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Christina Stead: The Man Who Loved Children

This book was neglected for a long period, till it was rediscovered in the 1980s. It is easy to see why it was neglected as it is a very dark and gloomy book about a dysfunctional family. Set in Washington, DC, it is the story of Henrietta (Henny), a woman from a well-to-do family who marries a Government biologist, Sam Pollit. Instead of the marriage turning out to be a young girl’s dream, it turns out to be totally miserable. Pollit is not a bad man, he is just totally impractical, scarcely able to manage his own life, yet alone a life with his wife and five children. He is a dreamer and comes over as somewhat of a clown but has a good relationship with his children (Henny sneers the title at him, as that is all he seems to be able to do). Henny, on the other hand, does not have a particular good relationship with her children and is unable to cope with running a family of six, where the biggest baby is usually her husband. One might expect the author to sympathize with the unfortunate wife but she does not. Henny is painted in a bad light as her hatred for Sam grows. If there is a redeeming character, it is Louisa (Louie), Sam’s daughter from a previous marriage, who is initially devoted to her father but comes to see him as the tyrannical buffoon that he is. This book is not fun reading but as harrowing tale of a family in disintegration, it is a first-rate novel.

Publishing history

First published 1940 by Simon and Schuster