student profile: Mr Benedetto Passaretti


Thesis work

Thesis title: Affect and Politics in the Last Four Novels of Christina Stead

Supervisors: Brigid ROONEY

Thesis abstract:

The profoundly original prose of Australian expatriate writer Christina Stead (1902-1983) puzzles readers and scholars alike. Her work does not fit easily into any literary or national category, placed as it is between realism and modernism, between 'Australian' and 'trans-national' literature.
In my thesis, I explore the affective dimension of Stead's fiction. The representation of the characters' feelings goes hand in hand in her texts with an engaged critique of the material and social conditions of the private and public world they inhabit. Feelings are conveyed through the characters' incessant talk and through a subtle narrative irony: both elements concur to elicit, in turn, the reader's affective response. By combining affect theory with Marxist and feminist literary criticism, my thesis constitutes an exploration of the politics of affect in Stead's last four novels: Cotters' England (1967), The Little Hotel (1973), Miss Herbert (The Suburban Wife) (1976), and I'm Dying Laughing: The Humourist (1986).
Stead's late fiction often fares unfavourably in comparison with her previous work, such as her most celebrated novel, The Man Who Loved Children (1940). The later texts, all composed in the post-war period, share a darker and more pessimistic tone, a feature noted by many Stead scholars. Far from making the reading experience merely distasteful, the negative feelings surfacing in Stead's last four novels are integral to her narratives' modes of political and social critique, since they direct the reader's attention to the close connection between human subjectivity and material conditions.
In suggesting that the politics of Stead's fiction is at work in the affective interaction between text and reader, my research aims to offer a new perspective on both the Marxist and feminist elements of her writing, which, though now readily acknowledged by scholars, still retain a certain elusiveness when it comes to explaining exactly how their politics is performed and why they merit the attention of contemporary, twenty-first-century readers.

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