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Stone, Louis (1871–1935)

by Brian Kiernan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Louis Stone (1871-1935), by May Moore, 1927

Louis Stone (1871-1935), by May Moore, 1927

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an3085117

Louis Stone (1871-1935), novelist and playwright, was born on 21 October 1871 at Leicester, England, and baptized William Lewis, son of William Stone, basketmaker, and his wife Emma, née Tewkes. William senior had served as a Royal Navy marine in the Middle and Far East and, on retiring, migrated with his family to Brisbane in 1884. Next year the Stones moved to the Sydney suburb of Redfern and soon after to nearby Waterloo.

Louis began training in 1888 as a pupil-teacher with the Department of Public Instruction and in 1889 was appointed to Waterloo; in providing his particulars he described himself as an agnostic. In 1893 he won a half-scholarship to Fort Street Training School and matriculated at the University of Sydney where he studied arts until 1895. Qualifying as a primary schoolteacher that year, Stone had temporary appointments in inner city suburbs before a regular posting to Cootamundra in 1900. Transferred next year to South Wagga Wagga, he met (Field Marshal Sir) Thomas Blamey, a pupil-teacher who was influenced by Stone's interest in literature and music.

In 1904 Stone was moved back to Sydney where he remained, mainly at Coogee, between 1913 and 1930; his teaching career was increasingly interrupted by bouts of illness attributed to nervous disorders. He married Abigail Allen, a teacher and an accomplished pianist, probably in 1908. About this time he began writing Jonah (London, 1911), a novel based on his memories and on painstaking observation of life at Waterloo. It contrasts the lives of two larrikins—Joe Jones, known as 'Jonah', and his friend 'Chook'—as they graduate from their 'push', marry and make their ways in the world: whereas 'Jonah' becomes a capitalist, but suffers disappointment in his marriage and a love affair, 'Chook' settles into proletarian domestic contentment. While the novel has its share of contrivance and sentimentality, its evocation of Sydney working-class life and of the city itself were to win Stone the reputation of being one of the first Australian writers to present urban existence both realistically and imaginatively.

Apart from an enthusiastic review by Alfred George Stephens, Jonah passed unnoticed, although Norman Lindsay was impressed by the novel and he and his wife befriended the Stones. Lindsay described Lou as having a withdrawn and obsessive personality and as one who, towards the end of his life, became incapable of communicating with former associates. In Bohemians of the Bulletin (1965) Lindsay depicted him as a tallish, but slight, melancholy figure with 'heavy-lidded, haunted eyes', a mane of dark hair and a drooping moustache.

In 1912 Stone published an essay, 'On being fat' in Stephens' Bookfellow. Stone's second novel, Betty Wayside (London, 1915), a melodramatic study of a musically talented young woman, was set mainly in the Sydney suburbs of Paddington and Woollahra. Rejected by his first English publisher, the manuscript was accepted by another on the condition that Stone delete a scene of low life. The uncut version had been serialized in the Lone Hand from July 1913 to August 1914.

During World War I two of Stone's short stories appeared in collections for the troops which were edited by Lindsay and by Ethel Turner and Bertram Stevens. By this time Stone's interest had turned to drama. From 1914 he worked on a three-act comedy, The Lap of the Gods, which, with other scripts, he took to England in 1920: he claimed that John Galsworthy and others praised them. After Stone returned to Sydney The Lap of the Gods was placed second in a competition run by the Daily Telegraph in 1923; published in that paper, it was produced, unsuccessfully, by Gregan McMahon in 1928. Of some six other plays that Stone wrote, only the brief one-act The Watch that Wouldn't Go was published, in Triad (November 1926).

Ill health forced Stone to take early retirement in 1931, but he enjoyed belated recognition in the last years of his life: in 1933 Jonah was republished by Percy Stephensen and was also published as Larrikin in the United States of America. Suffering from inanition and arteriosclerosis, Stone died on 23 September 1935 and was buried in the Methodist section of Randwick cemetery. Jonah was adapted for an Australian Broadcasting Commission television series in 1982 and provided the basis for a musical, Jonah Jones, performed by the Sydney Theatre Company in 1985.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Lindsay, Bohemians of the Bulletin (Syd, 1965)
  • R. Lindsay, Model Wife (Syd, 1967)
  • H. J. Oliver, Louis Stone (Melb, 1968)
  • Biblionews, 4, no 14, Dec 1951, p 44
  • Australian Literary Studies, 2, no 1, June 1965, p 15
  • Bulletin, 4 Jan 1912
  • teachers' records, Department of Education (New South Wales) archives, Sydney
  • Lindsay family papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Brian Kiernan, 'Stone, Louis (1871–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stone-louis-8677/text15177, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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