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Commentators on late-Victorian culture often tell us that two interrelated developments took place. First, there was a shift away from Victorian sentimentality; second, there was a growing insistence on toughness and emotional reserve as desirable for white men. Commentators on late-Victorian Australia often suggest that these developments were unusually conspicuous there. This is what the historian of mourning Patricia Jalland tells us in a discussion of the paradigmatic representation of death in Victorian Australian culture. In the Australian colonies, she writes, the paradigmatic death was the tough white man’s in the solitary bush. Representations of such deaths were legion, most often infused with ‘ironic realism’ rather than sentiment. In this article I challenge this view. Focusing on the work of popular Australian writer, Henry Lawson, I show that depictions of white men dying in the bush were profoundly sentimental in that they promoted pathos for white men’s suffering and grief in conventional ways. Representations of dying bushmen were indeed part of a specifically white, masculine sentimentality emerging throughout Anglophone culture in the late-Victorian years, part of a process through which white men insisted on the primacy of their emotional experiences and needs. In Australia and other settler colonies, this new masculine sentimentality also supported settler colonialism because promoting tenderness for hardy white frontiersmen diverted sympathy from the Aboriginal peoples they dispossessed. This article accordingly rethinks the dynamic between masculinity and sentiment in late-Victorian culture, paying particular attention to its relationship to power.

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Journal Article

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