'Seven Poor Men of Sydney is a brilliant portrayal of a group of men and women living in Sydney in the 1920s amid conditions of poverty and social turmoil.
Set against the vividly drawn backgrounds of Fisherman's (Watson's) Bay and the innercity slums, the various characters seek to resolve their individual spiritual dilemmas; through politics, religion and philosophy.
Their struggles, their pain and their frustrations are portrayed with consummate skill in this memorable evocation of a city and an era.' (Publication summary)
'This essay offers new insights into Christina Stead’s Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934) and in particular its celebrated ‘lecture on light.’ It illuminates the historical context of Stead’s first novel, via reactions to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, as well as its literary historical context, via the responses of modernist writers such as T. S. Eliot and Wyndham Lewis to the new physics. Eliot and Lewis used relativity as a metaphor to describe the literary experimentation of the literary avant-garde, notably James Joyce, as well as their own work. Stead, keenly interested in science but also (as a woman, a political radical and an Australian) something of a literary outsider, interpreted the science quite differently. The essay draws on another important cultural use of Einsteinian relativity, Mikhail Bakhtin’s conception of the chronotope (the unit of space-time in literary form). It argues that Stead’s understanding of the impact of relativity on literary structure when seen from the odd postcolonial space of Sydney, produces a polychronotopic text that radically deterritorialises national space and time. Stead’s use of relativity entails an eccentric critique of avant-garde modernism, but the new physics may also be reinterpreted by Stead as a distinct aesthetic strategy that speaks to an inter-war period of increasing global mobility and political strife.'
'In Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934), Christina Stead evokes the city’s history in her naming of the Tank Stream Press, the novel’s central location. The fresh water Tank Stream assured the colony’s survival in its fledgling years; however, it soon became an open sewer and was buried as a stormwater drain in order to maintain public health. This essay argues that Stead uses the Tank Stream’s watery history to shape a narrative about cultural life and urban modernity in early twentieth-century Sydney. The functioning of the business is informed by the stream’s various identities of essential water supply, sewer and drain: at times, it seems as if culture and learning may usher in an intellectual and internationalist utopia in the city, liberating the minds and bodies of those who inhabit it; at others, all such hope is lost. The narrative Stead develops around the printery and its employees brings local place into contact with transnational socialist and other intellectual discourses, and links both to culture as a material, interactive force within the urban milieu. Through a close reading of the Tank Stream Press, this essay explores the novel’s conflicted vision of culture, politics and urbanity in modern Sydney.'
Rooney examines how 'Stead's fiction intricately negotiates her encounters with these [the banking and Popular Front politics worlds] divergent "phallocracies" through the multivalent and liminal figure of the secretary.' Rooney notes that while 'Stead's narrative use of the male political secretary safeguards her identity as a socially accepatable women' it also provides 'a context for discerning the nature of her contribution to 1930s debates about capitalism, communism and revolution.'