Letter: The Baudelaire of the Bush affair

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The Independent Online
Sir: Robert Winder's fascinating article, 'The importance of being in earnest' (13 August), on the literary hoax perpetrated in the 'The Ern Malley Affair' written by Michael Heyward, brought back some wry memories of the reaction of people in Adelaide, South Australia, where it happened.

McAuley and Stewart were more brilliant in the audacity of their deception than they are credited in the article. The name Malley may evoke allusions to Mallarme and Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal but it was also immediately recognisable as having associations with 'mallee'.

Mallee is an aboriginal name for a stunted eucalypt (20-40 feet high) that grows from a massive underground lignotuber root and has many stems that branch out from the ground in an umbrella-like canopy. It is so distinctive and prevalent in southern Australia that it has given its name to the Murray Mallee Region of eastern South Australia and the Mallee District of northwestern Victoria.

It was always assumed that Harris's gullibility in accepting the poems as genuine was compounded by his conviction that Malley was the pseudonym of the young, untutored Baudelaire of the Bush. The pun was so audacious that it had to be right.

Perhaps 'The Ern Malley Affair' should be compulsory reading for the arbiters of our contemporary literary and artistic taste?

This letter, Sir, I assure you, is not a hoax.

Yours faithfully,

MICHAEL WILLIAMS

Reader in Geography

School of Geography

University of Oxford

Oxford

14 August

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