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(Julian) Randolph Stow Biography

Nationality: Australian. Born: Geraldton, Western Australia, 1935. Education: Geraldton Primary School, 1941-47; Geraldton High School, 1948-49; Guildford Church of England Grammar School, Perth, 1950-52; St. George's College, University of Western Australia, Perth, 1953-56, B.A. in French and English 1956, further study, 1961; University of Sydney, 1958. Career: Storeman at an Anglican mission, Wyndham, Western Australia, 1957; tutor in English, University of Adelaide, 1957; anthropological assistant, Papua New Guinea, 1959; lecturer in English, University of Leeds, Yorkshire, 1961-62, and University of Western Australia, 1963-64; Harkness Fellow, U.S.A., 1964-66; lived in New Mexico, Maine and Alaska and studied Indonesian language, Yale University; returned to England, 1966; lecturer in English and Fellow in commonwealth Literature, University of Leeds, 1968-69; lived in East Bergholt, Suffolk, 1969-81, and Harwich, Essex, from 1981. Awards: Australian Literature Society gold medal, 1957, 1958; Miles Franklin award, 1959; Harkness traveling fellowship, 1964-66; Britannica—Australia award, 1966; Grace Leven prize, 1969; Commonwealth Literary Fund grant, 1974; Patrick White award, 1979. Agent: Richard Scott Simon, Anthony Sheil Associates, 43 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LF, England.



A Haunted Land. London, Macdonald, 1956; New York, Macmillan, 1957.

The Bystander. London, Macdonald, 1957.

To the Islands. London, Macdonald, 1958; Boston, Little Brown, 1959; revised edition, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1981; London, Secker and Warburg, and New York, Taplinger, 1982.

Tourmaline. London, Macdonald, 1963; New York, Taplinger, 1983.

The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea. London, Macdonald, 1965; NewYork, Morrow, 1966.

Visitants. London, Secker and Warburg, 1979; New York, Taplinger, 1981.

The Girl Green as Elderflower. London, Secker and Warburg, andNew York, Viking Press, 1980.

The Suburbs of Hell. London, Secker and Warburg, and New York, Taplinger, 1984.

Plays (opera librettos, music by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies)

Eight Songs for a Mad King (produced London, 1969). London, Boosey and Hawkes, 1971.

Miss Donnithorne's Maggot (produced Adelaide, 1974). London, Boosey and Hawkes, 1977.


Act One. London, Macdonald, 1957.

Outrider: Poems 1956-1962. London, Macdonald, 1962.

A Counterfeit Silence: Selected Poems. Sydney and London, Angus and Robertson, 1969.

Poetry from Australia: Pergamon Poets 6, with Judith Wright andWilliam Hart-Smith, edited by Howard Sergeant. Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1969.

Recording: Poets on Record 11, University of Queensland, 1974.


Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy (for children). Melbourne, Cheshire, and London, Macdonald, 1967; Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1968.

Visitants, Episodes from Other Novels, Poems, Stories, Interviews, and Essays, edited by Anthony J. Hassall. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1990.

Blood, Sea and Ice: Three English Explorers. Greenwich, NationalMaritime Museum, 1996.

Editor, Australian Poetry 1964. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1964.



Randolph Stow: A Bibliography by P.A. O'Brien, Adelaide, Libraries Board of South Australia, 1968; "A Randolph Stow Bibliography" by Rose Marie Beston, in Literary Half-Yearly (Mysore), July 1975.

Manuscript Collection:

National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Critical Studies:

"Raw Material" by Stow, in Westerly (Nedlands, Western Australia), 1961; "The Quest for Permanence" by Geoffrey Dutton, in Journal of Commonwealth Literature (Leeds, Yorkshire), September 1965; "Outsider Looking Out" by W.H. New, in Critique (Minneapolis), vol. 9, no. 1, 1967; "Waste Places, Dry Souls" by Jennifer Wightman, in Meanjin (Melbourne), June 1969; "Voyager from Eden" by Brandon Conron, in Ariel (Canada) (Calgary, Alberta), October 1970; The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea by Edriss Noall, Sydney, Scoutline, 1971; "The Family Background and Literary Career of Randolph Stow" by John B. Beston, in Literary Half-Yearly (Mysore), July 1975; Randolph Stow by Ray Willbanks, Boston, Twayne, 1978; "Randolph Stow's Visitants, " in Australian Literary Studies (Brisbane), October 1980, and Strange Country: A Study of Randolph Stow, St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1986, both by Anthony J. Hassall.

