I don’t even get bananas
- The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead
Apollo, 528 pp, £10.00, April 2016, ISBN 978 1 78497 148 9
- Letty Fox: Her Luck by Christina Stead
Apollo, 592 pp, £14.00, May 2017, ISBN 978 1 78669 139 2
‘She was famous for being neglected,’ Lorna Sage once said of Christina Stead. In 1955, Elizabeth Hardwick, writing in the New Republic, described trying to obtain Stead’s address from her last American publisher. Only a few years before the New Yorker had called her ‘the most extraordinary woman novelist produced by the English-speaking race since Virginia Woolf’. Yet, Hardwick wrote, ‘the information came forth with a tomba oscura note: all they had was a poste restante, Lausanne, Switzerland, 1947 … She is, as they say, not in the picture.’ Randall Jarrell tried to revive interest in Stead a few years later with a laudatory essay about The Man Who Loved Children (1940). Stead wrote to him: ‘It is quite the loveliest thing that ever happened to me in “my literary life”. That is only an expression. I do not have a literary life different from any other life.’ Jonathan Franzen did his part in 2010, with a rapturous essay in the New York Times about the same book. ‘I’m convinced that there are tens of thousands of people in this country who would bless the day the book was published, if only they could be exposed to it,’ he wrote. In response, Picador announced a new edition, with a print run in the thousands. From what I can tell, the book is not currently available in most bookshops.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 39 No. 22 · 16 November 2017
In her review of Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children and Letty Fox: Her Luck, Madeleine Schwartz gives the impression that Christina Stead is a largely neglected writer with not many champions (LRB, 2 November). She names a few: Randall Jarrell and Jonathan Franzen are credited with trying to revive interest in her, Elizabeth Hardwick, Lorna Sage and Angela Carter with championing her and Patrick White with giving secret financial support. There were others, Christopher Ricks and Jane Smiley among them, but the one person who should have been mentioned and who surely did more than anyone to revive interest in Stead, is Carmen Callil.Five years before Stead’s death Callil started to reissue her novels and stories, from Letty Fox: Her Luck and For Love Alone in 1978 to The Salzburg Tales in 1986, as Virago Modern Classics. The Man Who Loved Children was already in print with Penguin, and remained so for many years.
Vol. 39 No. 24 · 14 December 2017
Madeleine Schwartz writes that on Christina Stead’s return to Australia, after an absence of forty years, ‘no one wanted a cranky, alcoholic old woman as a house guest’ (LRB, 2 November). In fact Stead’s younger brother Gilbert and his wife had a flat built onto their home for her. Stead stayed there but found it unsuitable. At a lunch given for her at the Washington Club in Sydney, she confided to a stranger, Heather Stewart, that she needed a place to stay. Stewart took her home and cared for her for months. Stead also stayed with her brother David and his wife, Doris, and also with her sister Weeta. Friends in the literary community arranged for Stead to stay for several months at University House in Canberra. Stead was staying with another stranger, Helena Berenson, when she was taken to Balmain Hospital, where she died on 31 March 1982. This is all in Hazel Rowley’s biography of Stead, published in 1993.
Incidentally, the title of the novel Letty Fox: Her Luck, Stead’s nephew told me, was her joke, which she translated as ‘Letty Fucks a Lot.’
Hove, South Australia