'and then...

  • the different branches of Arithmetic - -- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.' (A Mock Turtle regards his schooldays.) A weblog on books, media and writing by Genevieve Tucker.

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June 01, 2010

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I met with Randolph Stow for a few days in 1999 and corresponded with him for 13 years with a view to writing his biography. One of the striking features of Stow's writing is its engagement with his family's very particular, and our more general, colonial heritage. His abiding interest in and sensitvity too indigenous cultures directly inspired 'To The Islands' and 'Visitants', and is a less central theme in 'The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea' and 'Tourmaline'. This engagement, and his early interest in Taoism, were connected to his renowned capacity to depict landscape, to indeed impart something of land's meaning, and our own. (I will always love the line at the beginning of 'Landscapes': 'A crow cries: and the world unrolls like a blanket'.)

In the 26 years between the publication of 'The Suburbs of Hell' and his death last Saturday, Stow embraced the silence he had earlier only counterfeited. Having had so much early success, the prospect of publication held little appeal for him in later life. Possessing a remarkable ability to compose a whole novel in his head and then to merely transpose it onto the page, he confessed to having mentally written a novel that never made it onto paper. He did, however, for many years write reviews for the TLS and occasionally published poems in literary journals. His intellectual curiosity remained undiminished and he read widely and obscurely, and could often be found reading a book in a cosy corner of one of Harwich’s numerous pubs. Although an intensely private person, Mick (as he was known to his family and friends) laughed at the way he was sometimes portrayed in Australia’s literary pages as a recluse, for he was in daily contact with people in Harwich and welcomed frequent visits from relatives and old Australian friends.

I am heartened by the attention Stow's death has received in the media and hope it helps him posthumously gain the readership his work deserves, particularly among younger people. I think only fitting that I give him the last word, words from a remarkable passage in 'The Girl Green as Elderflower' which offer some counter-balance to the alienation and despair of Cawdor in 'Visitants': 'Truly there is in the world nothing so strange, so fathomless as love. Our home is not here, it is in Heaven; our time is not now, it is eternity; we are here as shipwrecked mariners on an island, moving among strangers, darkly. Why should we love these shadows, which will be gone at the first light? It is because in exile we grieve for one another, it is because we remember the same home, it is because we remember the same father, that there is love in our island.'

You've just made me go and borrow his A Counterfeit Silence.

(I think it's out of print currently.)

Thank you.

Hi Con, I'm sure you will know! so nice to have a librarian check it out for me.
The novels were reissued recently, quite nice covers I think. Clearly time for the poems as well.
I have a funny little signature on my copy's fly - wondering whose it might be? got it secondhand. Might have to have it checked out.

It's good to meet you here Genevieve. I'm new to your blog via Damon Young.

I'm saddened that Stow's life is better honoured after his death. It seems to be the way. Our best writers achieve popularity posthumously. Thanks for this.

Vale.

thanks for posting this genevieve. i did hear about it at the time but because of lots of other things going on did't post about it myself. as one of my medievalist friends commented to me, i never met him but it is sad to know he is no longer there.

Meli, I hope you will publish on Stow soon, let alone post! I learned so much more reading your PhD chapter, and am most grateful to you for showing it to me.
Just loved Roger's quote from GGAE up there - it does speak to the matter best.

Many years ago I wrote a review of Visitants and was happy that it was published in Overland (Melbourne). Just recently I learned from Peter Trist that this great Australian writer has passed on. For those of us from the Milne Bay Province a man like Stow is a treasure in human memory for many years to come. He told the world where we are through his writing and we will never forget that.

I thought Mick (Randolph) would always be alive. An extraordinary man, modest, dry wit and quietly brilliant. When we lived in Putney he would come and have lunch with us and then we would walk along the tow path beside the Thames. Years later he and I would meet for lunch in London. Tourmaline resonates in me especially on a snow laden US winter day. I miss him.

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