Dreaming of the Middle Ages: The Place of the ‘mittelalterlich’ and Socialist Awareness in Christina’s Stead’s Early Fiction

The Middle Ages have proved to be imaginatively a fluid and artistically enticing entity. As Umberto Eco has underscored, many have turned to the Middle Ages for inspiration and diverse forms of confirmation (66-72). These range trom nostalgia-enshrouded models of craftsmanship and social organisation to repugnant images of the alien and intellectually benighted other, which needed to be overcome in the interests of enlightenment and progress. Moreover, a single work can entertain antithetical verdicts on the period, or an individual's reaction to it change in response to socio-historical or personal impetuses - a point well illustrated by the early writings of Christina Stead. Born in Sydney in 1902 into a strongly socialist family, Stead followed her father from an early age in publicly avowing her atheism (Rowley 26; Williams 36), and had embraced communism by the early 1930s.1 Stead, however, was far from being doctrinaire on all matters (Rowley 254-55; Sturm 90-93), and her early compositions reveal an abiding fascination with a nebulous, romantic image of the Middle Ages, which was difficult to align with the dictates of engaged writing.

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Published 1 November 2011 in Volume 26 No. 3-4. Subjects: Medieval history, Medievalism, Socialism, Christina Stead.

Cite as: Ackland, Michael. ‘Dreaming of the Middle Ages: The Place of the ‘mittelalterlich’ and Socialist Awareness in Christina’s Stead’s Early Fiction.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 26, no. 3-4, 2011. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.664af486d9.