Authors: Martin Boyd

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Australian novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Love Gods, 1925 (as Martin Mills)

Brangane: A Memoir, 1926 (as Mills)

The Madeleine Heritage, 1928 (as Mills; also known as The Montforts, 1928, revised 1963)

Dearest Idol, 1929 (as Walter Beckett)

Scandal of Spring, 1934

The Lemon Farm, 1935

The Picnic, 1937

Night of the Party, 1938

Nuns in Jeopardy, 1940

Lucinda Brayford, 1946

Such Pleasure, 1949

The Cardboard Crown, 1952

A Difficult Young Man, 1955

Outbreak of Love, 1957

When Blackbirds Sing, 1962

The Tea-Time of Love, 1969


A Single Flame, 1939

Much Else in Italy: A Subjective Travel Book, 1958

Day of My Delight: An Anglo-Australian Memoir, 1965


Retrospect, 1920

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

The Painted Princess, 1936


Martin à Beckett Boyd’s major work traces the discordant lives of those caught between two hemispheres, Australia and Europe. The subtitle of his 1965 autobiography, An Anglo-Australian Memoir, reveals much about Boyd and his writing. Most contemporary Australians find the term “Anglo-Australian” offensive, and this may account for the neglect of Boyd’s fiction, even though his books were once well received in Australia and overseas.{$I[A]Boyd, Martin}{$S[A]Mills, Martin;Boyd, Martin}{$S[A]Beckett, Walter;Boyd, Martin}{$I[geo]AUSTRALIA;Boyd, Martin}{$I[tim]1893;Boyd, Martin}

Boyd was born into a distinguished Australian family from Melbourne, whose Irish founder emigrated to Australia in 1825 as a military secretary to the governor of Britain’s Queen Victoria. Content with the wealth from the new country, the family members still saw themselves as bridging the two hemispheres. Although owing allegiance to Australia, they embraced European culture, tradition, and values. Boyd’s acceptance of this duality is reflected in his aristocratic and antibourgeois attitudes, fixation on the past, commitment to tradition, and regard for heredity–all key elements in his fiction. In fact, Boyd’s novels carry an air of snobbery.

After giving up his early theological studies, he turned to architecture. World War I interrupted this pursuit, and he served in France with an English regiment from 1915 to 1918. Following the war he returned to Australia but in 1921 went to England, where he first worked on a newspaper, then joined a Church of England Franciscan community, which he soon left. At this point, he began his writing career, publishing first under pseudonyms. Of these early books, the most important one is The Montforts, which in fictional terms records his mother’s family history in Australia from the 1850’s through World War I. Turning family history into fiction was the basis for much of his later work.

Boyd returned to Australia in 1948 and planned to settle there, but three years later he went back to England. In 1957, he moved to Rome, where he spent the rest of his life. One week before his death, he converted to Catholicism, thus ending his long quest for religious fulfillment.

His first major novel, Lucinda Brayford, which Boyd considered his best work, follows the protagonist from Australia to Europe in her quest for spiritual meaning. Based loosely on family history, the book offers a far-reaching social history of those who considered themselves Anglo-Australians. Among his novels, Lucinda Brayford received the most favorable reception overseas.

The Langton novels followed, once more turning family history into fiction. The Cardboard Crown and Outbreak of Love document the downfall of the family when bourgeois values emerge. A Difficult Young Man and When Blackbirds Sing continue to examine the clash between middle-class, materialistic forces and the perceived higher morality of aristocratic ideals. While Boyd’s rigid views mar the novels, the social history of Australia and England before World War I, the satire, skillful establishment of place, and convincing characterization make the books highly readable in spite of their outdated ideas.

Although Boyd admitted that A Difficult Young Man was snobbish, he defended himself against the charges of snobbery in a published reply to negative reviews of the Langton novels. Boyd also disputed the frequent comparisons of his work to that of Henry James, insisting that his purpose was not to reconcile the two worlds in which his characters dwell but to lead them on a quest toward spiritual fulfillment.

BibliographyFitzpatrick, Kathleen. Martin Boyd. Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1963. Calling Boyd “a delightful minor novelist,” Fitzpatrick sees his fiction as a kind of regionalism that records how the Australian leisure class once lived, torn between their physical home in Australia and their European cultural home. A limited view of Boyd’s work but an interesting one.Goodwin, Kenneth. “Martin Boyd.” In A History of Australian Literature. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. A succinct survey and evaluation of Boyd’s fiction and career.Niall, Brenda. Martin Boyd: A Life. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1988. Re-creates the upper-class Melbourne world in which Boyd grew up, then follows him through his expatriate years. Stresses his time in the French trenches during World War I and how that experience led to his pacifist beliefs and how it influenced his fiction.Stewart, Annette. “The Search for the Perfect Human Type: Women in Martin Boyd’s Fiction.” In Who Is She?, edited by Shirley Walker. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983. Traces the way Boyd’s women characters develop and change through the course of his writing career, as he attempted to embody his values into their characters.
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