"I am thinking I am free": intransigent reality versus utopian thought in the later fiction of Christina Stead

Ackland, Michael (2012) "I am thinking I am free": intransigent reality versus utopian thought in the later fiction of Christina Stead. Southerly, 72 (1). pp. 159-180.

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Abstract

At the midpoint of Christina Stead's first novel, Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934), Baruch urges Catherine to "go abroad, if you can... Get a real cause to fight about" (150). In this and subsequent exchanges Baruch emphasizes the need to go beyond symbolic or grandiloquent gestures, to know for instance the actual role of the Kuomintang in China, not merely to pin on its badge, or to side with armed forces, and not just the Salvation Army to scandalize friends (150). The advice was timely for youth struggling to choose between rival ideologies, programs and panacea, in a century which, with hindsight, appears "littered with Utopian schemes" (Hughes 164). At its outset labour and suffragette movements campaigned for greater rights for depressed social groups, while technological advances raised the prospect of a future in which disease and poverty might be banished, fulfilling work and leisure realizable. Then came the successful October Revolution in 1917, which gave Communism a permanent homeland, in which alternatives to democracy and capitalism could be explored. Also the brutal, de-humanizing experience of the Great War led to calls for radical renewal and social reform, for a reshaping of the inner man and his physical environment. During the inter-war years Europe and America witnessed a host of utopian ventures in the cultural and political spheres, from mass-produced furniture and fixtures, to cities of the future like Le Corbusier's "ville radieuse" or Vladimir Tatlin's designs intended to embody Soviet dynamism and dialectical processes, from popularist political movements, such as Upton Sinclair's crusade to end poverty in California and Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, to the totalitarian super-states of Hitler and Stalin. Stead was swept up and buffeted by these historical currents, considered rival nostrums, and left a crucial but neglected commentary on many of the great utopian projects of her time, which underpinned her verdict on the contemporary plight of women.

Item ID: 32255
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: poetry, short fiction, reviews, australian literature
ISBN: 978-1-921556-35-7
ISSN: 0038-3732
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2014 03:35
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2005 Literary Studies > 200502 Australian Literature (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing @ 50%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9502 Communication > 950203 Languages and Literature @ 50%
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