I know that at least one of you is reading Pykk via RSS feed, and therefore can't see the links in the bar off to the side, so I'll put this here as well -- Jonathan Franzen is doing a Randall Jarrell in the New York Times. This is not the first time he's spruiked Stead in public, but never before has the spruiking been more prominent. And now, typing 'christina stead franzen' and 'franzen man who loved children' into Google, I come across pages here and there where people are saying, I remember that book, The Man Who Loved Children; I think I heard the title mentioned once, long ago, along with, Can anyone tell me about this Christina Stead person because God knows I've never heard of her. At the Abebooks blog they're telling us that sales of Man jumped after the article went up.
I'm pleased by this because I hope the interest will flow on to her other books, and then someone might reprint The People With the Dogs and House of All Nations, the harder-to-find ones. There's also a kind of smugness in being ahead of (or part of, because I'm easily thrilled, not immune to crowds) an idea that has suddenly sprung into the public eye. "Why yes," you say, "I've read the Man Who Loved Children. I've been reading it for years. And all of her other books. And the collected letters. And the biography. No, not just the Rowley one. Everybody's read the Rowley one. The other one. And the book that argues she was a closeted lesbian. Why, hasn't everyone? No? You haven't? Well, huh!" Here you flaunt off like Medea in a chariot pulled by minor characters whose names your interlocutor does not know. Your hair is immaculate.
Franzen isn't the first Pulitzer Prize-winner to champion Man, but he's the most persistent, and the loudest. Anne Tyler has mentioned it too:
What books would you recommend reading groups add to their lists?
Books that cause fiercely passionate arguments, pro and con, seem to me the best candidates for reading groups. For instance, I would recommend Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children. No one is ever neutral about that book.
Saul Bellow liked her as well.
Which contemporary writers do you admire?
Well, Marquez is a wonderful writer ... Then there is the Australian novelist Christina Stead, who is really marvelous. She gropes here, she gropes there, she introduces this subject and that subject, seems to talk to no purpose -- and talk and talk! Then, suddenly, with a wild outburst, she understands something. A discovery has been made.
So does Doris Lessing.
HB: Still, it seems you're invisible in some way.
DL: I am, yes.
HB: Maybe because you're so hard to classify.
DL: It's also partly because there are good women writers who are invisible. One is Christina Stead. Have you ever read her? She's a marvelous writer. But she's invisible. In fact, Saul Bellow said, when he got the Nobel Prize, that it should have gone to Christina Stead. Try The Man Who Loved Children. There's a great treat in store for you.
Same goes for Marguerite Young, Lillian Hellman, Angela Carter (another persistent and vocal supporter, while she was alive), Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell, Patrick White, and so on, and so forth, along with (of course) less-famous people: bloggers, Amazon reviewers, students, and essayists. While I was searching for responses to the Franzen article I stumbled across this good essay by Susan Sheridan, who examines possible causes for Stead's fallow period. I recommend it to anyone who finds themselves lying awake at 2 a.m. thinking, "So was it communism or what?"