|Born / Died||1902–1983|
The Christina Stead collection consists of a typed manuscript for Stead's novel Miss Herbert: The Suburban Wife (Random House, 1976). There are holograph corrections throughout the manuscript. There is also a set of page proofs bearing printer’s marks for Miss Herbert . Also present are six letters from Stead to Little Brown, Co. regarding the publication of People With the Dogs, dating from June 1951 to April 1952.
While during her lifetime she may not have received the attention and acclaim she deserved, Australian-born novelist and short story writer Christina Stead (1902 -1983) has come to be thought of as one of the Twentieth Century’s most gifted and talented authors. She is perhaps best recalled for her 1940 masterpiece The Man Who Loved Children (Simon & Schuster) about a dysfunctional family led by an idealistic paternal figure. When that novel was reissued in 1965, Stead’s reputation was burnished and she became a fixture in feminist literature (although she disabused that label for her fiction).
Christina Ellen Stead was born on July 17, 1902 in Rockdale, Australia, a town near Sydney. She was the only daughter of the former Ellen Butter Stears and her husband David Stead, a marine biologist. Her mother died when Stead was only two years old, and within another two years, her father had remarried and went on to have six more children with his new wife. For much of her childhood and adolescence, Stead felt like an outsider despite embracing her father’s socialist beliefs and sharing his love of storytelling. The family also experienced periods of poverty, particularly after her father lost his job post-World War I.
After attending local schools in Sydney, Stead enrolled at Sydney Teachers’ College in 1920. Three years later, after completing her coursework, she began a career lecturing in psychology at Sydney University. Frustrated and unhappy, Stead decided to leave academia and accepted a clerical position and concentrated on writing children’s stories in her spare time.
In 1928, Stead left Australia and moved to England with a graduate student named Keith Duncan, with whom she had begun a romance. Settling in London, she found employment as a secretary in a grain company where her boss was William Blech (who later adopted the surname Blake), an American-born, married Marxist economist. The pair quickly fell into an affair and pledged to be life partners. She and Blake moved to Paris in 1929 where both worked in banking. By this time, she had completed her first novel, Seven Poor Men of Sydney (Peter Davies, 1934), but it took her several years to secure a publisher. The same year her first novel appeared, Stead also published the story collection The Salzburg Tales (Peter Davies, 1934).
By the mid-1930s, Stead was involved in political organizations and other leftist causes. She was present at the First International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture in Paris in the summer of 1935, later jotting her impressions and publishing them as “The Writers Take Sides” in the Leftist Review. She and Blake visited Spain on the eve of the Civil War in 1936, the same year her second novel, The Beauties and Furies (Peter Davies) appeared. The couple briefly returned to London before embarking for America where Stead flirted with Hollywood working briefly at MGM. The pair remained in the USA until after World War II.
Her third novel, House of All Nations (Simon & Schuster, 1938), engendered a bit of controversy. The title echoed a famed Parisian brothel and the novel’s plot revolved around a fictitious French bank involved in illicit schemes and international financial intrigue. It was written with an insider’s knowledge – culled from her and Blake’s experiences – and the novel received critical attention, with one reviewer citing it as her “greatest intellectual achievement.”
1940 saw the publication of what has come to be seen as her masterpiece, The Man Who Loved Children, a highly autobiographical novel about a family prone to “bitterness, violent outbursts, and gender inequities.” Stead set her book in the United States, but there was no mistaking that it reflected her childhood upbringing in Australia, down to her heroine leaving home and fleeing abroad. Her next novel, For Love Alone (Harcourt, 1944) also owed a great deal to her own life. That book’s heroine leaves Australia for England to escape a domineering father and later embarks on a literary career. She produced one addition fictional work while living in the United States, 1946’s Letty Fox: Her Luck (Harcourt), a satire of left-wing politics in America that was banned on moral grounds in her homeland of Australia.
After World War II, Stead and Blake returned to Europe where they frequently moved around until 1952 when Blake’s wife finally granted him a divorce, allowing him and Stead to marry. Following their wedding, they settled in London. Throughout this period, she continued to write, although only two novels, A Little Tea, a Little Chat (Harcourt, 1948) and The People with the Dogs (Little, Brown, 1952), actually saw publication.
With the advent of the Cold War and McCarthyism, Stead found it increasingly difficult to secure a publisher. She was, in effect, blacklisted because of her socialist beliefs. To earn a living, she turned to journalism and working as a translator. It wasn’t until the 1965 reissue of The Man Who Loved Children by Holt with an introduction by Randall Jarrell that her reputation was restored. Now a “rediscovered” figure, Stead resumed publishing with the novel Dark Places of the Heart (Holt, 1966) known as Cotters’ England in Great Britain, and The Puzzleheaded Girl (Holt, 1967), a collection of novellas. In 1968, she suffered a blow when her beloved husband died.
For the first time in over forty years, Stead returned to Australia for a visit following Blake’s death. Her literary output slowed a bit, but she did write and publish The Little Hotel (1974), based on her peripatetic years in Europe, and Miss Herbert (1976) which traced a woman’s life from her youth through marriage and motherhood to maturity. By the time the former had appeared in print, Stead had returned to Australia as a permanent resident until her death on March 31, 1983 in Sydney at the age of 80.
Since her death, Stead has enjoyed an important and lauded position in academic circles as well as with critics. Helen Yglesias commented: “Stead novels are great to read-long rich, funny, moving, utterly surprising in their rambles through a marvelously rendered and varied scene, the whole built solidly on ground chosen and controlled by a master.” In 1982, Angela Carter wrote: “To open a book, any book, by Christina Stead and read a few pages is to be at once aware that one is in the presence of greatness."
|Library of Congress Subject Headings||Women authors, Australian.
Australian literature -- 20th century.
Australian literature -- Women authors.