Letty Fox: Her Luck by Christina Stead (1947) – a review
By Taylor Jasmine | On September 21, 2017 | Updated November 18, 2022 | Comments (0)
The Australian government refuse to import Letty Fox: Her Luck by native Aussie Christina Stead (the talented and complicated author best known for The Man Who Loved Children) after this novel’s 1947 publication. It was declared “salacious” and “obscene,” and was even occasionally banned.
A frank and witty coming of age story set between the Great Depression and World War II, this banned book didn’t meet much favor in the Australian press, either. Here’s one such review, which panned the novel thoroughly.
An original 1947 review of Letty Fox: Her Luck
From the original review of Letty Fox: Her Luck in the Sydney Morning Herald, New South Wales, Australia, March 1947:
Australian Christina Stead, in her eighth book, takes as her chief character Letty Fox, daughter of an actress mother and a charmingly shiftless father, and puts her through the hoops of indignantly self-justified immorality.
The Fox family, to which is allied the family of the Morgans by marriage, is a collection of eccentrics. So is the Morgan family. The two families apparently think of only two or three things: money comes first, then sex, then food, and having a good time.
The scene is contemporary — America, and particularly New York, in the thirties and up to the war period; and if this is a true picture of the society of that country, then we are better off in Australia.
In search of a true and good husband
Allegedly in search of a man who would make her a true and good husband, Letty gradually descends into mink-coat-and-orchard habits.
Her first marriage is foredoomed to disaster, and she knows it; her subsequent affairs (and there are plenty of them!) apparently have the disapproving consent of her ridiculous family; she herself, with her restless, ill-educated intelligence and lack of moral qualities, never seems to know just where she is, or what she wants, except that she always wants something she hasn’t got, and wants it badly.
The book is written in the first person. Here is Letty on love:
“The view of couples in the distance gives you certain ideas about them. But the fact is, that when we come to things like this — love — I might as well have been born blind, for it is not couples in the distance, nor people on the next bench, that bother me; it is the man with me, and what he does to me, and even if he sits too far off. I have no interest in him … I must touch reality, and there is no reality until I touch.”
A mercenary heroine
Letty is boisterously frank about her doings in this line. She makes no secret of her passionate interest in money and her monetary interest in passion.
Money is the first and persistent theme of the story; the money her two grandmothers might leave when they die, the money she can borrow while they live, the money she can wheedle out of her spendthrift father, long since separated from her mother and living with a seductive girl called Persia, who makes him happier than his whining wife, and is more popular than their mother with the two sisters, Letty and Jacky.
A critique of the author
Christina Stead is not a very good writer. She has told this tale (517 pages of close type) with about twice as many words as any competent romantic novelist would use; she has, as usual, indulged in vast orgies of written conversation (about money or sex or their material fruits) and the whole is set down in the same babbling style of writing that spoiled her recent For Love Alone and other works.
She affects an air of objectivity (in the voice of Letty) which in fact is not there. One feels that she has said to herself, “I’ll write a rude book, and make it hot.”
She has succeeded in writing a rude book — but “rude” in the sense of “crude.” And in spite of what is sometimes unhappily called “a wealth of detail,” it is not “hot” — by any means. Its general effect is that of a weighty damper on the fire of any intelligent reader’s consciousness.
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