Graeme Powell reviews 'Christina Stead: A web of friendship, selected letters (1928–1973)' edited by Ron Geering

In her novel Jacob’s Room (1922), Virginia Woolf wrote: ‘For centuries the writing-desk has contained sheets fit precisely for the communication of friends. Masters of language have turned from the sheet that endures to the sheet that perishes ... and addressed themselves to the task of reaching, touching, penetrating the individual heart.’

Christina Stead’s desk contained not only sheets of typing paper but also ‘a stack of airletters’ which she used to reach out to relatives, friends, and acquaintances in distant countries. The first letters reproduced in A Web of Friendship were written in 1928, soon after she arrived in England. It was then that she met Bill Blake, who was to be her companion for almost forty years. The volume ends in 1973, a few years after Blake died and shortly before Stead returned to Australia. In 1964 she wrote, ‘I have lived in so many places, met so many people and lived in other people’s worlds.’ Her letters document her friendships with many of those people and her observations of places ranging from Paris, New York, and London to Santa Fe, Canberra, and Lausanne.

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Published in May 2017, no. 391