The Golden Age


Joan London

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The Golden Age Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Joan London's The Golden Age. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Joan London

Born just after World War II in Perth (the same city in which The Golden Age is set), Joan London attended the University of Western Australia, where she studied English and French. Before branching into novels, London wrote several short story collections. Her work has garnered many accolades, including the prestigious Australian Patrick White Award (2015). London currently lives in Fremantle, also located in Western Australia, where she is a bookseller.
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Historical Context of The Golden Age

Poliomyelitis has existed for thousands of years, but during the 19th and early 20th century it became an increasing problem around the world, especially in cities. During and after World War II, epidemics affected more and more people each year—so many that “apart from the atom bomb, America’s greatest fear was polio,” a 2009 PBS documentary notes. Polio was an extremely frightening disease due to its swift onset, the significant probability of death, and the certainty of lifelong disability. Because it is spread through feces, it was also highly stigmatized; people erroneously linked contracting polio to being dirty or poor, although it was usually the result of poor sanitation in urban areas. American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who contracted polio as an adult, had to conceal his paralysis during several campaigns. In 1955, American scientist Jonah Salk developed the first polio vaccine, and massive public vaccination campaigns effectively eradicated one of the great health crises of the last century. However, in societies without access to vaccinations, polio cases continue to occur.

Other Books Related to The Golden Age

Stylistically, London bears some resemblance to Canadian writer Alice Munro. Like The Golden Age, Munro’s short stories—including those in her 2012 collection Dear Life—look back on the postwar era, often featuring many points of view that span long periods of time. Both writers illuminate the hidden drama that lies within seemingly quotidian lives. The Golden Age also shares its setting and some characteristics with the well-known Australian novel Cloudstreet (Tim Winton, 1991), which details the lives of two rural families sharing a house in Perth during and after World War II. Like The Golden Age, Cloudstreet is concerned with the lives of people displaced by contingency, as well as the consequences of living with unfamiliar people in close quarters. Both London and Winton won the Australian Miles Franklin Award for their respective novels.
Key Facts about The Golden Age
  • Full Title: The Golden Age
  • When Written: 2010s
  • Where Written: Australia
  • When Published: 2014
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Realistic fiction
  • Setting: A children’s hospital in Perth, Australia
  • Climax: Ida’s piano recital at the hospital
  • Antagonist: Polio
  • Point of View: Third person limited

Extra Credit for The Golden Age

Real Life. While The Golden Age is entirely fictional, it derives its title from the name of a real polio hospital that existed in Australia during the 1950s.