Grievous Music: Randolph Stow’s Middle Ages

Randolph Stow's poem 'Outrider', which forms the epigraph to Stow's 1981 novel The Girl Green as Elderflower, tells of loss, dislocation, and 'ancestral ghosts'. The 'grievous music' of the poem is a music of exile: it sings of a lost land, a home which can never be returned to. It is tempting to read the poem, as Dorothy Hewett does, as Stow's farewell to Australia: an expatriate writer's bittersweet missive to an abandoned homeland (Hewett 59). The lost land, however, is more resonant than this. The experiences of leaving and listening are repeated throughout Stow's work, but in The Girl Green as Elderflower they take place in the context of the English Middle Ages, specifically the twelfth century. In this novel, written as a sequel to Visitants (1980), the antipodean patrol officer Crispin Clare recovers in England from a traumatic experience of malaria and attempted suicide in the Trobriand Islands. His method of recovery is to translate and rewrite stories from twelfth- and thirteenth-century sources.

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

Cite as: Duckworth, Melanie. ‘Grievous Music: Randolph Stow’s Middle Ages.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 26, no. 3-4, 2011. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.e8d9ec4f7b.