Thursday 11 December 2014

D is for Robert Dessaix

Robert Dessaix was born in Sydney on 17th February 1944.
He was soon adopted & given the name Robert Jones. 

Young Robert was educated at North Sydney Boys High School and the Australian National University. He then studied at Moscow State University during the early 1970s, and taught Russian Studies at the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales from 1972 to 1984.

After attaining his PhD, he changed his named back to his biological name, Robert Dessaix.

From 1985 to 1995 Dessaix presented the ABC program Books and Writing - which is where I first came across him.

I then read (& loved) Night Letters when it came out.
I devoured his story in Secrets (as well as Modjeska’s & Lohrey’s – oh, especially Lohrey’s one on singing – that was magic & hit just the right chord in my life at the time! Pun intended.)

I also read (And So Forth) when it came out. I found his life story fascinating. I also felt a deep personal response to his intellectualism at a time when I was feeling intellectually isolated .

Every time a new book came out, I thought, I must read that - that sounds like my kind of fascinating - even the Russian one (which seemed to put some people off). But something always got in the way.

As I'm writing this post, I'm again reminded of how much I learnt from his earlier stories and non-fiction & how I felt so connected to what he had to say about life & living. I wonder anew at why I haven't read absolutely everything he ever wrote!

WH Chong on talks about his encounter with Dessaix live, that reflects how I feel about his writing...

"The other night at the Wheeler Centre, where I seemed to have camped out lately, we saw the celebrated writer Robert Dessaix take the stage for one of his brilliantly sly and penetrating performances. 
By penetrating I mean how he seems to cut into the moment — loosing the sap? the blood? — and make it tremendously vivid, so that we all felt very awake and present. 
And when I say performance, he is performing the persona he’s been refining for a long time — ‘Robert Dessaix’ is a talker, full of dramatic and witty intonations, dry and disconcertingly direct. Bluntness somehow fused with charm. And that low voice with its rainbow glimmerings of fugitive accents."


Robert Dessaix 1998 by Robert Hannaford
(my photo from the National Potrait Gallery earlier in the year).

  • Night Letters: A Journey Through Switzerland and Italy Edited and Annotated by Igor Miazmov (1996)
  • Secrets (with Drusilla Modjeska and Amanda Lohrey, 1997)
  • Corfu (2001)


  • A Mother's Disgrace (1994)
  • Arabesques : A Tale of Double Lives (2008)


  • (And So Forth) (1998)
  • Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev (2004)
  • As I Was Saying: a Collection of Musings (2012)
  • What Days Are For (2014)


  • Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing: An Anthology (1993)
  • Picador New Writing (1993)
  • Speaking Their Minds: Intellectuals and the Public Culture in Australia (1998)
  • The Best Australian Essays 2004 (2004)
  • The Best Australian Essays 2005 (2005)

 “...'undertow'. It describes (...) how underneath our own everyday lives - the shopping and squabbles and weeding and trips to the vet - there's a sense of being dragged slowly off, not against our will but regardless of it. And fighting the undertow, as children are quick to learn, is not usually the best way of getting back to the beach. Floating along with it, on the other hand, can be fatal.

It's really the struggle, the argument with oneself, that interests..
  Robert Dessaix, Picador New Writing 

Dessaix now lives in Tasmania with his long time partner (& fellow author) Peter Timms. 
I found this lovely article in last month's Mercury featuring Robert & his latest book, What Days Are For

I hope (plan!) to read more of Dessaix's work sooner rather than later. This post has reminded of a long lost friend that I want to get back in touch with again.

This post is part of Alphabe-Thursday & Authors by Alphabet.


  1. He sounds like s fascinating author ~ Great post for D!

    Happy Weekend to you,
    artmusedog and carol

  2. I'm going to check out his work!

  3. Thank you, Brona. I was not familiar with your Robert D, probably because I know of very few Ausie authors. I checked and our library has his work (just this one), Night letters : a journey through Switzerland and Italy. I am first on the list to have it come to our local library, I ordered that before I started this comment.
    I expect to like it as we have travel most all parts of Italy, including the Vatican, Sicily and Capri. A lot of Switzerland also. And before we met, Mrs. Jim had taken the train through.

  4. I've only read Corfu but have been meaning to read Night Letters for ages as I really enjoyed my first taste of his writing.

  5. Undertow can truly be deadly!

    I have so many authors piled up on my 'must read' list.

    You keep adding delightful entries as this Alphabe-Thursday progresses!

    Thank you for linking.

    Happy New Year and



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