Why, you may be asking, have I chosen 1902 for this post? After all, it’s not a nice round number of years ago, like 100. I could tease you with hints, but I want to get onto the post proper, so I’ll just tell you: it was the year Christina Stead was born. And, as you’ll have realised if you read yesterday’s post, this week in Lisa of ANZLitLovers’ Christina Stead Week. Now, of course, Stead wasn’t particularly sentient that year, but I thought it might be fun to see what was happening in literature in the (Aussie) world she was born into.
But first, let’s look at who else was born in 1902. Most interesting to me is Dymphna Cusack, whose memoir of her teaching days, A window in the dark, and first novel, Jungfrau, I’ve reviewed here. My research of the National Library of Australia uncovered that Cusack and Stead corresponded with each other, though I think Stead had a closer relationship with Cusack’s literary collaborator, Florence James. Anyhow, also born this year were Alan Marshall, famous for his autobiography I can jump puddles, and a lesser known author, Dorothy Cottrell, who had two novels adapted for film, one of them in her lifetime, Orphan of the wilderness.
Now, what was published in 1902? I’m going to focus on novels and short stories, because these were Stead’s main forms, and I’ve selected names that are reasonably well-known (to my mind anyhow). Here goes:
- Barbara Baynton’s Bush studies (my reviews can be found here)
- Rolf Boldrewood’s The ghost camp or, the avengers
- Henry Lawson’s Children of the bush, plus individual stories
- Louise Mack’s An Australian girl in London (I have Mack on my TBR)
- Rosa Praed’s The insane root: A romance of a strange country and her autobiography, My Australian girlhood (I’ve read her The bond of wedlock)
- Ethel Turner’s Young love (I have reviewed her Juvenilia)
There are others, but most are writers who are not known now, such as Hume Nisbett and Ambrose Pratt.
The interesting question is whether any of these writers influenced Stead? Did she read them as she was growing up? Not having read any biographies of her, I can’t say. However, Baynton and Mack went overseas in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, seeing it as important for establishing a writing career. Expatriation could offer better access to publishers and “a freer life” (Carole Ferrier). Stead also went to England (and later the US) a couple of decades later. She may not have explicitly “followed” them, but it was a popular path for serious writers. There is an argument – both in her time and now – that Stead’s lack of recognition in Australia stems partly from the lengthy time she spent overseas. You can, it seems, be away from “home” too long! According to Wikipedia, she ‘only returned to Australia after she was denied the Britannica-Australia prize on the grounds that she had “ceased to be an Australian”‘.
A significant person active at the time of Stead’s birth is Vida Goldstein, the politician and women’s rights activist. In 1902 she was the Australian delegate at the International Women’s Suffrage Conference in Washington, DC. Again, whether Stead knew of her, I don’t know, but she was a person worth knowing and was part of a long tradition of Australian women who cared about women’s rights and broader social reform. Stead’s first novel, Seven poor men of Sydney, documenting “the relentlessness of poverty”, demonstrates her interest in similar issues.
I know this little post doesn’t tell us much about Stead, herself, but I found it interesting to research and think about. More useful might be to look at literary life around the time she turned 21? We might then find and think about those who were more likely her peers. Hmmm …
- 1902 in Australian literature (Wikipedia)
- Hooton, Joy and Harry Heseltine, Annals of Australian literature, 2nd ed. Melbourne: OUP, 1992
- Trove (various newspaper articles!)