P. R. Stephensen [obituary, 5 June 1965]

[Editor: This obituary of P. R. Stephensen was published in the “National Notebook” section of The Bulletin, 5 June 1965.]

P. R. Stephensen

P. R. (“Inky”) Stephensen — who collapsed and died last Friday after a speech at the Savage Club, Sydney — has earned a lasting place in Australian letters. Few will ever be found to agree with his political ideas, even among those who considered his internment during World War II was unjust, but his literary achievements and his passion for Australian literature will he remembered when the Australia First affair is forgotten.

His was a career of remarkable variety and vitality: a Rhodes scholar from Brisbane, he went to Oxford a Communist, and made the first English translation of Lenin’s Imperialism” (from the French) and of Mayakovsky’s “Death of Lenin” (from the Russian). After Oxford, he abandoned Communism for Bakunin’s anarchism and expounded it in “The London Aphrodite” which he edited. Before returning to Australia he managed the Fanfrolico Press, which published his translation of Nietzsche’s “Anti-Christ”, and the Mandrake Press which published D. H. Lawrence’s paintings and Stephensen’s short stories, “The Bushwhackers”.

Back in Australia he continued book publishing, ghosted some of Frank Clune’s most popular books. and wrote his classic statement of literary nationalism, “The Foundations of Culture in Australia”. Soon after that he launched “The Publicist” — often fairly attacked as a fascist but perhaps more accurately described as National Bolshevik publication. Since the war he had confined himself to writing, his most successful book being “Sail Ho! My Early Years at Sea” which he wrote with Sir lames Bissett. Perhaps now, with all controversies over, people will remember his dedication to Australia as shown, for example, in his fine homage to Sir Isaac Isaacs with which he closed his “The Foundations of Culture in Australia”. The speech he delivered just before his death at the Savage Club was a defence of the Australian publishers of “The Trial of Lady Chatterley”.

The Bulletin (Sydney), 5 June 1965, p. 11

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