Gendering the revolutionary subject: the role of Marxist thought in Christina Stead's authorial production
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 19:53 by Brigid Rooney
The influence of Marxism on the authorial production of Christina Stead (1902- 1983) has often been acknowledged but has been insufficiently explored, particularly in view of biographical narratives which have jeopardised the authenticity and sincerity of Stead's political views. My study, drawing on a range of Stead's fictional and non-fictional works, as well as on relevant historical sources, examines the development of Stead's authorial production over three decades, in the context of Marxist debate about the role of the revolutionary subject. My study proposes that Christina Stead's 'Marxism' is caught up within, and co-ordinated by, a wider set of social and cultural positionings. Her fictional and non-fictional texts are culturally situated or determined performances, but also dynamic and hybrid. Examination of these narratives, as well as of biographical and historical sources, shows that a Marxist system of belief and value constructs the terms of Stead's representation of subjects in ideology. Marxism, therefore, both enables and contains Stead's representation of revolution and revolutionaries. -- In chapter one, I establish a theoretical and methodological frame which is both sympathetic to, and enables criticism of, Stead's political and aesthetic views, and which situates Stead's understanding of subjectivity in the context of currents of debate within Western Marxism and other contemporary discourses. From a feminist perspective, and informed by the cultural materialism of the Bakhtin school, of Raymond Williams, and of Pierre Bourdieu, I critically assess Stead's own cultural performance, the production of her authorial persona, and her gendered representations of subjects in the social web. Illustrations are drawn from a number of Stead's texts. -- In chapters two to four, I examine the formation and development of Stead's Marxist understandings of the revolutionary subject in her fiction of the 1930s. Chapter two provides an historical context, as well as a discussion of the implications of Stead's relationship with Marxist men. Chapters three and four provide in-depth studies of two novels of the late 1930s, House of All Nations and The Man Who Loved Children, developing the theme of 'loving the revolutionary' in the argument that masculine models of revolution are celebrated, appropriated and performed in these texts. -- Chapter five briefly surveys the overall development of Stead's political and aesthetic views, in the context of her authorial production of the 1940s and during her stay in the United States, before examining the increasing problematic of gender in Stead's postwar fiction. Issues in the production of Stead's authorial persona in this period are also analysed in the context of Bourdieu's theory of the literary field. The theme of chapter five, 'females who can wreck the revolution' - elaborated in chapters six and seven, in the context of two postwar novels, Cotters' England and I'm Dying Laughing - develops the idea that the troubled female protagonists of the postwar fiction are the site of Stead's antithetical exploration of the proper 'revolutionary subject'.