Christina Stead by Diana Brydon (auth.)

By Diana Brydon (auth.)

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38). Mter a conversation with Mrs Baguenault, he teIls Michael: 'Come along out 0' this. This collection of skins will drive you dippy before they've finished; one with her religion, the other with her reds. What a woman's man you are! ' (p. 38). The crude reductiveness of Wither's thinking and the violence in bis language that so clearly expresses a deeply-rooted fear condemn him more surely than any authorial commentary could. By refusing to comment, Stead reminds us how representative of current attitudes, even today, and how unquestioned, until very recendy, such speech has been.

Here the rebellion against the generating English tradition begins. Michael's conc1usions contradict George Eliot's. Where she saw order as the determining principle of the natural world, he sees disorder , a disorder the novel increasingly comes to mirror as it starts defying the narrative expectations it initially set up. Michael loses his centrality, disappearing for long stretches at a time, undergoing service in the First World War, various affairs, and a nervous breakdown offstage. The reader learns of these events long after they have occurred, through hearsay.

Furthermore, Stead rejected the romantic and modernist elitism that would elevate the artist above ordinary human beings, believing instead, with the great Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, that all people were potentially creative. Whereas a conventional thinker like The Man Who LO'lJed Children's Sam Pollit believes order must be used to resolve chaos, Stead argues through bis daughter Louisa the Nietzschean contention that it is only from chaos - that is from astate of continual questioning rather than comfortable certainty - that one can give birth to 'a dancing star' something new and beautiful in its dancing, in its refusal to be fixed.

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