Randolph Stow Essay - Critical Essays

Stow, (Julian) Randolph


(Julian) Randolph Stow 1935–

Australian novelist and poet.

Stow is known for his masterful use of language and his evocative descriptions of the countryside. His poetry and fiction are similar in their Australian settings and their concern with childhood, love, death, the beauty and cruelty of nature, and the individual's alienation from society.

Stow deviates from strict naturalism which depends for its verisimilitude on observable evidence; rather he relies on symbols and mystical events to advance his story. However, some critics find a lack of cohesion between the realistic and symbolic levels of his work and consider Stow's characters somewhat undeveloped. But it is generally believed that his lyrical prose and thorough knowledge of his subject matter outweigh these flaws.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)

Jesse Rehder

When "The Haunted Land" opens, nobody lives at Malin. The house is shabby in its decay, the oleander flowers drift on the wide stretches of what was once a lawn. Under the red cliff of Malin pool, the violence that drove a father to try to frame his children into five shadows of his dead wife has faded….

The farm [in Western Australia] where drenching rains give way to glaring blue sky is presented in the language of a young Thomas Hardy. The reader breathes the winds…. The haunted landscape that surrounds Malin is described in language that intensifies the plight of its peoples. (p. 26)

The situations in this first book by a talented young writer from Down Under are staples of...

(The entire section is 201 words.)

Maurice Richardson

The prevailing Australian mystique seems to be based on geographical space and the aboriginals. It draws talented Australian novelists away from the farms, and the temperate zones where the well-adapted giant sub-tropical cockneys disport themselves in surf-beached suburbs, towards the arid north-western interior where everything is, biologically speaking, older than anywhere else on the globe. Mr Stow, a most sensitive writer, is alert to these influences. To convey them in To the Islands he uses a most successful blend of narrative and allegory, telling parts of his story at different levels but without any symbolic confusion so that you are never in any doubt whether things are happening in the mind or in...

(The entire section is 234 words.)

Granville Hicks

["To the Islands"] is a simple story that rises close to greatness because its possibilities are so perfectly realized that it becomes a kind of epic of old age and death. The struggle within Heriot between the will to live and the wish to die is rendered with the most agonizing concreteness. The journey is both an arduous passage towards death and a pilgrimage from hate to love.

Stow's perceptions are deep and true, and he has miraculously found the way to communicate what he understands. His style, never merely pretty and never lush, is truly poetic and perfectly suited to his theme. "Universal" is a large word, but if it can ever be used, it can be applied to "To the Islands."…


(The entire section is 147 words.)

John Bowen

Randolph Stow, one of the most serious and admired of the younger Australian writers …, has himself supplied an epigraph for my review of his novel…. One of his characters is attempting to instruct an Italian gardener from a phrasebook. "When the sun is shining, do not make water on the flowers," she says, "for they will die."

Well, "The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea" is all flowers, all bright images, small blossoms of descriptive writing and of incident. It is like notes for a novel, or perhaps an autobiography. All that is missing is characters and a plot….

It is true that there are people with names who speak dialogue and are caught up in events. It is true that there is a...

(The entire section is 318 words.)

Anthony J. Hassall

The semi-autobiographical narration, employed for the first time in [The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea], enabled Stow to unify and to harmonize the diverse elements which conflicted with one another in his earlier works. In A Haunted Land and The Bystander there is the uneasy spectacle of Jacobean melodrama somewhat improbably enacted against a marvellously vivid background of West Australian landscape. To the Islands and Tourmaline are altogether more impressive novels, but in both there is at least a partial failure to unite the naturalistic and symbolic levels on which the stories operate. The semiautobiographical method is able to resolve these conflicts in The Merry-Go-Round in...

(The entire section is 1089 words.)

Ray Willbanks

[Tourmaline] is Stow's most intriguing novel. It exhibits a greater imaginative power than his other books, and although not without some stylistic flaws, it shows Stow to be a writer in greater control of his material than he showed himself to be in To the Islands. As in To the Islands, in Tourmaline Stow is expanding his story by means of symbol and myth, but in Tourmaline the blending of the realistic and the mythic is more successful than in the former novel. In terms of language, Stow achieves a greater consistency than in the previous novels. Gone are the frequent quotations and literary allusions, and although there are a few instances of shifts into elevated diction, because...

(The entire section is 3356 words.)

Frank Tuohy

Visitants is short, lyrical and at the same time deeply meditated, written in transparent prose by a poet who never poeticizes but knows all the resources of language … [It is] clear that Visitants is the product both of specialized knowledge and of deeply felt personal experience….

A relatively simple plot is embedded in an elaborately wrought narration. The story purports to be told by the five witnesses to the inquiry into the death of Alistair Cawdor…. With great technical skill, the point of view shifts between three Papuans and two Australians, the transitions which are the major potential difficulty in such treatment being managed without apparent effort. Randolph Stow has...

(The entire section is 492 words.)

Valentine Cunningham

Weirdly tensed between being a kind of earnest variant on Kingsley Amis's The Green Man and a Hammer Film version of that novel too cheerful by half over its fetchingly plasticated foliage and stage-managed bumps in the darkened churchyardset, The Girl Green as Elderflower makes a strikingly odd brew. In it an old-seeming youth called Crispin Clare is to be found recovering from a never-specified but direly hintful collapse in some vaguely tropical corner of our former colonial holdings…. Allegedly, he is helping himself therapeutically along by weaving his chums and relations into versions of medieval Suffolk legends which he is writing out in the run-down but distantly ancestral Suffolk cot he is...

(The entire section is 540 words.)

Peter Canby

Randolph Stow does more than evoke the beauty of the English countryside in The Girl Green as Elderflower.

Clare is haunted by both his past insanity and by the spirits of the place. Simple events like the visit of friends and the sight of unknown people send him on anguished excursions into the magical world of ancient Suffolk. Characters in Clare's present are reincarnations of the mythical folk of ancient Britain…. As the book progresses, the distinction between past and present becomes increasingly blurred. Clare slowly comes to grips with these spirits and reestablishes the boundaries of what is real in his return to sanity.

This novel is a turbulent and sometimes...

(The entire section is 168 words.)

S. A. Ramsey

A single reading of Visitants … is sufficient to ensure that there has been no weakening of Stow's creative talent; neither has there been any significant departure from his basic preoccupation with the essential misery of the human condition. We have only to look at the title of this new novel to see that the author is as concerned with the plight of the sensitive outsider as he was more than twenty years ago when he wrote his first two published novels. (p. 73)

Visitants marks a refreshing departure from the technique of some of the earlier novels where one was all too often aware of being dictated at, of being bombarded with statements of offensively glaring significance…. The...

(The entire section is 627 words.)