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Letty Fox: Her Luck (1946)

par Christina Stead

Autres auteurs: Tim Parks (Introduction)

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251380,724 (3.05)28
"One hot night last spring, after waiting fruitlessly for a call from my then lover, with whom I had quarreled the same afternoon, and finding one of my black moods upon me, I flung out of my lonely room on the ninth floor (unlucky number) in a hotel in lower Fifth Avenue and rushed into the streets of the Village, feeling bad." "So begins Letty Fox's own story, a comic extravaganza about the crazy circus of her early life; about her moping mother, absent father, and two impossible sisters; about work and play, sex and men, and the seemingly unending search for a lasting relationship."--BOOK JACKET.… (plus d'informations)
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Like Coonardoo, this is a novel I read because I was trying to get more familiar with my own country's literature. Like that book, Letty Fox was written in the first half of the twentieth century by an Australian, Marxist, female writer, and it was also met with outrage in Australia upon publication – Letty Fox was actually banned here for many years for being too frank in its depictions of sex.

Aside from that, the books couldn't be any less similar. This book is set in the glitzy cities of New York, Paris and London, not a remote cattle station in northern WA. Some of the other reviews of this book have described it as a type of chick-lit from before chick-lit existed, and perhaps to some extent it is, but it's also deeper than that. The book is very much situated in time and place – it shows Letty growing up during the Roaring Twenties, then the Depression, then finally being a young adult in World War Two; it's reasonably political too, even openly political, seeing as (maybe not actually) every second character in this book is a socialist.

I'm inclined to see this book as drawing heavily on Christina Stead's own experiences, particularly of the milieu she moved in. As I said, tons of the characters here are socialists – they're also largely filthy rich. Letty moves in circles of aristocrats, writers, publishers; her grandmothers are both rich and one leaves her a large inheritance; she's enormously pretentious and insists on discussing philosophy in French (and by this I am referring to a page describing a conversation she had with one of her boyfriends, all about pretentious philosophy, in French, with no translations provided. This book is profoundly self-indulgent.). Essentially, Letty Fox moves in that Transatlantic intellectual elite which may profess to be Marxist, but only insofar as it doesn't jeopardise their careers and God forbid they should ever associate with poor people.

This may, of course, be one of the times where reading the introduction has influenced my opinion when subsequently reading the book; the introduction is written by a feminist publisher who chose to reprint this in the seventies or eighties because of its compelling depiction of heterosexual relationships, in all their dysfunctional glory. However, they found that Christina Stead herself was not too keen to be associated with a feminist publishing house, proudly declaring her love for men and insisting it's actually women who are the true parasites in society (even more than the bourgeoisie, apparently…) because so many of them "refuse" to do paid work after marriage. This grossly undervalues the huge amount of unpaid work that women, largely, did and still do; it also ignores the huge institutional obstacles unmarried women faced in landing a job. But no, they're all parasites! Okay.

And the novel does, to a large extent, portray many of its female characters as parasites. Letty, as narrator, is constantly describing her female relatives and their acquaintances as "scheming" – how to snag a rich man, how to divorce him so as to claim alimony, how to jail them for not paying alimony. More than one male character goes to jail for falling behind on alimony payments.

But honestly, the novel portrays its male characters as universally flawed too, and I'd prefer to look at this novel as an examination of how women's oppression under capitalism royally fucks up heterosexual relationships. Marriage is primarily depicted as the way women ensured their economic security, and only secondarily about love. Men are depicted as, generally, womanisers, while women (and especially young women!) fall way too hard for men who don't deserve it. While the circle Letty moves in is quite upper-class, she herself is constantly short on money, and I think her constant pursuit of "the right man" reflects this shortage. Her parents' marriage is disastrously bad. If this novel is anything, it's a depiction of some of (lots of) the myriad ways in which heterosexual relationships go bad.

So despite its self-indulgence, the pretentious French, and the fact that for all my "trying to understand my own country's literature" the novel doesn't even mention Australia once, I did enjoy this. I'm even keen to read more Christina Stead, although I hope she wrote some books that are less than 662 pages long, because that got tiresome and I'm sure there are some unnecessary detours she could have skipped. It's an interesting work. ( )
  Jayeless | May 27, 2020 |
I almost gave up on this book. I loved the first couple of chapters, I loved the last few chapters. It's the three dozen or so in the middle that just become a slog, but then the effect of the ending would have bee lost without them. ( )
  encephalical | Mar 8, 2020 |
people talk about how christina stead's great weakness is not knowing what to edit/weed out. and it's true, sure, but i dunno...i kinda like that. it makes her lengthy detailed repetitive books of female domestic and familial experience feel more authentic and less literary, in a way i enjoy. like you're at the kitchen table reading the unexpurgated letters from your batty aunt who doesn't know the meaning of discretion, or something. "fun." ( )
2 voter ifjuly | Aug 3, 2007 |
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Nom de l'auteur(e)RôleType d'auteurŒuvre ?Statut
Christina Steadauteur(e) principal(e)toutes les éditionscalculé
Parks, TimIntroductionauteur secondairetoutes les éditionsconfirmé

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One hot night last spring, after waiting fruitlessly for a call from my then lover, with whom I had quarreled the same afternoon, and finding one of my black moods on me, I flung out of my lonely room on the ninth floor (unlucky number) in a hotel in lower Fifth Avenue and rushed into the streets of the Village, feeling bad.
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"One hot night last spring, after waiting fruitlessly for a call from my then lover, with whom I had quarreled the same afternoon, and finding one of my black moods upon me, I flung out of my lonely room on the ninth floor (unlucky number) in a hotel in lower Fifth Avenue and rushed into the streets of the Village, feeling bad." "So begins Letty Fox's own story, a comic extravaganza about the crazy circus of her early life; about her moping mother, absent father, and two impossible sisters; about work and play, sex and men, and the seemingly unending search for a lasting relationship."--BOOK JACKET.

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