The Selected Essays of Charmian Clift

edited by Nadia Wheatley

Through the turbulent and transformative years of the 1960s, Charmian Clift engaged the readers of her weekly newspaper column in a way that would now be done by a blogger. While her writing was so far ahead of her time that her opinions continue to challenge us to think about our identity and responsibilities as Australians, Clift’s cutting-edge social and political commentary was conveyed in a prose so exquisite that she is regarded as one of the greatest stylists of Australian literature.  In the words of the critic, Peter Craven:

‘When I first stumbled on Clift’s essays, twenty or more years ago, these trashy essays written for a disposable occasion seemed to me to have more lightning and quicksilver, more brilliance and more skill of execution, than any Australian writing other than the great novels of Patrick White and Christina Stead.’ 

This selection of essays, compiled by Charmian Clift's literary biographer, Nadia Wheatley, showcases pieces ranging from the political to the personal, from the extraordinary to the everyday. It offers old friends an opportunity to revisit the magic, while new readers have the chance to fall under Charmian Clift's spell.

HarperCollins, 2001 (pb, 408 pp)

Selected reviews

Reading these essays, it’s easy to see why Clift became a cult figure. The chatty, charming and sometimes slightly dippy persona distracts attention just enough from the steely intelligence, the sophisticated sentence structure and the passion for causes that characterize these pieces but might otherwise rather have alarmed her readers... In an era that hadn’t yet thought too much about these things, her columns demonstrated that a woman... could and should be an active citizen of the world.
— Kerryn Goldsworthy, Australian Book Review
From the women’s pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, among advertisements for wrinkle cream and mini-skirts,... Clift challenged a complacent society, fashioned a sly and elegant sedition: opposing Vietnam, unmasking materialism, championing equality for women.
— Mark Tredinnick, The Book Bulletin