Jane Miller

  • Miss Herbert (The Suburban Wife) by Christina Stead
    Virago, 308 pp, £5.95

Eleanor, in Christina Stead’s most recent novel, is a writer and a rewriter, whose somewhat parasitical achievement it is to have turned a story written by her father into a modest best-seller; a wry sort of apology, perhaps, for the wonderful novels, which have not been best-sellers, Christina Stead herself has written about oppressively exuberant fathers, but a judgment as well on those who live within borrowed scenarios. In earlier novels it has been writers and children who were seen to have the best hope of resisting bullies and taking control of their own lives. Fourteen-year-old Louie is already a writer when she leaves her father in The Man Who Loved Children (the novel published in 1940, which is probably the best-known of the 11 Christina Stead has written). And Teresa, Louie’s older incarnation in For Love Alone (1945), escapes her father, and eventually his more insidious understudy, the autodidact Jonathan Crow, when she follows him to London and then evades him to become a writer. Letty, of Letty Fox: Her Luck (1946), records a life which threatens to dissipate itself in pursuit of a husband and by telling her story gradually shapes and controls it. Christina Stead’s career as a published writer has occupied 45 years. She has been greatly admired but is far too little read. Long periods of her life have been spent in England and in America, and only in her seventies – she is now 77 – did she return to Australia where she was born. Penguin, and now Virago, have recently embarked on reissuing her work. It deserves serious attention; it also cries out to be read and enjoyed.

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