* * *

The contrast between The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea, with its local "realism," and Tourmaline, which makes a symbolic landscape out of Randolph Stow's native land, indicates the initial range of his fiction. The Merry-Go-Round by no means eschews symbolic patterns, but it emerges more directly from Australian national sensibilities. Stow's novel links the isolating impact that World War II had on the country with the older traditions of convict settlement and South Pacific paradise. (Stow is careful to debunk the easy myths which see convict and bushranger mateyness as the sole generative character trait throughout Australia; his comic children's book Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy, about the triumphant adventures of a native bushranger and his gang—a cockatoo and a cat—delightfully overturns assorted local archetypes. Yet with linguistic playfulness it celebrates the spirit of the country as well, which serves as a reminder of the ambivalent blend of prison and paradise which has always provoked the Australian imagination.) For Rick Maplestead, in The Merry-Go-Round, imprisoned in Changi and then freed only to discover his bonds to history, family, mates, and mediocrity, there is no escape but flight. But as he and his young cousin Rob Coram (whose offshore vision gives the book its title) know, glimpses of paradise are illusory and attempts to inhabit them fraught with disappointment.

By focusing ultimately on the quests of the mind, the book recapitulates many of Stow's earlier themes. His first books, full of mad characters and melodramatic incidents, are the Gothic attempts of a young novelist to record his knowledge of power and passion, of the relation between man and landscape and the impact of belief on action. Not till these sensibilities were controlled by Stow's anthropological and historical commitments did they exert a powerful literary effect. To the Islands reduced the reliance on incident and traced instead the wanderings of a man through the desert of his belief, in search of the afterworld islands of aboriginal dream order. His soul, he discovers, "is a strange country"—which seems at first to be no advance on what he began by knowing. Increasingly, however, that very state of suspended apprehension becomes the world that Stow tries to explore. Tourmaline, about a wasteland of that name, which welcomes a stranger as a water-diviner (who begins to clothe himself in such a role), only to be desolated and turn to another authority when he fails, provides an even more archetypal canvas. Consciously symbolic and heavily mannered in style, the book tries to evoke the world of symbol, the fleeting perceptions that symbols try to convey, rather than the realities of everyday event. The reiteration on the part of the Law, the narrator, that to describe a heritage as "bitter" is "not to condemn it," urges readers also to consider what it is that he does not say, what it is that he cannot say.

Tarot, Tao, and Jungian commentary become means to fathom the deep intuitive communications of silence, but wordless understandings present problems for a writer to communicate. Later novels pursue the imaginative reaches of the reflective mind. Visitants explores Melanesian tribal life and traces its impact on Australians of different sensibilities; the novel is cast as a series of depositions at a legal inquiry, which prove unable entirely to explain the cultural other-worldliness. The Girl Green as Elderflower turns imaginative threat—the pressures of tropical disease and a foreign tongue upon a sensitive young man—into imaginative renewal; the young man, in Suffolk, reconciles himself with his heritage and his experience, and in a series of fables he writes out his recognition of the ways in which the unusual has always permeated the everyday. To admit to such flights of mind, he discovers, is to admit to a kind of health and a kind of love, and to win a "paradise" of a different, more fluid, perhaps freer, certainly more comic nature.

But in The Suburbs of Hell Stow's vision is once again more problematic. The novel tells of a series of murders among both insiders and outsiders in an isolated East Anglia village. Who is the culprit? Adapting the forms of popular fiction, the narrative contrives to suggest a number of possibilities—but settles on none. The novelist here is interested more in the nature of motive and interpretive response than he is in simply bringing a story to a conclusion. He probes what the pressure of fear and uncertainty does to an apparently stable society—an interest not without its sociological import. But he fastens particularly on the power of narrative, and on the sometimes insidious capacity that the impulse to create narrative has on the way people (readers included) encode and therefore enclose all human behavior around them.

—W.H. New

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