Thea Astley’s An Item from the Late News: a fictional fifth gospel

Taylor, Cheryl (2020) Thea Astley’s An Item from the Late News: a fictional fifth gospel. Australian Literary Studies, 35 (2).

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Commentators have been quick to recognise Wafer, Item’s protagonist, as a Christ-figure, and to discuss aspects of what Roslynn Haynes perceived to be a ‘plethora of religious and universal imagery’. Another critical stream has focused on aspects of the novel’s feminism that oppose the masculinist industrial complex. This article contends that an ambiguous exploration of Christian faith and hope, conducted in a context of profound human suffering and moral failure, is central to An Item from the Late News.

Wafer’s story offers eccentric and disorderly parallels to episodes in the Gospels before climaxing with a brutality comparable to the crucifixion. Yet the aftermath, an unrealised resurrection, connotes agnosticism. Wafer and his female ‘disciples’ Gabby and Emmie are eccentric renditions of Gospel figures who reflect their originals more closely than previous commentary has acknowledged. Above all, Item debates Christian faith through dense clusters of figures that surface throughout the text. They include Christmas; circles in place and time; the moon and the communion wafer; fire and light; darkness, hell and horned devils; Wafer’s sapphire; nakedness; and nothingness. Some clusters, notably circles with their connotations of infinity, make the transition into metaphysics. In sum, events, characterisation and figures uphold Astley’s claim, in a private letter, that she wrote An Item from the Late News ‘with a longing for Christian ideals’.

Item ID: 65097
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 0004-9697
Keywords: Thea Astley; An Item from the Late News; Australian literature
Copyright Information: Copyright in the intellectual content of the work remains with the author. ALS retains copyright in the formatting and appearance of the published paper.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2020 01:08
FoR Codes: 47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4705 Literary studies > 470502 Australian literature (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9502 Communication > 950203 Languages and Literature @ 100%
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