'Cotters' England follows the lives of Nellie Cook, sister Peggy Cotter and brother Tom. Set in post-war England, it is a study of politics and betrayal in Nellie's professional and personal life. It is a story of smothered aspirations and dashed hopes, as class politics trap the Cotters and stifle their attempts to break free from the boundaries of the working- and middle-classes.
'The book is also an exploration of love and sexuality. An undercurrent of incestuous flirtation and a lesbian affair add further strain to Nellie's relationships with family and friends, driving one of them to suicide. By the renowned author of The Man Who Loved Children, this is the first Stead work to be set wholly in England. It weaves a strange and compelling story that explores the limits of class, politics, lust and passion.' (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.'
'Critics who value Christina Stead’s radical politics often find the passionate excess and the spectral and ambiguous qualities that attend her fiction harder to explain. The political dimensions of Stead’s fiction are further complicated by a scene of writing – most dramatically described in Rowley’s 1993 biography – in which the author draws her material from the lives of close family and friends. The problem is framed in this paper as follows: how can qualities of excess, ambiguity and desire in Stead’s fiction (intimately connected to this scene of writing) be understood in relation to its politics? A substantial notebook acquired in 2007 by the National Library of Australia, dated from mid 1949 to early 1950 and internally designated as the ‘Kelly file’, illuminates Stead’s ten-month process of documenting, researching and transforming raw materials for the novel that was eventually published as Cotters’ England (1967). The notebook sheds new light on Stead’s creative process as one that involved, in Susan Lever’s phrase, ‘living inside the fictions she was making’ (Lever 2003). Patiently observing and capturing her characters, Stead allowed herself to be caught up with them. This paper identifies Stead’s notion of ‘possession’, a doubled and spectral dynamic, as integral to her creative modus operandi. On the one hand this involves the writer in taking possession by means of naturalist observation and classification, and on the other hand it entails being possessed. This is a dynamic that thrives on projection, paranoia, and the willed forgetting of investments. Stead’s theory of ‘spectral England’ – her own political explanation of what ails England – emerges from deep inside a creative process that returns to haunt the finished novel.'
'With specific reference to Virgil’s Eclogues, Paul Alpers argues that ‘the poetics of pastoral can tell us something about poetics in general’ (The Singer of the Eclogues 6). He equates song with voice when he discusses aspects of the poetics of voice in Virgilian pastoral, including, ‘self-representation, self-reflexiveness, and the community implied by the song’ (6). In this essay, I explore the poetics of voice in a modern novel, Christina Stead’s Cotters’ England (1966), and highlight links between voice in Stead’s novel and the Eclogues. The discussion of voice leads to a second point, that Stead’s writing treats the particular and the general in ways that recall Virgil’s pastoral poems. In the course of this argument, I also discuss the treatment of the idyllic, and the contrasts and tensions between city and country, in Cotters’ England.'