Academic journal article Antipodes

Christina Stead, Georges Polti, and Analytical Novel Writing

Academic journal article Antipodes

Christina Stead, Georges Polti, and Analytical Novel Writing

Article excerpt

True knowledge and finally love, through comprehension.

-Christina Stead

Nowadays many published writers teach writing; indeed, courses in writing have become a mass industry. But in the 1940s, tertiary teaching of novel writing was in its infancy and courses taught by published writers were relatively sporadic- as d. G. Myers, amongst others, has documented-and detailed records of them rare. this is what makes Christina stead's archived notebooks so unique.

The 1940 publication of The Man Who Loved Children immediately marked Christina stead as a major international novelist of the mid-twentieth century's modernist movement. Her subsequent novels, published whilst living in new York, For Love Alone in 1944 and Letty Fox: Her Luck in 1946, crystallized her most productive decade of writing. A rather lesser known fact about these years was stead's role from september 1943 to the end of 1946 as a novelist teaching the writing of novels. she taught three extramural new York University courses entitled Workshop in the Novel, each running across twelve two-hour weekly workshops. stead kept a detailed set of notebooks of over three hundred pages, outlining each weekly session and including activities and workshopping notes.

Stead's notebooks stand out in the history of teaching novel writing for many reasons. she was an experimental, modernist, female, Australian novelist teaching in the states. Her teaching was notably distinctive. Whereas many writers draw upon other novelists for understanding their craft, stead drew heavily upon theorists and writers of theatre, especially Georges polti. As we shall see, this unusual approach illuminates much about her understanding of the novel and its teaching.

In what follows, we shall argue that stead's workshop notebooks give us clear grounds for viewing her as a highly analytical teacher of writing, one who pointedly draws upon key writers or theorists of scriptwriting for the purposes of novel writing. initially, this essay will focus upon the one theorist who dominates the notebooks, Georges polti, a figure largely confined nowadays to those teaching screenwriting. thereafter we shall particularly focus upon stead's actual and distinctive use of polti, bearing in mind that her concerns are those of a practitioner, not a critic. Finally, we shall conclude by examining some of the crucial ways stead (and her perspectives upon polti) is positioned within successively dominant paradigms of mass institutionalized teaching of novel writing.

A little explored element of Christina stead's notebooks documenting her new York Workshop in the Novel is how analytical she was as a teacher of writing: analytical but not formulaic in her approach. nor, consequently, has much attention been given to the analytical tools upon which she constantly drew. these tools are mainly taken from three works focusing upon writing rather than performing for the theatre: one by the earlier American scriptwriting teacher George Baker, another by the Hungarian-born playwright Lajos egri, but, above all, that by the French literary analyst, Georges polti. indeed, polti becomes her dominant focus in sessions seven, eight, ten, and eleven to the point where over one-sixth of the 87,500 words comprising the notebooks is devoted to him.

The work by polti most relevant to stead was Les Trente-six situations dramatiques, initially serialized between March and november 1894, which presents his scheme of thirty-six situations underpinning all dramatic work from Aiskhylos onward. each situation generates an array of possible combinations and variations. indeed, found amongst her archived papers is an abridged undated list of the situations she typed in english under the heading of "the 36 Classic dramatic situations," which begins,

1. to BeG iMpLoRe.

(Indispensable dynamic elements-A. A persecutor. B. A suppliant. C. A power or potentate whose decision is not yet made. …

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