'In 1806 William Thornhill, a man of quick temper and deep feelings, is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and their children he arrives in a harsh land he cannot understand.
'But the colony can turn a convict into a free man. Eight years later Thornhill sails up the Hawkesbury to claim a hundred acres for himself.
'Aboriginal people already live on that river. And other recent arrivals - Thomas Blackwood, Smasher Sullivan and Mrs Herring - are finding their own ways to respond to them.
'Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, soon has to make the most difficult choice of his life.
'Inspired by research into her own family history, Kate Grenville vividly creates the reality of settler life, its longings, dangers and dilemmas. The Secret River is a brilliantly written book, a groundbreaking story about identity, belonging and ownership.' (From the publisher's website.)
'Convict William Thornhill, exiled from the stinking slums of early 19th century London, discovers that the penal colony offers something that he never dared to hope for before: a place of his own. A stretch of land on the Hawkesbury River is Thornhill’s for the taking.'
'As he and his family seek to establish themselves in this unfamiliar territory, they find that they are not the only ones to lay a claim to the land. The Hawkesbury is already home to a family of Dharug people, who are reluctant to leave on account of these intruders.'
As Thornhill’s attachment to the place and the dream deepens, he is driven to make a terrible decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life.' (Source: Currency Press website)
'In 1810, emancipated English convict William Thornhill stakes a claim on 100 acres of land on the remote Hawkesbury River in New South Wales, only to find that a clan of Aboriginal people also lay claim to the land, as they have done since time immemorial.' (Production summary)
'One way of looking at a story is as a mental suitcase that brings together a bunch of actions that would be unintelligible as disparate events. Its basic job is twofold: first, to name them, then to order them.
'The naming can be confronting, akin to a biblical judgement. But if it doesn’t take place, then the story isn’t told. What happens then? Nothing good. Which is why one of the most powerful lines in this extraordinary play is when William Thornill, ex-convict lag and born riverman, takes part in a massacre of Hawkesbury Aboriginals, then tells his family with sepulchral finality 'we will not speak of this again'.'
'Kate Grenville's The Secret River (2005) has been the subject of considerable controversy. Although the novel was awarded numerous prizes and was well received in the press, it was overwhelmingly criticized by historians and literary critics.' The historians are concerned that readers will confuse history and fiction; the critics are concerned that readers will empathize with the central character, thus ameliorating white guilt. Yet The Secret River has become a popular teaching text in universities, both in Australia and the United States. Given that the controversy has been largely confined to Australia, we are interested in considering why the novel is such a popular choice in literature courses in the United States and what this popularity tells us about the novel, the transnational dimension of literary studies of Australia, and pedagogical practices more generally. To that end, this essay draws on interviews with four United States academics who have taught The Secret River to consider the different issues it raises as a teaching text and what purposes it might serve as an Australian novel in a literature course in the United States. One of our most interesting findings is that it is precisely the qualities of the novel that trouble historical and literary scholars that make it such a compelling teaching text, enabling teachers to launch their students into the midst of ongoing unresolved debates.' (Introduction)
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