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Issue Details: First known date: 2019... 2019 'Shut Up Or I’ll Shut You Up' : Family Violence In Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children
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'In an essay for The New York Times titled “Rereading The Man Who Loved Children,” author Jonathan Franzen writes the following of Christina Stead’s famous 1940 novel: it “operates at a pitch of psychological violence that makes Revolutionary Road look like Everybody Loves Raymond.” The novel, Franzen further suggests, is “so retrograde as to accept what we would call ‘abuse’ as a natural feature of the familial landscape” and intrudes “on our better-regulated world like a bad dream from the grandparental past.” The Man Who Loved Children follows the experiences of the dysfunctional Pollit family, which consists of Samuel (“Sam”) Pollit, Sam’s second wife Henny Collyer, and their six children. It chronicles the family’s attempt to navigate the destabilised political and cultural landscape of Washington, DC, in the 1930s and during the Great Depression.2 Despite the novel’s pleasant-sounding (and ironic) title, even the most cursory reading of the book reveals the shocking scope and volume of abuse and violence between its covers—violence ranging from verbal insults and threats through to physical assault, gaslighting, surveillance, rape, murder, and suicide. While the novel’s violence is primarily perpetrated by Sam and directed towards Henny and their children, some violence is also perpetrated by Henny and directed towards Sam and the children. Despite the novel’s shocking depictions of abuse, Franzen characterises the violence as “a potentially comic feature”—extreme to the point of absurdity. Indeed, for those not familiar with the complexities and realities of family violence, the language and behaviours of the novel’s characters may at first appear unbelievable, even melodramatic. But a reading of the novel that takes the characters’ violence seriously—particularly in light of Hazel Rowley’s claim that that the novel constitutes a recount of Stead’s traumatic childhood “exactly word for word”3—suggests not only that the The Man Who Loved Children is a believable violence narrative, but one that is consistent with several theories of family violence expounded in the social sciences over the last two decades. In this article, I propose to reread Stead’s novel in light of these contemporary sociological theories of violence, and to demonstrate that family violence has changed very little in the 70 years since the novel’s publication. Indeed, as I will argue, The Man Who Loved Children contains one of the most nuanced and insightful explorations of family violence in twentieth-century Australian fiction.' (Introduction)

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  • Appears in:
    y separately published work icon Philament no. 25 September 2019 18044308 2019 periodical issue 2019
Last amended 21 Oct 2019 12:05:35 'Shut Up Or I’ll Shut You Up' : Family Violence In Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Childrensmall AustLit logo Philament