Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Girl Green as Elderflower represents a rebirth not only for Clare but also for Stow himself: Along with Visitants (1979), The Girl Green as Elderflower marked Stow’s rebirth as a published writer, after a hiatus of a decade.

The novel, like much of Stow’s fiction, leans heavily on symbolism (Stow is in the tradition of Patrick White in this regard), here to the point of allegory. It also reasserts themes that concerned Stow in earlier fiction: the individual’s search for spiritual identity, for an integration of past and present experience in an effort to achieve wholeness. Such is the struggle of the old man Heriot in To the Islands (1958, revised 1982), of the boy Rob Coram in The Merry-Go-Round by the Sea (1965), and of Rob’s cousin Rick Maplestead who, like Clare, is fighting to heal himself after a traumatic experience (in Rick’s case, the atrocities of World War II). The theme of man exiled from his spiritual self is expressed in Visitants as the confrontation between Western and native South Pacific cultures.

The Girl Green as Elderflower is thus a transitional work, one that reaffirms Stow’s preoccupation with the dichotomies of experience and looks forward to their treatment in another novel set in Suffolk, The Suburbs of Hell (1984).