In a second-hand bookshop last week, a friend stumbled across an immaculate copy of C.J. Dennis’ The Sentimental Bloke. This particular copy was printed in 1980, but it’s a replica of the first edition of 1915. Knowing I wasn’t born or educated in Australia, and whose head therefore is filled with deep literary holes, she put it in the mail to me.
While I waited for the book to arrive, I did a little research. C.J. Dennis was born in South Australia in 1876 and published his first poem in 1895 at the age of 19. He went on to become one of Australia’s most prolific writers. It’s estimated he produced around 4000 works of poetry and prose. In particular, The Songs of the Sentimental Bloke appealed widely to Australian audiences, selling 66,000 copies within eighteen months of publication. An early example of the ‘verse novel’ and significant because it was written in the vernacular, it tells of the adventures of The Bloke and his gal Doreen. A year after it’s publication, The Sentimental Bloke was dramatized for the stage and performed to full houses in Sydney and Melbourne. It was even made into a silent film.
Henry Lawson wrote in the book’s foreword: “The Sentimental Bloke…is more perfect than any alleged ‘larrikin’ or Bottle-O character I have ever attempted to sketch, not even excepting my own beloved Benno. Take the first poem for instance, where the Sentimental Bloke gets the hump. How many men, in how many different parts of the world—and of how many different languages—have had the same feeling—the longing for something better—to be something better?” That statement alone says much about its popularity, appealing to the egalitarian sensibility of the Australian nature and illustrating the idea of the ‘fair go’.
When the package arrived, I opened it with excitement. My friend was right. The book was in mint condition, small and beautiful to hold. I flipped through the pages and a note card fell out, penned in her handwriting: “Remember to read with a broad Aussie accent and enjoy a ‘slap-up treat’!”