The Little Hotel
"The Hotel Swiss-Touring is the refuge for a group of cosmopolitan characters who come together in Switzerland after the Second World War. Their object is to conceal themselves from money-hungry governments and hostile master races. But their common purpose doesn't prevent a microcosm of jealousies, spitefulness, vindictiveness and mistrust from developing among the small group, all under the relentless eye of Madame Bonnard.
"With a new introduction by Margaret Harris, Stead's Literary Executer."
"One of Australia's greatest novelists puts together...a crew as sad, funny and prverse as any ever gathered together" - Time Magazine
If you knew what happens in the hotel every day! Not a day passes but something happens. Yesterday afternoon a woman rang me up from Geneva and told me her daughter-in-law died. The woman stayed here twice. We became very friendly; though I always felt there was something she was keeping to herself. I never knew whether she was divorced, widowed or separated. The first time, she talked about her son Gerard. Later, Gerard married. There was something; for she used to telephone from Geneva, crying and saying she had to talk to a friend. I was looking for a friend too. I am always looking for one; for I never had one since I lost my girlhood friend Edith, who married a German exile and after the peace went to live in East Berlin with him. But I can't say I felt really friendly with this woman in Geneva; I didn't know enough about her. My girl friend Edith and I never had any secrets from each other; We lived in neighbouring streets. We would telephone each other as soon as we got up in the morning. On Saturdays we rushed through our household jobs to see each other; we rang up all day long and wrote letters to each other when we were separated by the holidays. Oh, I was so happy in those days. When you grow up and marry, there is a shadow over everything; you can never really be happy again, it seems to me. Besides, with the servants to manage, the menus to type out, the marketing to do, the guests to control and keep in good humour, the accounts, I haven't the time to spend half an hour on the telephone, as I used to. I used to dread this telephone call from Geneva. Still, if a person needs me I must talk to her, mustn't I? You never know. People live year after year in a hotel hke this. We have their police papers, we know their sicknesses and family troubles; people come to confide in you. They tell you things they would not tell their own parents and friends, not even their lawyers and doctors.
From the Richmond paperback edition, 2003.
First Paragraph from the Introduction
When The Little Hotel was first published, Christina Stead was on the point of returning to Australia to live after forty-odd years in England, Europe, and the United States. The novel came out from an Australian publisher, though the Angus and Robertson of 1973 was part of an international empire far removed from the Sydney firm which had declined a volume of Stead's stories in 1925. Stead had not yet published a book when she travelled from Australia to England in 1928. There she met her life's companion William Blake with whom she lived in Paris and Spain and London again before they moved to his native United States in 1937. These peregrinations had mainly to do with Blake's work, or prospects of work, in the finance industry - a curious calling for a committed Marxist who became a prominent political activist in New York in the early years of the Second World War. Stead was publishing all the while, six works in the decade from 1934, when The Salzburg Tales and Seven Poor Men of Sydney appeared, to 1944 and For Love Alone.
Blake and Stead returned to Europe almost immediately the war was over, just as the first of her American trilogy, Letty Fox: Her Luck, came out late in 1946. In Europe they were peripatetic: they tried Antwerp, but Bill's job came to nothing; England, which Stead never liked, was austere; so they fetched up in Switzerland for a couple of years living in small hotels and pensions in Montreux, Basle and Lausanne. This is the world of The Little Hotel, begun in Lausanne in 1950, written mainly in Paris in 1952, where they went in delusory hopes of Stead's getting a job with UNESCO, and carried from Paris to Brussels to The Hague and again to England where they lived from 1953. A section of Mrs Trollope and Madame Blaise, as the work was then known, was published as 'The Hotel-Keeper's Story' in the Australian journal Southerly in 1952. This was a longer version of the Mayor of B. episode: a version of Miss Chillard's story appeared in another Australian journal Meanjin, in 1968.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2003 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Christina Stead page.
Last modified: December 7, 2003.