From August 1978 through January 1979 I read the complete fiction of Christina Stead, as well as those of her critical writings I could locate. A writing career of more than forty years consumed by a voracious reader in six months! I trust that I was as scrupulous and sympathetic a reader as Christina Stead is an ethically and technically scrupulous, sympathetic novelist.
I read this commanding body of work in two locations the British Museum and the New York Public Library. I’m not sure it occurred to me at the time, but am convinced in retrospect that there was a singular appropriateness in such a reading. It was, of course, instructive to read Letty Fox while apartment-hunting in Manhattan. More importantly, an international novelist of the standing of Christina Stead requires readers who are anything but provincial, parochial, chauvinist. Over dinner, the New York (and New Yorker) writer Donald Barthelme displayed great admiration for her work. It is difficult to imagine two more dissimilar writers, by background, or by the length and nature of their fiction.