A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand (1874) was the second novel written by Charlotte Evans. The novel has the same sub-title as Evans’ first novel Over the Hills and Far Away: A Story of New Zealand (1874), indicating that the stories are intended to evoke a story of Empire romance set in a distant and exotic place. A Strange Friendship was written at the suggestion of Evans’ publisher Sampson Low, Marston, Low & Searle following after the firm’s acceptance of Evans’ earlier story Over the Hills and Far Away. The novel A Strange Friendship also differed from its precursor by being jointly published by a New Zealand firm in Dunedin, Reith Wilkie. The novel is somewhat shorter in length than Over the Hills having twenty-six chapters. Evans’ storyline revolves around two principal narrators, ‘Dolly’ (Dorothea Somerset) and ‘Alan’ (‘Alan Ainsleigh’ alias ‘Alan Carewe’). The plot concerns the mutual progress of the Somerset and Ainsleigh families in New Zealand who are neighbours living in the same district. Unbeknown to the Somersets, the Ainsleighs (Alan and his sister Madelaine) exist in a state of subterfuge, adopting a mode of living in lesser surroundings due to the need for secrecy.
Evans’ family the Lees came originally from Clarkesfield in the north of England that was situated in the district of Oldham and recognised during the nineteenth-century for its cotton industry. Following a decline in cotton in the 1860’s, the family moved further south to live in the vicinity of Richmond in southern England (ATL-MS-5135-03). There Evans spent her girlhood holidays, staying among friends and relations, becoming familiar with some of the better known landmarks of Devon and Sussex such as Plymouth and Dawlish Bay, both of which are mentioned in her novel Over the Hills and Far Away. In 1864 Charlotte’s parents decided to emigrate to New Zealand as their elder sons, Joseph and James, had already travelled ahead of them to settle in South Otago. The remainder of the Lees family consisting of James Snr., Sophia and their younger daughter Charlotte, finally left England in 1864 sailing aboard the passenger ship Chile. They arrived several months later in November at Port Chalmers, situated in the southern region of Otago. The Lees brought out capital to invest, which they succeeded in doing in an area outside Oamaru then known as ‘Teaneraki’ (later ‘Enfield’) (Skillbeck 58). It was in that same vicinity that Charlotte met her future husband Eyre Evans, a young man from Trinity College, Dublin, who several years later accompanied his brother out to New Zealand. The couple were married at Teaneraki on 14 April, 1868. The wedding notice recorded that a Reverend Algeron Gifford officiated at the ceremony, with Eyre mentioned as the ‘eldest son of Captain George Evans and grandson of the late Eyre Evans, Esq of Ash Hill Towers County Limerick’ and Charlotte ‘the youngest daughter of James Lees Esq Teaneraki’ (ATL-MS-5135-09).
Evans is among the earliest of New Zealand’s romantic novelists with a significant though largely unrecognised position as an early literary contributor to New Zealand’s nationhood in providing escapist entertainment for a mainly overseas readership (ATL-MS-13-19-1). Her two published novels Over the Hills and Far Away: A Story of New Zealand (1874) and A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand (1874) were modelled upon the ‘sensation’ novel, a ‘new’ form of melodramatic romance then becoming popularised during the 1860’s by the British journalist and author Wilkie Collins with its own set of conventions (Jones 125). In addition to the novel form, Evans produced a miscellany of writing that included poems and a collection of short stories. A selection of her poetry was published posthumously as Poetic Gems of Sacred Thought (1917). The short stories, as three short novellas were published as Only a Woman’s Hair (1903)1. All set in New Zealand these stories were like the other romances and all written in a style both ‘highly contrived and melodramatic’ (Moffatt 19). Evans’ also belongs to the genre of popular ‘romance’; a version of which can be found in the recent Mills and Boon novel. The Mills and Boon romance, noted for its predictability and plot repetition with ‘happy endings’, is somewhat modified in Evans’ writing through the influence of the sensation novel with which A Strange Friendship and Over the Hills and Far Away are associated.
