"Socialists of a new socialism"?: Christina Stead's critique of 1930s America in The Man Who Loved Children

Ackland, Michael (2011) "Socialists of a new socialism"?: Christina Stead's critique of 1930s America in The Man Who Loved Children. ELH, 78 (2). pp. 387-408.

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[Excerpt] Despite four decades of detailed and often searching commentary, the case urged so brilliantly by Randall Jarrell in 1965 needs to be made again: that Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children remains, in fundamental respects, a neglected and misunderstood twentieth-century masterpiece. On first appearing in New York on 11 October 1940, its stark portrayal of a tragically dysfunctional family commanded scant attention from a public preoccupied with war in Europe and economic recovery at bome. A quarter of a century later Jarrell made tbe most of the opportunity afforded by its republication. "The Man Who Loves Children knows," he claimed, "as few books have ever known-knows specifically, profoundly, exhaustively-what a family is ... it is a masterpiece with some plain, and plainly negligible, faults.'" The second wave of reviews concurred, hailing the reissued work "a marvellous neglected novel" and "a funny, painful, absorbing masterpiece."2 Stead, though bemused by its resonance with readers, was delighted by the unexpected acclaim. And her resurrection from literary obliquity was completed in the late 1970s when, despite her strong misgivings about the women's liberation movement, she was enrolled in a burgeoning counter-canon of neglected feminist authors. Her death in 1983 was followed by a spate of major monographs and articles that discerned in her portrait of the Pollit family a thinly disguised depiction of her tortured adolescence in Sydney, through which she sought to exorcise her painful past as well as to provide an unflinching anatomy of "the political powers of patriarchy." Yet the novelist, when she began to plan and write the book in 1938, was closely associated with the New York branch of the Communist Party of the United States of America (hereafter CPU SA) and engaged with quite different contemporary issues-raising the possibility that the original political concerns of the work may have been usurped by a feminist reading tbat, although assisting Stead's critical rehabilitation, bas arguably obscured the novel's critique of American society and its oblique, but highly topical commentary on possible ramifications of the New Deal.

Item ID: 19357
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1080-6547
Date Deposited: 27 Feb 2012 00:31
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2005 Literary Studies > 200502 Australian Literature (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 100%
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