'This last great work by one of the century’s great writers is a large and original novel of betrayal and self-delusion, madness and consuming passions, that recreates to chilling effect the political turbulence of the American Left and the clamor and menace of the McCarthy Right. Not since her classic The Man Who Loved Children has Stead fashioned such willful and memorable characters as Emily Wilks and Stephen Howard. Emily is a woman of enormous but mercurial enthusiasms whose unflagging ebullience masks a darkness that will lead to disaster. Stephen—handsome, clever, spoiled—is a dangerous dreamer, an upper-class dropout playing at radical politics. Together, they mirror the times through which they live: the heady revolutionary fervor of the Depression, the short collaborative effort of wartime America, the fractiousness of the Cold War years.' (Publication summary)
'This essay examines some recent attempts to devise a new critical approach to Stead’s fiction which can encompass both the socialism she endorsed and the feminism she rejected, and asks how these approaches attempt to account for the affective as well as the intellectual impact of politics in Stead’s novels, in particular Cotters’ England and I’m Dying Laughing.'
'The principal subject of the novel Stead spent much of her later years working on, published after her death, I'm Dying Laughing, is marked by the crisis of the Western left. As the son of one committed leftist and a nephew of another, and as someone who in his schooling and acculturation was highly exposed to the American left of the 1970s, I sensed the same crisis so seismically registered by Stead’s novel: of incongruity between aspirations and realities, of a distance between the proclaimed populism of the left and its practical elitism, and an odd disjuncture between the family worlds of these leftists and their political philosophies. In this paper, I consider a number of the ways in which Stead’s novel refracts and engages with the politics of mid-century American leftism and communism, its intellectual culture and ideology, issues that lie at the heart of Stead’s novel even as it deals with a woman, Emily Wilkes Howard, who, as a wife, as a mother and surrogate mother, as a writer, and as a political entity, ends up being unable to reconcile these contradictions.'
'After a year in New York in 1935-1936, Christina Stead commented that "the whole spirit of New York is opposed to the creative mind". Yet America and Americans became the matter of five of her subsequent novels. After a leftwing Australian background and a number of years in socialist milieus in London and Paris, Stead was an intriguing reader of 1940s America. In her late American work, I'm Dying Laughing (begun 1949, published 1986), Stead became that most precarious of things - a leftwing critic of the Left during the early Cold War. Desire for success and the accompanying fear of failure are thematised by Stead as "the American dilemma" - the contradictory relationship between collective action and individual survival at the heart of American national identity that she saw as no less forceful and tragic for many on the Left.' (Author's abstract)