'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)
'In Sydney, the period between the two world wars was a time of rapid change, when ‘modern’ was considered a goal to which the city and its people should strive. The 1930s were bookended by the opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1932 and the 1938 Sesquicentenary of the First Fleet’s landing, two events that figured Sydney as the triumphant end point of a narrative of national, white Australian progress. This period also saw the publication of a number of novels by Australian women writers that took the contemporary city as their setting and scrutinised urban modernity as a state of being and an ideological position. This thesis takes as its focus five novels that depict and debate the multiple and often combative discourses of modernity that flowed through Australia’s first and most populous urban centre in the interwar period: Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934) by Christina Stead, Jungfrau (1936) by Dymphna Cusack, Waterway (1938) by Eleanor Dark, Foveaux (1939) by Kylie Tennant, and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1947; 1983) by M. Barnard Eldershaw. Through close reading within and across the novels, I argue that this generation of women writers pioneered a distinctly Australian, modern urban poetics that is best described as aqueous. Responding to Sydney as a dynamic estuarine environment, each writer mobilises water as location and literary device, infusing the modern city’s spaces and processes with productively aqueous qualities of changeability and circulation, unsettlement and motility. Making heuristic use of a Benjaminian framework for dialectical urban thinking, I read this aqueous poetics of Sydney against the narrative of progress epitomised by the Bridge and Sesquicentenary, arguing that in contradistinction to this narrative, the novels present an Australian urban modernity of material emplacement in an unpredictably watery sphere, where history settles and sediments, multiple ideological schemas flow into one another, and relations between bodies, space and power generate constant contestation.'
'Christina Stead (1902–1983) was an Australian novelist and short-story writer acclaimed for her satirical wit and penetrating psychological characterizations. Stead enjoyed an international reputation in the 1930s and beyond, then went out of favor as a communist-affiliated writer, until she was rediscovered by feminist critics. Her standing is considerable, and in Australia she vies with Patrick White for the laurel of finest Australian novelist.
'In this book, author Michael Ackland argues that the single most important influence on Stead’s life, socialism, has been seriously neglected in studies of her life and work. Ackland delves into Stead’s political formation prior to her departure for London in 1928, arguing that considerable insights can be added to the known record by reviewing these years within a specifically political context, as well as by interrogating Stead’s own accounts of key persons and events. He examines her novels, from Seven Poor Men of Sydney to I’m Dying Laughing and The Man Who Loved Children, and focuses on Stead’s conception of history, of capitalist finance, and on the significance of the key historical moments that frame her works.
'In tracing the trajectory of her work, Ackland illuminates how Stead was, as a well-informed Marxist critic underscored, a product of thirties. Steeped in socialist literature and steeled to withstand ideological adversity, Stead emerged at the end of the decade a strongly committed novelist, whose intellectual idealism and convictions could, as coming decades would show, long withstand privation, heartbreaks and the unwelcome lessons of history.
'This is an important book for collections in Australian literature, comparative literature, world literature, and women's studies.'
Source: Publisher's blurb.
'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.'