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Author J. M. (John Mews) Harcourt
Country Australia
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher John Long, London
Publication date
March, 1934
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 287 pp
ISBN 0-85564-244-0 (facsimile edition)

Upsurge is a novel by Australian writer J. M. (John Mews) Harcourt. Set in Perth, Western Australia, during the Great Depression, it was the first novel to be banned by the-then Commonwealth Book Censorship Board and the first to be prosecuted by police in Australia. University of New South Wales academic Richard Nile described Upsurge as "one of the most radical Australian books written during the interwar period". It was admired by Katharine Susannah Prichard, who said it was the first Australian novel to be written in the socialist realism style.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The book tells the stories of Theodora Luddon, a 20-year-old receptionist, Peter Groom, a member of the bourgeoisie who claims unemployment benefits, city magistrate James Riddle, working class man Colin Rumble who hangs himself after murdering his family, and Paul Kronen, the owner of a big drapery store. It is set in the 1930s, starts with Theodora fined two pounds by Riddle for indecent exposure at the beach and ends with Peter sentenced to a month in jail with hard labour after a riot in the city.[1] "For a country in Depression, the writing about life in relief camps and corrupt officials was considered potentially incendiary."[2]


Three months after it was published, detectives removed copies of the novel from a Perth bookstore and asked that other copies be handed in to them.[3] Sydney police also seized the book.[4] In May 1934 police complained about the book to the Attorney-General's Department. All copies were removed from Perth bookstores and Harcourt left Perth following threats of prosecution. Federal authorities received complaints the novel was "Communist propaganda" and filled with obscene sexual content. The Trade and Customs Department released a report saying that the book was not without merit, but that it was grossly indecent.[3] Upsurge was banned federally on 20 November 1934 on grounds of indecency.[4]

Critical reaction[edit]

"The sort of stuff in Upsurge may have provided excitement of some sort to the author in the writing of it," The West Australian reported. "It may provide excitement for some of his readers - those who carry prohibited Parisian picture-cards in their pocket wallets and scribble on walls."[1]


  1. ^ a b c Upsurge: A Novel, introduction by Richard A. Nile (facsimile ed.). University of Western Australia Press. 1986. ISBN 0-85564-244-0. 
  2. ^ "Westraliana #1: Upsurge by J.M. Harcourt by Nathan Hobby". State Library of Western Australia. Retrieved 2011-04-21. 
  3. ^ a b "J. M. Harcourt's Upsurge banned as Communist propaganda". Retrieved 2011-04-21. 
  4. ^ a b "105. Harcourt, J. M. (John Mewton), 1902-1971". Monash University Library. Retrieved 2011-04-21.