'Although Christina Stead is best known for the mid-century masterpiece set in Washington D.C. and Baltimore, The Man Who Loved Children, it was not her only work about the America. Five of Christina Stead’s mid-career novels deal with the United States, capturing and critiquing American life with characteristic sharpness and originality.
'In this examination of Stead’s American work, Fiona Morrison explores Stead’s profound engagement with American politics and culture and their influence on her “restlessly experimental” style. Through the turbulent political and artistic debates of the 1930s, the Second World War, and the emergence of McCarthyism, the “matter” of America provoked Stead to continue to create new ways of writing about politics, gender and modernity.
'This is the first critical study to focus on Stead’s time in America and its influence on her writing. Morrison argues compellingly that Stead’s American novels “reveal the work of the greatest political woman writer of the mid twentieth century”, and that Stead’s account of American ideology and national identity remains extraordinarily prescient, even today.'
Source: Publisher's blurb.
'Letty Fox: Her Luck was Christina Stead's sixth novel. It was published in October 1946, a year after the end of World War II. It is set in Manhattan and was largely written there (Rowley 246, 282). Stead had come to New York not from Sydney, her home city, but via England and continental Europe, where she had lived with her longtime partner (and later husband), William Blake. Blake was a Jewish American broker, economist, and writer, and Hitler's pursuit of Lebensraum had persuaded the couple to quit the continent for the United States. As confirmed Europhiles, they found the adjustment difficult at times. Both Stead and Blake made sporadic forays away from the city in search of work, trying their hands at screenwriting for MGM in California, for example, and writing applications for Guggenheim grants (Rowley 267). Stead also taught courses on the novel at New York University.' (Introduction)
‘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.' (Introduction)
'After a year in New York in 1935-1936, Christina Stead commented that "the whole spirit of New York is opposed to the creative mind". Yet America and Americans became the matter of five of her subsequent novels. After a leftwing Australian background and a number of years in socialist milieus in London and Paris, Stead was an intriguing reader of 1940s America. In her late American work, I'm Dying Laughing (begun 1949, published 1986), Stead became that most precarious of things - a leftwing critic of the Left during the early Cold War. Desire for success and the accompanying fear of failure are thematised by Stead as "the American dilemma" - the contradictory relationship between collective action and individual survival at the heart of American national identity that she saw as no less forceful and tragic for many on the Left.' (Author's abstract)