'Seven Poor Men of Sydney is a brilliant portrayal of a group of men and women living in Sydney in the 1920s amid conditions of poverty and social turmoil.
Set against the vividly drawn backgrounds of Fisherman's (Watson's) Bay and the innercity slums, the various characters seek to resolve their individual spiritual dilemmas; through politics, religion and philosophy.
Their struggles, their pain and their frustrations are portrayed with consummate skill in this memorable evocation of a city and an era.' (Publication summary)
'This book examines literary representations of Sydney and its waterway in the context of Australian modernism and modernity in the interwar period. Then as now, Sydney Harbour is both an ecological wonder and ladened with economic, cultural, historical and aesthetic significance for the city by its shores. In Australia’s earliest canon of urban fiction, writers including Christina Stead, Dymphna Cusack, Eleanor Dark, Kylie Tennant and M. Barnard Eldershaw explore the myth and the reality of the city ‘built on water’. Mapping Sydney via its watery and littoral places, these writers trace impacts of empire, commercial capitalism, global trade and technology on the city, while drawing on estuarine logics of flow and blockage, circulation and sedimentation to innovate modes of writing temporally, geographically and aesthetically specific to Sydney’s provincial modernity. Contributing to the growing field of oceanic or aqueous studies, Sydney and its Waterway and Australian Modernism shows the capacity of water and human-water relations to make both generative and disruptive contributions to urban topography and narrative topology.'
Source : publisher's blurb
'We may be entering the dreaded third quarter of isolation, when things start getting a bit weird and a little too much to bear.'
'In Sydney, the period between the two world wars was a time of rapid change, when ‘modern’ was considered a goal to which the city and its people should strive. The 1930s were bookended by the opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1932 and the 1938 Sesquicentenary of the First Fleet’s landing, two events that figured Sydney as the triumphant end point of a narrative of national, white Australian progress. This period also saw the publication of a number of novels by Australian women writers that took the contemporary city as their setting and scrutinised urban modernity as a state of being and an ideological position. This thesis takes as its focus five novels that depict and debate the multiple and often combative discourses of modernity that flowed through Australia’s first and most populous urban centre in the interwar period: Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934) by Christina Stead, Jungfrau (1936) by Dymphna Cusack, Waterway (1938) by Eleanor Dark, Foveaux (1939) by Kylie Tennant, and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1947; 1983) by M. Barnard Eldershaw. Through close reading within and across the novels, I argue that this generation of women writers pioneered a distinctly Australian, modern urban poetics that is best described as aqueous. Responding to Sydney as a dynamic estuarine environment, each writer mobilises water as location and literary device, infusing the modern city’s spaces and processes with productively aqueous qualities of changeability and circulation, unsettlement and motility. Making heuristic use of a Benjaminian framework for dialectical urban thinking, I read this aqueous poetics of Sydney against the narrative of progress epitomised by the Bridge and Sesquicentenary, arguing that in contradistinction to this narrative, the novels present an Australian urban modernity of material emplacement in an unpredictably watery sphere, where history settles and sediments, multiple ideological schemas flow into one another, and relations between bodies, space and power generate constant contestation.'
Rooney examines how 'Stead's fiction intricately negotiates her encounters with these [the banking and Popular Front politics worlds] divergent "phallocracies" through the multivalent and liminal figure of the secretary.' Rooney notes that while 'Stead's narrative use of the male political secretary safeguards her identity as a socially accepatable women' it also provides 'a context for discerning the nature of her contribution to 1930s debates about capitalism, communism and revolution.'