Repetition and Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children

Abstract

This essay explores repetition, in both content and technique, in Christina Stead’s novel, The Man Who Loved Children. I indicate how the Pollit family is shown to repeat itself and societal structures through language, ceremony, and family folklore. Content merges with form, I argue, when so many aspects of the novel’s plot and characterisation are repeated, either in pairings or oppositions. I assume a degree of difference is implicit in repetition, and consider the reading effects deriving from this inherent tension in repetition in the novel – as dramatised in the children’s resistance at times to replicating their father and mother, for example. In regard technique and repetition, I focus on Stead’s practice of presenting the same material in ways both particular and general, which I argue is a form of repetition hitherto largely unconsidered by narrative theorists. This presentation of the same material in different ways – the particular and the general – is powerful because it allows Stead to deploy both the advantages of the particular, which is good for dramatising, and the advantages of the general, which is effective for creating atmosphere and indicating larger connections and allusions, for instance to myth, allegory, and legend. I suggest that some reading effects of these repetitions include the production in the novel of meaning and form. I also consider how the repetitions enable Stead to show the return of the repressed, and acts of repression. The essay concludes by considering whether Stead’s blending of the particular and general might have implications for the classification of the genre of The Man Who Loved Children, and other Stead works in which repetition occurs in similar ways.

Many critics of Christina Stead’s work note a high degree of repetition in her writing. What this repetition exactly is or what it implies however, is variable and shifting. Repetition has been identified as a key characteristic of Stead’s narrative structures. Susan Sheridan for instance remarks that Stead’s novels are ‘characterized by a rhythm of repetition rather than a strong narrative line’ (82–83). Jennifer Gribble notes that through repetition Stead finds a way to structure her texts (83), to reject ‘narrative closure’ (9), and to reveal character (88, 100). Repetition also describes Stead’s thematic treatment of character and identity-formation. Diana Brydon, in her reading of Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, notes Louisa’s impulse to negate or resist through her repetitions: ‘In her relationship with her stepmother, Louisa rewrites the fairy tale of Snow White … Like Snow White, Louisa appears to have an evil stepmother who dislikes her.…

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Published 7 December 2016 in Rediscovering Christina Stead. Subjects: Christina Stead.

Cite as: Lane, William. ‘Repetition and Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 31, no. 6, 2016. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.0087f489f1.