This Australian author captured my heart and mind many years ago. Long before I studied Aust Lit at university, I had read The Man Who Loved Children and For Love Alone, Stead’s greatest novels. Her work manages to be both uniquely Australian – these novels are fictionalized accounts of her childhood and young womanhood in Sydney- and timeless and universal. Love, family life, growing from being a girl to becoming a woman, learning to be a writer: Christina Stead’s themes have echoes in women’s lives across time and space
I love Stead’s work because she writes so well about the personal relationships that women build their lives around; she isn’t afraid to show how vulnerable wives and daughters are to male behavior and desire. Sam Pollitt in The Man Who Loved Children (1940) and Jonathan Crow in For Love Alone (1945) exert an overwhelming amount of power – and these men are emotional and intellectual bullies. The stories of both novels are female Bildungsromane, tales of women’s entrapment and eventual escape.
If you haven’t yet experienced the pleasure of reading Stead’s work, you’ll find it easy to lay your hands on these two books. They’ve both been republished several times since the original 1940s Angus & Robertson editions; for example, in the 1970s by the wonderful feminist Virago Press and most recently by Melbourne University’s Miegunyah Press. And of course we have multiple copies in the Barr Smith Library.
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Australian academic and feminist Susan Sheridan has written the best analysis of Christina Stead’s novels that I have read: lucid, appreciative and very readable.
The ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club discussed The Man Who Loved Children last year (2010 was the 60th anniversary of its publication) and American author Jane Smiley published an analysis of the timeless themes of Stead’s work in her study of nineteenth and twentieth century novels. The database Austlit is always an invaluable source of information on Australian literature and Stead’s position in our literary heritage is acknowledged by the annual Christina Stead Award for Fiction.