The rest flies down the wind : complexities of late style in the work of Christina Stead

Carson, Susan J. (2012) The rest flies down the wind : complexities of late style in the work of Christina Stead. Antipodes : A Global Journal of Australian/New Zealand Literature, 26(2), pp. 253-257.


Examining the late style of a writer is like skirting around quicksand. End-of-career reflection can subvert long standing critical accounts; revisionist publishing histories or newly minted archival work can do likewise. And, as Nancy J. Troy suggests, an artist’s last thoughts are rarely planned as such (15). In the case of Christina Stead any consideration of late style is made more difficult because, chronologically speaking, her ‘late’ works were written some 20 years before her death in 1983. Thus chronology can be deceptive, as Nicholas Delbanco points out in Lastingness: The Art of Old Age. Stead’s last novel, I’m Dying Laughing The Humourist, was completed, at least in rough draft form in 1966, when Stead was 64, but friends and readers suggested many changes. The book was published posthumously in 1986.

Stead’s work is receiving increasing critical attention so a discussion of her ‘late style’ is important, particularly given that her fiction seems to refuse so many attempts at category-making. This perspective reveals two interesting aspects of her late work: first her consistent engagement with the problems of age for women, and in particular women writers, and second, the consequence of a life-long attention to the representation of dialogic sound in her novels, a preoccupation that results in what can be termed an aural signature. My discussion refers to Edward Said’s and Nicholas Delbanco’s ideas about late style by way of a focus on selective biographical issues and Stead’s engagement with radical politics before moving to an examination of what can be called an aural signature in several novels. Her fiction demonstrates one of the agreed markers of late style: she was constantly looking forward and looking back through innovation in form and content.

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ID Code: 50235
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
ISSN: 0893-5580
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > LITERARY STUDIES (200500) > Australian Literature (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature) (200502)
Divisions: Past > Schools > Creative Writing & Literary Studies
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Deposited On: 13 May 2012 23:22
Last Modified: 12 Jun 2013 14:46

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