Eve unchained: Christina Stead's recasting of the Christian spiritual autobiography

Ackland, Michael (2015) Eve unchained: Christina Stead's recasting of the Christian spiritual autobiography. In: Shands, Kerstin W., Mikrut, Giulia Grillo, Pattanaik, Dipti R/, and Ferreira-Meyers, Karen, (eds.) Writing the Self: essays on autobiography and autofiction. English Studies (5). Södertörns högskola, Stockholm, Sweden, pp. 295-305.

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Abstract

Christina Stead, who came of age as a writer in the 1930s, enjoyed trans-Atlantic fame before the outbreak of the Second World War, suffered ignominy and neglect during the Cold War, then rehabilitation as a precursor of Third Wave Feminism—a role which she flatly rejected (Wetherell, Whitehead). Readings of her oeuvre have similarly fluctuated, from early reviews that praised her imaginative exuberance or social insights (Rowley 156, 246), to more recent emphasis on her depiction of women's plight and the profound dependence of her fiction on lived experience. For instance, according to Hazel Rowley's definitive, award-winning biography, Stead was far more interested in her characters, often based on friends, than ideas, and sought to write with "an intelligent ferocity (316). And creative ardour, fuelled by personal animus, is undeniably an aspect of her fiction, as when stark repulsion for fellow novelist and Communist, Ruth McKenney, resurges in long stretches of her last novel, I'm Dying Laughing (Rowley 361–64), or in the diverse ways her most famous book, The Man Who Loved Children, represents a delayed fictional reckoning with her overbearing father (Rowley 258–63). Indeed, if Rowley's account is to be believed, key Stead texts are strikingly autobiographical, while vividly evoked scenes and occasional pieces are someimes little more than autobiographical vignettes. The great marlin-boiling scene in The Man Who Loved Children, for example, can be traced back to her own family's boiling down of a captured shark in their backyard at Watson's Bay (Stead 1985 490), or the writer's final effort, "The Old School," is practically dismissed as easy material, ready to hand for an exhausted, largely disinterested author (Rowley 540). Yet the quest for alleged biographical parallels or sources can readily become reductive, especially when, as I hope to show, Stead's understanding and use of autobiographical material and tradition was complexly inflected by her role as both an engaged and a female author.

Item ID: 43713
Item Type: Book Chapter (Scholarly Work)
Keywords: Christina Stead, Australian literature, autobiography
ISBN: 978-91-87843-21-1
Funders: Margaret and Colin Roderick , Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC Discovery grant DP110102291
Date Deposited: 30 May 2016 01:56
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 > 9502 Communication > 950203 Languages and Literature @ 100%
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