Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

As he creeps toward St. Mary’s Hospital to die, Vaneleigh responds to a remembered question by Queely, “Ain’t you wretched?” in these words:I creep away from this age of vulgarity, from the festering whispers, the smiling deliberate cruelty. I creep away from those with their veins filled with mud, those with the microscopic vision of the fly for filth, those crowding and squeezing and riding upon each other’s backs, those cutting each other to pieces with squeamish bigotry.

Then, in briefer form, he adds, “Does the farmer love the unseen wind that overturns his barns, devastates his granaries?. .. I creep away. I am nothing.” This is clearly the crucial passage in a consideration of meaning, and it approximates the biblical account, in Ecclesiastes, of the preacher’s conclusion that all is vanity.

Some critics, however, have seen The Tilted Cross in somewhat different terms. Adrian Mitchell relates the story to the myth of Orpheus and the underworld, with Australia (Down Under) presenting the reverse of European morality and values. Anna Rutherford has argued that Queely can be considered a Christ figure rather than an Apollo. Others suggest that the novel is a monstrous parody of Christian myth and morality. Most of these critics attach special significance to the title, suggesting that it refers to Christ’s sacrifice (a positive symbol) or to man’s punishments (a negative symbol). The crown-and-cross emblem,...

(The entire section is 575 words.)