The Children’s Chorus: Sibling Soundscapes in The Man Who Loved Children

Abstract

The voices of children in The Man Who Loved Children allow Christina Stead to re-imagine her childhood and also to provide a platform for representing the struggles of children more broadly. Using a diverse range of narrative techniques Stead orchestrates the voices of the siblings to provide a soundscape for the Pollit world that dramatizes and at times directs the eccentricities of adult behaviour. In so doing Stead grants the children a type of agency that is unusual in the framework of adult fiction and thereby offers readers a new way to think about children. The tonal qualities created by Stead to represent the collective voice of the Pollit siblings are of strategic importance to the narrative and an important strand in the array of language strategies that Stead uses to open a space for the child’s perspective. This essay examines the ‘sound’ of the children in Stead’s novel and comments on connections with Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse in which children also frame narrative action. The novels present a family at a moment of social change and create an opportunity for readers to listen to the voice of the child as mediated by writers who worked with sound as a component of their experimental fiction.

Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children is widely acknowledged as an extraordinary representation of family dynamics. Stead re-casts childhood memories to examine her own childhood and in so doing offers new strategies for the representation of children in mid-twentieth century fiction. This essay examines the role of the Pollit children in the novel, arguing that an analysis of the collective voice of the children reveals the scope of Stead’s manipulation of noise and silence to create a soundscape that is important to the novel’s originality. The emphasis here is on Stead’s development of the sibling voice and the way in which this voice acts as a type of chorus that comments on the actions of the adult world. In building this soundscape Stead engages a diverse range of human sounds and speech patterns to illustrate the growing dysfunction of the Pollit family and to allow the children’s voice a…

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

Cite as: Carson, Susan. ‘The Children’s Chorus: Sibling Soundscapes in The Man Who Loved Children.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 31, no. 6, 2016. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.2963da99cd.