The Stenhouse Circle: Literary Life in Mid-Nineteenth Century Sydney by Ann-Mari Jordens

The Stenhouse Circle: Literary Life in Mid-Nineteenth Century Sydney by Ann-Mari Jordens

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Melbourne, Australia : Melbourne University Press, 1979. Hardcover. 186 pages ; 22 cm. In original dust jacket with firm binding, clean and unmarked pages.


This book floods with light a dark area of Australian culture. Above all it shows that it was possible in the Sydney of the early 1850s and 1860s for a man of modest means to lead the life of an intellectual in the strict European sense of the word. Stenhouse also has a historical importance too easily forgotten: his was the first great private collection of books to be sent to a University; their acquisition indeed was the occasion of the first appointment of a University librarian.

Nicol Drysdale Stenhouse was Australia's first important literary patron. Born and educated in Scotland, he had contact with the leading literati of the day, and dominated the literary and intellectual life of the New South Wales colony after his emigration in the 1840s.

While practicing as a lawyer, Stenhouse devoted himself to acting as an intellectual broker between the British and European literary tradition and the struggling colonial writers of the fifties and sixties. To Daniel Deniehy, Charles Harpur, Henry Kendall and many others he gave his financial and emotional support, and provided constructive literary criticism and access to his magnificent library.

A wide section of colonial society was influenced through Stenhouse's involvement with the Month, the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, the Free Public Library of Sydney, Sydney College and the University of Sydney. Despite his many public activities, Stenhouse remains an enigmatic figure whose personal reticence and kindly nature have helped to keep him obscure.
This biography vividly illuminates the literary life of the colony in its formative years and includes an extensive review of the Stenhouse library — perhaps the best testament to Nicol Stenhouse's erudition and influence.

Ann-Mari Jordens is a research assistant in the Department of Language and Literature at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. Educated at Sydney and Melbourne universities, she holds degrees from both institutions. She has published historical articles in Australian Academic Research Libraries and Australian Literary Studies and has contributed to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. She is a member of the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand and a committee member of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature.

Ann-Mari Jordens is married to a Belgian Indologist and has four children.

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