Picture of author.

Christina Stead (1902–1983)

Author of The Man Who Loved Children

24+ Works 3,161 Members 72 Reviews 6 Favorited

About the Author

Author Christina Stead was born in Rockdale, New South Wales, Australia on July 17, 1902. She left Australia in 1928 and spent time in Europe, England, and the United States before permanently returning in 1974. She wrote fifteen novels and numerous volumes of short stories. She is best known for show more her novel, The Man Who Loved Children, which was based on her childhood. Her novels were unpublished in Australia until 1965 and she was denied the Britannica-Australia award in 1967 on the grounds that she was no longer considered an Australian. In 1974, she won the Patrick White award. While living in the United States during the 1940s, she worked as a Hollywood scriptwriter and contributed to Madame Curie and They Were Expendable. She died on March 31, 1983. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Portrait of author Christina Stead, 1940s? [picture]
National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24717059

Works by Christina Stead

Associated Works

The Fairies Return: Or, New Tales for Old (1934) — Contributor — 47 copies
Australian Love Stories: An Anthology (1997) — Contributor — 15 copies
Tall Short Stories (1960) — Contributor — 9 copies

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A masterpiece. A difficult, challenging, cruelly misanthropic, desperately hopeful (or hopefully desperate?), linguistic feat. Patrick White famously considered Christina Stead to be the greatest Australian novelist, and - although I think he was - Stead must be in the running. The dire situation of Henny and Sam's household was based in part on Stead's own childhood (the reason why she fled Australia) and you feel the needle-sharp accuracy of her characterisations. Surely neither of these people can be real. Yet they also feel so true. Yet they also feel so literary.

Stead must be read on her terms, especially in The Man Who Loved Children, but she will reward those who like their literature confronting, tangled, and inventive. (Also, if you're going to buy a used copy, buy the Penguin paperback from the 1960s with an introduction by Randall Jerrall! He almost single-handedly restored this forgotten 1940s novel to the public eye, and the introduction is a masterpiece of old-world criticism: even-handed, luxurious in its praise but fair in its criticisms, and masterful in its analysis of the central characters and themes.)
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therebelprince | 43 other reviews | Oct 24, 2023 |
Reading Christina Stead is often like being bludgeoned to death. But, like being a ritual sacrifice in one of those ancient Aztec tribes, it is a rather nice death, a death with purpose.

At her most readable (The Salzburg Tales, House of All Nations, Letty Fox: Her Luck), there is literally no-one quite like her. At her highest literary point, The Man Who Loved Children, she terrifies the reader into submission with the sheer majesty of her power.

I'm not sure Cotter's England (published in some countries as Dark Places of the Heart) is a literary highpoint for Stead; it is certainly not among her most readable. I'm also not entirely convinced that she is accurately depicting the working class English lives featured herein.

Still, stylistically this is staggering. Difficult. Very difficult. But staggering.
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therebelprince | 3 other reviews | Oct 24, 2023 |
And why shouldn't we fill in our leisure hours this way, listening to tales! What a company we are! We come from every corner of the earth; we have seen the world; we know Life. Let us amuse each other."

This, I can confidently say, is one of the strangest books I have ever read.

I have long had a fascination-cum-adoration for Christina Stead, one of the most difficult writers to emerge from our Great Southern Continent, but even compared to her often violently idiosyncratic novels, The Salzburg Tales is a beguiling, deeply individual work. Over the course of 7 days, a bunch of socially disparate visitors to the annual Salzburg Festival (still occurring as of 2020, almost nine decades after the novel's publication) tell tales with each other, in a plot device that is consciously Boccaccio with a touch of Chaucer, and what tales they are.

Stead's stories have a much deeper fairytale element than Boccaccio's, seem to draw less on existing folk myth and more on a repository of subconscious Freudian ideas, buried tropes, and a limitless imagination. There is really no explaining the contents of this book as the stories often have no great power outside of the author's endlessly versatile prose. The marionettist who abandons his family for the glitzy life of an urbane sculptor, the dead wife whose golden statue takes her place in the mind of her late husband and his adulterous brother... the stories could easily fill the annals of O. Henry or John Cheever or, indeed, the works of R.L. Stine!

Here, however, Stead transforms these unsettling tales into something mystical yet earthy, intangible yet heartpoundingly visceral, abstract but sentimental. Her turns of phrase, unsurprisingly for those who have read her novels such as The Man Who Loved Children or Letty Fox: Her Luck are cuttingly precise, startlingly poetic. The absolute best, for my money, are those told in the first person. It saddens me that Stead didn't become a playwright; even reading some of the first-person stories out loud at home (hey, we commit weird acts during pandemic lockdown), I found myself close to tears with the poignancy and dare I say magical-realism of the experience.

Perhaps best read as a nightly story before bed, rather than rushed through for the sake of completion. These are delicacies to be savoured, jewels to be plucked from a box for quiet contemplation. Stead remains criminally underrated, but she is also an author one must approach on her terms - rather like a caged leopard. Look the wrong way, allow her to take control, and you may as well surrender your life. She writes on her terms; approach with caution.
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therebelprince | 1 other review | Oct 24, 2023 |
I'll start by saying that I understand why many contemporary novelists are fans of this novel. The family dynamics in this novel are so life-like, I felt like a fly on the wall who is observing a real dysfunctional family. That being said, the novel suffers from a lack of critical editing. It could easily have been cut to half the length without any loss of resonance or truth. Still, I recommend it to anyone that writes about family dynamics and any fan of novels centering around those dynamics. Just be prepared to work hard to make it through the overly drawn out center of the novel.… (more)
 
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dogboi | 43 other reviews | Sep 16, 2023 |

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Tim Parks Introduction
Silvia Barbero Translator
Peter Bergsma Translator
Floriana Bossi Translator
Angela Carter Foreword
Jonathan Franzen Introduction
C. M. Hébert Narrator
Randall Jarrell Introduction
Doris Lessing Introduction
Michael Schmidt Introduction
Mary Kathleen Benet Introduction
Lorna Sage Introduction
Margaret Walters Introduction
Hilary Bailey Introduction

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