The Scholarly Edition goes Digital: Such is Life and the Joseph Furphy Digital Archive

5 Nov 2015
The Joseph Furphy Digital Archive
The Joseph Furphy Digital Archive

Dr Roger Osborne has taken on one of the biggest challenges in Australian literary studies: completing a digital scholarly edition of Joseph Furphy’s classic novel, Such is Life.

Written during the 1890s, Such is Life was accepted for publication by the Bulletin Newspaper Company in 1898. But the publishers baulked at the size of the novel and convinced Furphy to shorten it for publication. Furphy resisted for three years, but finally acquiesced to the pressure of the marketplace by replacing two long chapters with shorter substitutes. The long chapters were revised to produce two separate works: The Buln-buln and the Brolga and Rigby’s Romance. The new version of Such is Life was very different. One scholar has remarked that Furphy’s manoeuvre completely changed the ‘centre of gravity’ of the original. And another has declared, ‘The omission of the socialist core of Furphy’s vision from the text of Such is Life is one of the great scandals of Australian literature’.

The archival and textual complexity of Such is Life has so far defeated scholars and critics hoping to make Furphy’s work more accessible to scholars, students and general readers. The novel was to be a part of the Academy Editions of Australian Literature in the 1990s, but no scholar stepped forward to do the job. In the end, the complicated textual and material situation is better suited to a digital scholarly edition. 

In order to complete a digital scholarly edition of Furphy’s three works, the close eye of the archival scholar must be assisted by digital tools and publication platforms. Roger has combined his experience in archival research with his experience in developing digital infrastructure to produce a flexible and open-ended digital scholarly edition of Such is Life built on the solid bibliographical foundation of the AustLit database.    

The Joseph Furphy Digital Archive ( aims to provide greater access to the material that lies behind Furphy's fiction and poetry. Working with AustLit’s exhibition platform, the first module to be published is Such is Life Typescript (1898). This module includes a transcription of the revised typescript and visualisations of textual variation with published versions. Images of typescript pages can be viewed by clicking on the page numbers in the transcription. An essay on the composition, revision, and publication describes the textual transmission and the unique properties of the typescript that resulted from these processes. This module aims to provide unprecedented access to the pre-publication material for scholars, critics, teachers, and students. This access will be used to encourage new and innovative readings of Furphy's work and facilitate a greater appreciation of the impact that book production can have on literary works.

Future modules will deliver critical editions of Furphy's three main works for distribution in print and digital formats. These editions will include a critically established text and an essay that describes the textual and cultural history of each of Furphy's works down to the present day. The fifth module will deliver a digital edition of the abridged English edition of Such is Life, including an essay on Vance and Nettie Palmer's role in editing the text for the London publisher Jonathan Cape, particularly the ways in which the original work was changed for English readers of the 1930s. Digital editions of the abridged Such is Life and the unabridged Rigby's Romance will be published here for the first time. Throughout this time, the Furphy Digital Archive will deliver improved timelines and maps, and provide access to innovative text analysis tools. This will help to prepare Furphy's work for the next generation of scholars and critics.


Since completing his PhD at the University of New South Wales in 2000, Roger has worked as researcher, project manager, and analyst on a number of digital humanities projects, including AustLit, Aus-e-Lit (2008-2012), and the Australian Electronic Scholarly Editing Project (AustESE, 2012-13). He maintains a research profile in textual criticism and book history, particularly Australian book history in a trans-national context. As UQ Postdoctoral Fellow he researched Australian magazine culture, publishing articles on the trans-national nature of writing and publishing Australian literature.  He is co-editor of the Cambridge Edition of Joseph Conrad's Under Western Eyes (published 10 October 2013) and, as the 2011 Nancy Keesing Fellow at the State Library of New South Wales, he completed the preliminary work for the Joseph Furphy Digital Archive. With David Carter he is currently completing a book on the history of American editions of Australian novels. He is also the primary scholarly editor for the Cambridge Edition of Nostromo, widely regarded as Joseph Conrad’s modernist masterpiece. Roger is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland.