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0375 | For the Term of His Natural Life | Marcus Clarke

0375 | For the Term of His Natural Life | Marcus Clarke

Context: Started selling off stuff in preparation for moving out. Someone bought the house we’re renting. Ah well, it was nice while it lasted…


This was an unexpected page-turner. I picked this up from the local high school who were selling off discarded library books. Why on earth they discarded this I cannot think. Not only is it part of the very limited pantheon of Australian classics (and we have lots of Australians here) with its great insight into early white Aussie history, it’s a very good read. Still, their loss = my gain.

There’s a lot of the influence of Les Miserables meets The Count of Monte Cristo here (although I do say that having read neither of them). A man is arrested for a wrong he did not commit and, for the sake of others, conceals his identity. He is transported and suffers the most hideous betrayals so that the life you thought could get no worse, gets successively worse throughout the novel. Along the way, many profit at the expense of his misfortune. Some are regarded as criminal for this, others are deceived into being thought as worthy of esteem in their own right. And the full spectrum of religion is on view, from the repulsive hypocrisy of the so-called Rev Meekin to the only too self-aware Rev North.

So, that’s the literary structure out of the way, which makes for a good story in itself. But what makes this a very good book are Clarke’s detailed descriptions of penal servitude and suffering. Many of the tales told of his characters are in fact based on true stories which my version referenced in an appendix. Some of them appear incredible and provide real life responses to critics I’ve read online who state that some of the story is perhaps a little too laden with serendipity.

I did not find it so. The characters captivated me in much the same way that Golding’s Rites of Passage did recently. And the story kept me going chapter after chapter: some of the descriptions of the attempted escapes are very vivid with the landscape, probably the harshest gaoler of all, playing a significant part. The ending I thought absolutely appropriate. However, I did read that, for versions published in the US, it was cheered up a bit for those who, preferring the indescribably awful writing of Radcliffe, read in order to escape reality rather than try to come to terms with it. I don’t think Clarke would have approved based on the response of Rev. North at one point which I’ve reproduced as a quote below.

So, in summary, this book surprised me with its rich detail and pace of its story telling. On top of that, I was also surprised by the way the novel connected with me personally. One of the most brutal places to be placed in the Macquarie Harbour penal settlement was none other than Grummet Island. I’ve searched the web in vain for how this tiny outcrop of rock got it’s name. I’d love to know: my surname is Grummitt. Also, at one point, Rev. North says “I never walk without a book.” Well, my word! If that isn’t a quote to illustrate the entire purpose of Arukiyomi, I don’t know what is.


In the breathless stillness of a tropical afternoon, when the air was hot and heavy, and the sky brazen and cloudless, the shadow of the Malabar lay solitary on the surface of the glittering sea.


This far into the book, some of the plot might be revealed. If you want to see the quote, click show


North, the drunkard and self-tormented, had a power of good, of which Meekin and the other knew nothing. Not merely were the men incompetent and self-indulgent, but they understood nothing of that frightful capacity for agony which is deep in the soul of every evil-doer. They might strike the rock as they chose with the sharpest-pointed machine-made pick of warranted Gospel manufacture, stamped with the approval of eminent divines of all ages, but the water of repentance and remorse would not gush for them. They possessed not the frail rod which alone was powerful to charm. They had no sympathy, no knowledge, no experience. He who would touch the hearts of men must have had his own heart seared. The missionaries of mankind have ever been great sinners before they earned the divine right to heal and bless. Their weakness was made their strength, and out of their own agony of repentance came the knowledge which made them masters and saviours of their kind. It was the agony of the Garden and the Cross that gave to the world’s Preacher His kingdom in the hearts of men. The crown of divinity is a crown of thorns.

I never walk without a book.

The story does not end satisfactorily. Balzac was too great a master of his art for that. In real life the curtain never falls on a comfortably finished drama. The play goes on eternally.


This might give the game away. If you want to see the last line, click show



Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style Read more about how I come up with my ratings

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