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Stead, Christina

life family england love

(Australian, 1902–83)

Stead led a wandering life, moving from Australia to London, to Paris, to various places in the United States, back to different homes in Europe, and then to Australia again. She worked as a teacher and secretary before writing full-time (including a stint in Hollywood, which she disliked). Left-wing politics were central in her own life and that of her partner, William Blake.

As a writer she is strikingly original, plunging the reader into the complex and extraordinary lives of her characters, very much as if one has been dropped into a roomful of unknown extroverts who simply carry on around one. Start with The Man Who Loved Children (1940), her masterpiece; the hero shapes his family's life with a naïve kind of tyranny which leads to tragedy so inexorably that it feels normal. For Love Alone (1944) charts the life of a young woman determined to break away from her ramshackle Australian family, discovering in England that what she thought was love was simply obsession—and eventually discovering a different kind of love. Cotter's England (1966) has another emotional tyrant at its centre: Nellie, who is from a northern working-class background, and makes outrageous demands on her friends and family, weaving them into her web of self-serving lies and fantasies, with her crooning hypnotic monologues. The privations of post-war England are described with unflinching accuracy. Stead's depictions of selfishness and the twisted dynamics of family relationships at times ring searingly true, at others almost as grotesque parody. Her ear for dialogue, and her sure grasp of social class, are a constant pleasure.

D. H. Lawrence, Patrick White, Helen Garner, Virginia Woolf. See AUSTRALIA  JR

Steel, Danielle [next] [back] Stead, C(hristian) K(arlson)

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