Although Stead is the author of more than a dozen works of fiction, her reputation rests mainly upon The Man Who Loved Children. A critical and commercial failure at the time of its original publication, the novel was re-issued in 1965, with an introduction by Randall Jarrell. The novel’s “second life,” coinciding with the rising interest in issues involving women and children, brought the book the critical attention that it deserved.
The novel is an important study of American life at a specific time and place, especially interesting for having been created by an author who is not American. While the main stylistic techniques are those of realism and naturalism, the novel also demonstrates a clear awareness of the modernist techniques of such writers as James Joyce and William Faulkner. Yet even with its overt modernism, it remains, for the most part, a rather old-fashioned family saga, in which a particular family faces a rapidly changing and often confusing modern world.
The playfulness with language that enriches much of the narrative demonstrates remarkable facility and creativity, and the vastness of the novel’s scope and its minutely detailed presentation work to draw the reader directly into the fictive world. Thus, Stead’s technique underscores the fundamental realism of her vision.