Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 11, 2016

Opening Lines: The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead

The Man Who Loved ChildrenAs a further prelude to Christina Stead Week (November 14-20), here are the opening lines from her most famous novel, The Man Who Loved Children, first published by Peter Davies, London, in 1940.  The novel was originally set in Sydney, but the publishers insisted that it be rewritten with an American setting.  Note the use of ‘sidewalks’ instead of ‘pavements’ and ‘salamanders’ instead of ‘geckoes’…

Chapter One: Henny Comes Home

All the June Saturday afternoon Sam Pollit’s children were on the lookout for him as they skated round the dirt sidewalks and seamed old asphalt of R Street and Reservoir Road that bounded the deep-grassed acres of Tohoga House, their home.  They were not usually allowed to run helter-skelter about the streets, but Sam was out late with the naturalists looking for lizards and salamanders round the Potomac bluffs, Henrietta, their mother, was in town, Bonnie, their youthful aunt and general servant, had her afternoon off, and they were being minded by Louisa, their half sister, eleven and a half years old, the eldest of their brood.  Strict and anxious when their parents were at home, Louisa when left in sole command was benevolent, liking to hear their shouts from a distance while she lay on her belly, reading, at the top of the orchard, or ambled, woolgathering, about the house.

The sun dropped between reefs of cloud into the Virginia woods: a rain fog rattled and the air grew damp.  Mother coming home from the Wisconsin Avenue car, with parcels, was seen from various corners by the perspiring young ones, who rushed to meet her, chirring on their skates, and who conveyed her home, doing figures around her, weaving and blowing about her or holding to her skirt, and merry, in spite of her decorous irritations.

‘I come home and find you tearing about the streets like mad things!’

They poured into the house, bringing in dirt, suppositions, questions, legends of other children, and plans for the next day, while Louie, suddenly remembering potatoes and string beans neglected, slunk in through the back door.

The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead, with an introduction by Randall Jarrell, Angus and Robertson Australian Classics, 1979, p.3 ISBN 0207138206
Cover image: ‘Two children’ by Russell Drysdale, held at the National Gallery of Victoria


Responses

  1. I read the first few pages of this when I heard you were doing a Christina Stead reading week and thought it looked like a book I would enjoy but simply don’t have the headspace for at the moment. I’m hoping to read it once things quieten down a little.

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    • (As you can see from my review) it’s a very demanding book, and if I hadn’t read The Little Hotel first, I might have given up. As it was I read it in instalments, it’s like living next door to a very quarrelsome family!

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      • Oh dear, I don’t think I read your review (I often don’t read reviews of books I have on my shelves). I’m not sure I’ll ever have the headspace….

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  2. This is on my list of Books I Will Read. I started and found it hard going. But I will manage it one day.

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    • In instalments. With something light and fluffy in between…

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  3. Yes it is a demanding read. It sat on my bookshelf for a long time with a few pick ups here and there. But when I eventually came to tackling it seriously it was well worth the effort. None of her books are light reading. She is in a league of her own.

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  4. I had not heard of Stead until you announced your wonderful reading week focusing on her books.I just started “The Man Who Loved Children.” Her characters are fascinating, and I find her style to be so realistic….I can just picture the squalor, chaos, and family scenes to be so believable.

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    • Heidi, I am about half way through The Beauties and Furies, and although it might be too soon to say, it’s going to rival The Little Hotel as my favourite Stead. It so modern, the way her females behave!

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  5. While browsing in a bookstore this week I snapped up The Puzzleheaded Girl, having not read any Christine Stead before & being inspired by your reviews :) look forward to reading it, a lovely cover Text Classic cover too.

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    • Wonderful! I was very tempted by that one too, after I read the intro I was tossing up whether to read it or The Beauties and Furies first.

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