Although The New Yorker (March 9, 1935) found Seven Poor Men of Sydney “disappointing,” Australia’s Bulletin (November 28, 1934) focused on Stead’s evident skill: “Seven Poor Men is a remarkable book if only for its virtuosity.” To readers of the 1930’s, who were growing in their awareness of the influence of modernism in fiction, Stead’s first novel may have been puzzling, but to later generations it does not seem difficult. Seven Poor Men of Sydney contains the poetic style, use of monologue to define character, and picaresque structure that were to become hallmarks of her fiction.
The novel has no plot in the conventional sense, although a thematic pattern emerges from the developing personal and social relationships among family members and friends. The major characters in the novel are Michael Baguenault, an alienated war veteran; his sister, Catherine, an idealistic political activist; their cousin, Joseph, a poor printer of devout Catholic faith; and Baruch Mendelsson, a young Jewish intellectual who works with Joseph. The first two chapters are occupied with Michael, intense and introspective, who rejects his family (except for Catherine), his church, and his school. He falls in love, is rejected, enlists in World War I, and returns to Australia suffering from nervous disorders. He takes up with several young socialists with whom Catherine works in the movement.
(The entire section is 469 words.)