The Australian-born novelist Christina Stead is an author whose reputation perpetually hovers somewhere between apotheosis and oblivion. As a novelist, she was one of those unfortunates whom critics admire in the abstract but often find distasteful or harsh in reality. She never achieved a popular or even a real critical success; during her lifetime she complained, with justification, that each new novel was greeted with cries of disappointment by reviewers, who accused it of not measuring up to her earlier books—books that themselves had all too often met with indifference, incomprehension, or hostility.

One of her publishers said that “Christina Stead is a writer who makes absolutely no concessions to the reader.” This is true, and the result was that at no time during her life or beyond it could Stead be even remotely considered a popular writer. But her talent, raw and undisciplined as it undoubtedly was, has...

 
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