Magazine article The Spectator

Russian Dolls, Each with a Secret

Magazine article The Spectator

Russian Dolls, Each with a Secret

Article excerpt

THE SECRET HISTORY OF MODERNISM: A NOVEL by C. IL Stead

Harvill, L14.99, pp. 230, ISBN 1860469310

The main character of C. K. Stead's sophisticated and entertaining new novel is Laszlo Winter, a writer from New Zealand with `narrative habits tending to the structural character of a Russian doll'. If this sounds like Stead himself, so does Laszlo's comment that his books have been about `the 50 years of human history I had lived through with an adult consciousness, and how the earlier 50, which I knew by reading and report, bore upon them'. Dispirited by the sense that age and geography have rendered him marginal, he is suffering from writer's block. Then he is visited by someone who reminds him of Sammy Conlan, an Australian girl he knew when he was a postgraduate student in London in the late Fifties, and a book starts to form.

Now the Russian dolls start to unpack. Sammy has come to London to be with her married lover, Freddy Goldstein (she came first, instead of pursuing him, so that she would not feel like the character in Christina Stead's For Love Alone). Goldstein is a New Zealander whose parents left Germany just before the Nazis closed in on them. While in London, Sammy is writing a book provisionally entitled The Secret History of Modernism. Enter T. S. Eliot, with particular reference to his late second marriage which Rajiv - another student-- finds distressing because it demonstrates a spiritual deficiency (he switches his allegiance to Yeats). Then Katherine Mansfield goes for a walk with Eliot; Christina Stead is taken some books for review and makes excuses for tanks rolling into Budapest ... And if this begins to seem complicated, it gets more so. Laszlo has an affair with a 'robust' call girl to whom he gives informal tutorials on Shakespeare's sonnets, then with an Oxford undergraduate who has an incestuous relationship with her brother. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.