Distorted Projections: Spatial Imaginaries and Desired Trajectories in Christina Stead’s For Love Alone

“In the part of the world Teresa came from, winter is in July, spring brides marry in September, and Christmas is consummated with roast beef, suckling pig, and brandy-laced plum pudding at 100 degrees in the shade, near the tall pine-tree loaded with gifts and tinsel as in the old country, and old carols have rung out all through the night.”


From its opening lines, Christina Stead’s 1945 novel For Love Alone establishes a sense of being “out of place”, signalling to readers that the geography into which they are about to be immersed is distorted and unstable. As the narrative unfolds, the coming of age of the protagonist Teresa is marked by her longing to escape from parochial, provincial Sydney to the great metropolis of culture, London. But this is a trajectory whose fulfilment proves very different to its imagined anticipation, and it serves as a fictional rendition of the spatial and cultural displacement felt by many Australian writers of the twentieth century caught between the cultural authority of English publishers and literary standards, and the imperative to contribute to the project of building a national literature that could emerge out of the shadow of its European and English progenitors.

In this paper, I take the idea of distorted projection, and use it to think about the spatial imaginaries at work in Stead’s text, which GIS software makes it possible to grasp in visual form, rather than being restricted to a linear format through the progression of a narrative. I consider both the value and limitations of the process of automated geoparsing (using the Edinburgh Geoparser), and suggest additional coding categories to better account for the different ways that place is invoked, and the effects of these spatial references. Miriam Posner has recently charged the digital humanities with using technologies that commonly “enshrin[e] Western European, Cartesian models of space” (http://miriamposner.com/blog/money-and-time/). Rising to her challenge that postcolonially-inflected digital humanities work should interrogate rather than reinforce the hegemony of projections that reinforce a view of the world from a dominant perspective, I use GIS tools to grasp Teresa’s relationship to the physical geography of Sydney and the spatial imaginary of London, and thereby to make a case that GIS mapping can help to show how the text is carrying out an analogical act of distorted projection.