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For the Term of His Natural Life: His Natural Life (World's Classics) [Paperback]

Marcus Clarke , Michael Meehan , Professor Graham Tulloch
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

20 Mar 1997 World's Classics
"It is impossible to convey, in words, any idea of the hideous phatasmagoria of shifting limbs and faces which moved throught the evil-smelling twilight of this terrible prison-house. Callot might have drawn it, Dante might have suggested it, but a minute attempt to describe its horrors would but disgust. There are depths in humanity which one cannot explore, as there are mephitic caverns into which one dare not penetrate." Many critics were indeed "disgusted" by the horrors that Marcus Clarke revealed in "His Natural Life". So powerful was his representation of the brutality of transportation that more than a century later historians still struggle to disentangle fact from Clarke's tragic fiction. The novel charts the misfortunes of Richard Devine, falsely accused of murder, through the worse Australian penal settlements, the notorious Macquarie Harbour, Port Arthur, and Norfolk Island, retaining his humanity and spiritual dignity through all the degradations that cruelty and inhumanity could devise. Clarke's novel is indeed a phantasmagoria of horrors - of murder, mutiny, flogging, child suicide, homosexual rape and cannibalism; yet it is also a powerful story of moral courage and heroic resistance to dehumanization. "His Natural Life" , usually published as "For the Term of His Natural Life" but here restored to the title Clarke gave it, is the grand epic of the transportation system, and has been described as the greatest 19th-century Australian novel. This edition returns to the text Clarke himself prepared for the first single-volume version, published in Melbourne in 1874.


Product details

  • Paperback: 524 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New edition edition (20 Mar 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019282418X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192824189
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 11 x 18 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 859,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Horrifying indictment of the Transportation System 11 April 2002
By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
The well-known phrase 'for the term of his natural life' is used by Marcus Clarke to bring home the horrors of transportation and the Tasmanian penal system in the 19th century.
Richard Devine, an innocent man (under an assumed name of Rufus Dawes) convicted of a crime he did not commit, is sent for transportation and assumed killed in a shipwreck. In reality, he is heir to a vast estate (unbeknown to him) and the convolutions of the tale that evolve from this are wonderfully written; the gradual demolishing of Dawes, the unspeakable duality of Frere, the calculating guile of Sarah and the gullible innocence of Sylvia are woven together in a plot that does not end happily ever after. This I think, serves to underline the barbarism and futility of the transportation system.
Based on actual events, Clarke uses his 'hero' to illustrate the depravation and privations that prisoners (and their guards) had to endure. Graphically showing how degradation degrades and power corrupts, the narrative never dwells on gruesome details, instead it relies for effect on the imagination of the reader, which can be more terrifying.
A book that deserves a wider readership.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new view of old Australia 2 Jan 2010
Format:Paperback
I heard of this book for the first time nearly 40 years ago. My grandad had been a sailor in his time, actually helping to take the steel the Sydney when they were building the Harbour Bridge.

He was not one for reading much, but he frquently mentioned this particular book.I tried in our local library and was just faced with a puzzled look.

Years later I have become a keen family historian. I crossed my mind that perhaps this book was my Grandad's way of letting us know we might have had family transported to Australia in the 1780's. I purchased this book from Amazon. Wow! What a read!. It even has two different endings; one to suit the story and the other to suit Victorian sensibilities.

