Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 8, 2016

Opening Lines: Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934), by Christina Stead

seven-poor-men-of-sydney To kick off next week’s Christina Stead Week (Nov 14-20), I thought I’d share these magnificent opening lines from her first novel, Seven Poor Men of Sydney, which was published by Peter Davies, London, in 1934.  Like a Dickens’ novel, the chapter has a heading to pique the reader’s interest:

Fisherman’s Bay.  First days of the first poor man.  An October night’s dream. A stirring sermon has no effect on an ill-fated hero.

The hideous low scarred yellow horny and barren headland lies curled like a scorpion in a blinding sea and sky.  At night, house-lamps and ships’ lanterns burn with a rousing shine, and the headlights of cars swing over Fisherman’s Bay.  In the day, the traffic of the village crawls along the skyline, past the lighthouse and signal station, and drops by cleft and volcanic gully to the old village that has a bare footing on the edge of the bay. It was, and remains, a military and marine settlement.  When the gunners are in camp, searchlights sweep over the bay all night, lighting bedrooms and the china on dressers, discolouring the foliage and making seagulls fly; in the daytime, when the red signal is flown over the barracks, the plates and windows rattle with the report of guns at target practice.  From the signal station messages come down of the movement of ships and storms.  Flags flutter and red globes swing on its great mast, which is higher than the Catholic Church, higher than the Norfolk Island pines, higher than the lighthouse and higher than anything else which is between the rocky cornice and the sandy seafloor.  In dark nights, from the base of that enormous spectral pole which points up any distance into the starry world, one looks down on the city and northern harbour settlements, on the pilot-lights in the eastern and western channels, and on the unseen dark sea, where the lighthouse ray is lost beyond the horizon and where ships appear through the waves, far out, lighted like a Christmas Tree, small, and disappearing momentarily; and where, after half an hour of increasing radiance, the yellow rim of the sub-tropical moon comes up like a lantern from underneath.

Seven Poor Men of Sydney, by Christina Stead, Sirius Quality Paperbacks, (an imprint of Angus and Robertson), 1981, ISBN 0207140464, p.1.
Series design by Judy Hungerford, and cover illustration by Roger Janovsky.



  1. You’re right, these opening lines, effectively the opening lines of her career, are magnificent. Peter Davies thought Seven Poor Men of Sydney too unconventional and so published The Salzburg Tales first, which I have seen described as a collection of short stories. I’m going to have to find a copy so I can make up my own mind whether the Tales are short stories or something more cohesive – though not in time for CS week sorry.


    • No need, I’ll lend you my copy:) I’d love to see how you would review this one. (My review will be up soon, I’ve just got a bit of a busy day today).


  2. And, like a Dickens novel, it opens with a cinematic panning shot – it’s a bit reminiscent of Bleak House. I’ve never read any of Stead’s work before, but this is brilliant!


  3. very cinematic.


  4. I agree that Dickens is a good comparison. As is James Joyce, I think – interesting to compare ‘Seven Poor Men of Sydney’ with ‘The Dubliners’. And can’t you just hear Stead flexing her wing muscles in the passage you quote!


  5. […] you can see from the lyrical opening lines from her first novel, Seven Poor Men of Sydney, Christina Stead had vivid memories of her favourite […]


  6. Not sure i will get to read her for a long time to come but i like the opening lines idea to give me a sense of her style


  7. […] published by Simon and Schuster.  This novel begins not with a long descriptive paragraph as in Seven Poor Men of Sydney or The Beauties and Furies but with […]


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