness and a sense of continuity
While I don't ignore the critical perspective of Nettelbeck which was, in fact, a
major source of inspiration for this thesis, my analysis here emphasises the post-Romantic
elements of Malouf's construction of individual metamorphoses. Although geographical,
temporal and cultural issues play an important role, ultimately, my focus transcends
national and contemporary aspects of identity. It is Malouf's fictional representation of the
spiritual and emotional stages of life which direct my analysis. These 'stages' are
exemplified by relationships with the natural world, experiences of loss and displacement,
a coming to terms with one's own mortality and a search for spiritual meaning. It is these
moments of inner metamorphosis, common to human development and regardless of
culture or era, which create a universal dimension for Malouf's novels. In order to clarify the thematic focus for this thesis, 'aspects of metamorphosis,' I
will explain some of the basic elements informing my concept of metamorphosis as it
relates to Malouf's fiction. The concept of metamorphosis or transformation has interested
humankind for centuries and much has been written about it from many perspectives.
Theories of evolution and transformation have yielded valuable links to the past that have
inspired fear and fascination throughout history. Changing form or substance, changing circumstances and changing attitudes, paradoxically remain constant elements of human
experience from which we can trace our development. The idea of evolutionary connection
between nature, animals and humankind remains a focus for both spiritual and biological

Item Type: Thesis - Research Master
Authors/Creators:Hamilton, VM
Keywords: Malouf, David, 1934-
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2001 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (MA)--University of Tasmania, 2001. Includes bibliographical references

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