It gives a graphic description of life in the early penal colonies and the incredible hardships the convicts had. I think this out to be a reader on all school curriculums. Not an easy read but once you get hookedits a real page turner. Ity will make you laugh, cry and be grateful it was not you.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ONE OF THE MOST UNDERVALUED BOOKS IN LITERATURE 29 Nov 1998
By Schwarzer_Gürtel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Marcus Clarke His Natural Life
Australia is a mighty long way from Europe - and it must have been even further away in the 19th century, which is when Rufus Dawes, the gentleman hero in Marcus Clarke's masterpiece His Natural Life, gets unjustly transported to the Australian penal colony. His Natural Life is the most important Australian novel of the 19th century (some disbelievers might wonder whether there is such a thing as Australian literature of the 19th century at all - there certainly is!). It pioneered a tradition of Australian historical novels brought to world fame by twentieth century writers like Peter Carey ("Illywhacker") and nobel prize winner Patrick White ("A Fringe of Leaves"). However, Clarke's story of his tragic hero's rather unnatural life is one of the most underestimated pieces of world literature.
Over the last decades coming to terms with its shady history has become a crucial step towards the determination of the Australian psyche. The notion that the Australian founding fathers were, in fact, criminals has rendered early Australian history into a very touchy. His Natural Life has played an essential part in the process of history-making in Australia since it largely influenced the image Australians have of their country at the time of its status as a prison colony.
Australia seems to be the ideal setting for every kind of human tragedy. In His Natural Life we encounter tragedy at its best (or worst). For Rufus Dawes his imprisonment in the "colonies" turns into a lifelong ordeal. The abundance of both physical and moral violence in His Natural Life was too much for early critics who labelled the book "unsuitable for reading". At the end of the 20th century human suffering is an ever-present phenomenon and today's reader will not be repulsed by the explicit physical violence in His Natural Life. Yet, the amount of mental violence inflicted upon Dawes is just about too much. The reader wonders: It cannot possibly get any worse for Dawes - can it?
Clarke's masterpiece is at the same time fascinating and shocking. It is one of those books you just cannot help reading on and on. You desperately wait for Rufus Dawes' salvation and being able to see the much-troubled creature get out of his ordeal makes every single one of the 900 pages worth reading.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marcus Clarke's Penal Colony Masterpiece 7 April 2003
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This was without question one of the most gripping novels I've read in many a day. I first ran across this work in a brief mention by British travel writer/popular historian James Morris, where he thought it akin to the gulag novels of post-Stalinist Russia in subject matter and philosophical content. Add to that a wealth of striking narrative detail, immensely memorable characters (Maurice Frere, Sarah Purfoy, and particularly James North leap to mind), some truly transporting (no pun intended) and incredibly creepy passages, mind-blowing plot twists and turns, and a persistent refusal to provide too pat solutions to characters' problems... Clarke wasn't better than Dickens or Eliot, but neither of the latter could have written this book.
Clarke's masterpiece was published in 1874, after being serialized in 1870-72. Critics have lambasted a few of the less believable elements and some of the pat characterization of a number of supporting characters, but these are flaws to be found in most novels of that time (and ours). Clarke redeems himself by taking the cliches and mannerisms of the nineteenth-century English novel and using them to illuminate a whole new society, one practically mythical to the metropolitan consciousness of the Victorian Anglophone world. This work is a great counterpoint to all those English novels of the day where the hero or villain gets packed off to the antipodes and returns mysteriously changed. The main thrust of the novel, though, was the need to tell the true story of (white) Australian society's beginnings. Clarke, in telling the story of the unjustly convicted Rufus Dawes (aka Richard Devine), provides a panoramic view of early Victorian Australia, from the hellish convict settlements of Macquarie Harbor and Norfolk Island to the nascent frontier towns of Hobart and Melbourne, from the aging memories of the "First Fleeters" (the original convicts who arrived in 1788) to the controversial Eureka Stockade Uprising of 1854. The narrative frequently moves at a deliciously whirlwind pace to accomodate the exciting interaction of characters and history.
Clarke's novel is generally cited as nineteenth-century Australia's greatest and points the way towards more nuanced examinations of the colonial experience in the twentieth century (Peter Carey's JOE MAGGS, about the "off-stage" life of Dickens antihero Abel Magwitch, is apparently very much in this vein). Don't read it just for this reason, though. Please be sure to find the longer, original version, as I was fortunate enough to do. Clarke was forced to produce a revised, shortened version for the original publication, one dictated by his editors that turned the novel into a much more "conventional" Victorian literary production (and has a longer title--FOR THE TERM OF HIS NATURAL LIFE). I understand a TV series was made in the mid-80s with Anthony Perkins as North. If this was the case, then it badly needs to be remade on celluloid, because I can't seem to find the series. It's a magnificent novel whose flaws, I think, are amply counterbalanced by its unexpected joys.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The horrors of the Transportation System 11 April 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The well-known phrase 'for the term of his natural life' is used by Marcus Clarke to bring home the horrors of transportation and the Tasmanian penal system in the 19th century.
Richard Devine, an innocent man (under an assumed name of Rufus Dawes) convicted of a crime he did not commit, is sent for transportation and assumed killed in a shipwreck. In reality, he is heir to a vast estate (unbeknown to him) and the convolutions of the tale that evolve from this are wonderfully written; the gradual demolishing of Dawes, the unspeakable duality of Frere, the calculating guile of Sarah and the gullible innocence of Sylvia are woven together in a plot that does not end happily ever after. This I think, serves to underline the barbarism and futility of the transportation system.
Based on actual events, Clarke uses his 'hero' to illustrate the depravation and privations that prisoners (and their guards) had to endure. Graphically showing how degradation degrades and power corrupts, the narrative never dwells on gruesome details, instead it relies for effect on the imagination of the reader, which can be more terrifying.
A book that deserves a wider readership.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Liebestod at the Antipode 15 July 2011
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a plot-driven novel if ever there was one. I'm not going to leak any of the story, which involves an improbable set of coincidental identities -- improbable even by the standards of Victorian fiction, improbable enough to make Charles Dickens's hair stand up straight. The tale is set in the penal colonies of Australia (Van Diemen's Land and Norfolk Island) in the 1830s-1840s, a "world of pain" so sadistic that GWB's Guantanamo looks like summer camp in the Pokonos by comparison. But author Marcus Clarke did not exaggerate; names were changed, but the real historical figures upon whom the characters of the novel were based can all be recognized, and the astounding horrors of Clarke's penal colonies are amply documented in "The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australian's Founding" by Robert Hughes.

I'm not going to explain the odd title of this review, either. If it intrigues you, you'll have to read the book. But here's a hint: Richard Wagner's opera "Tristan und Isolde" premiered in 1865, while "His Natural Life" was published in 1870. Wagner and Marcus Clarke were contemporaries. Romantic excess was the air they breathed. "His Natural Life" is a romance adventure, in effect a genre novel. If it were published today, I have no doubt that with a modicum of editorial up-dating it would be a best seller, marketed to the readers of Patrick O'Brian or Cormac McCarthy. It's bloody enough to please the latter and lore-laden enough to excite the former. The model for Marcus Clarke's style may have been the popular sea adventures of Captain Marryat, but Clarke was more than half way to Joseph Conrad in his transformation of the over-civilized Victorian novel-of-manners into something surprisingly modern in sensibility, a 20th C "man's novel". Even the syntax is 'Victorian lite"; there are rather few ponderous passages of portentous rhetoric, easily skimmed while the reader rushes toward the next flogging or villainy. The tangy Aussie convict slang is readily understood from context. On most levels, "His Natural Life" is 'popular' rather than 'literary' fare. What elevates it to classic stature is the intense realism of the characters (most of them) and the setting, despite the absurdity of the plot.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bloody great Australian read 9 Feb 2000
By D. Downie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Well, as an Australian living in the year 2000, reading this book, written in the 1880s, is an emotional experience.
For it is through works such as this that we can see our past. We can examine the nature of the beast that gave birth to us. Who we are. From whence we came.
If you want to understand why Australians are they way they are, and have the attitudes and language that they do, then give this book a read.
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