The publisher of Evans’ novels was the London firm Sampson Low, Marston, Low & Searle. Originally a bookselling and stationery business, the firm was founded in 1819 by a Mr Sampson Low, the son of a printer and publisher. Sampson Low's premises incorporated a circulating library and attracted a strong middle-class readership constituency. Patrons at the Sampson Low ‘reading room’ included professional as well as literary men, all of whom contributed to and supported what would become one of the nineteenth-century’s more prolific publishers of fiction and non-fiction (Feather 12). By 1874, the year of publication for Evans’ novel publications, Sampson Low had moved his firm’s premises to Fleet Street and formed a partnership with Mr Edward Marston. The breadth and scope of Sampson Low’s influence was reflected in a range of New Zealand ‘pioneer period’ publications that were contemporary with Evans and featured fictionalised adventure narratives, along with non-fictional accounts of early New Zealand exploration. In her publishing relationship with the Sampson Low firm Evans incorporated both an international and local dimension. As a New Zealand novelist, contemporary within the wider arena of transnational publishing, she inhabited the same field as American novelists Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe (whose depictions of American society parallel to some extent Evans’ less detailed versions of the New Zealand colonists’ milieu). Sampson Low was also more famously the publisher of Evans’ fellow sensation writer Wilkie Collins and his acclaimed novel The Woman in White (1861).
‘Pioneer Period’ Writer – 1861-18892
The decade of the 1860’s categorised by Lawrence Jones as the ‘Pioneer Period’ (Jones 120) places Evans among the very first New Zealand-based novelists to write locally, yet achieve international publication status. This formative period in New Zealand literature, though oriented toward the ‘imperial centre’, is considered nonetheless to have been ‘vigorous, broadly based and central to the culture of the growing nation’3 both in its occasional reference to the rigors of colonial frontier society and in the case of Evans, as a romance novel that could provide an antedote to the ‘dangerous unpleasantness of realism’4 (Stafford and Williams Introduction: A Land Mild and Bold). As an early New Zealand author working both physically and imaginatively within an evolving national landscape, Evans’ novelistic outlook sought wherever possible to incorporate at least some of the indigenising features pertinent to a ‘Story of New Zealand’. Evans addressed the difficulties experienced in confronting the changing New Zealand colony as a literary subject mentioning in her ‘Preface’ (in which she refers to her English novelist contemporary, Charlotte Bronte) that [colony’s] ‘pattern gradually changes’5 (OHFA ‘Preface’). Though conforming to an ‘inherited genre’ of literary style that was aimed essentially at an established Empire audience Evans formed, in both her novels and collection of stories, at least some reliance upon an ‘ad hoc’ use of New Zealand material termed ‘exploitative conventionalism’6 (Jones 122). This often took the form of a narrative ‘punctuation’ or periodic insertion of the ‘exotic’, as, for example, in the giving of a Maori name to the Cunningham’s station home of ‘Maungarewa’ - or casual mention of food with a name as ‘strange’ as ‘pokekhas’ (OHFA 213 ). As a result, the overall landscape in Evans’ use of the exotic began to assert a sense of ‘place’ that was yet strange, which haunted the background of a novel that was also a ‘story of New Zealand’ (See title).
A Strange Friendship reflects the sensation novel’s contemporary concern with social change and the rise and development of the novel form. This was particularly true of the ‘mid-Victorian sensation novel’ (David 193). A Strange Friendship has similar sensation plot features as found in Over the Hills and Far Away involving a breaking with social convention and being reflective of ‘cultural anxieties’ synonymous with the Victorian era7. (Pykett 196). The novel relates also to the sensation novels of Wilkie Collins (Pykett 193). While Collins’ contemporary, the novelist Charles Dickens explored some of the inequalities inherent in Victorian society, Collins’ text identifies with shifting social boundaries, false identity and criminality8. (Jones 120). In A Strange Friendship Evans related in the romantic themes of desire and choice of marriage partner to a middle-class desire for material and social prosperity. However, in her exposure of one of the novel’s central characters, Violet Somerset, Evans also allowed for the idea of a female sexuality that was both out of control and simultaneously transposed into the colonial context. The marriage plot then concurs with the destabilising effect of female subversiveness (in the form of Violet’s elopement) which in turn becomes a threat to the economic order of a prosperous colony.
Like George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Evans’ A Strange Friendship is a study of middle-class provincial life, this time set in the colonies. As colonists the characters in Evans’ novel are primarily concerned with re-establishing themselves, both socially and materially, along familiar lines to that which they have recently left behind in the counties of England’s Sussex. However it soon becomes evident that emigration to the colonies has its risqué element; in the uncertain tides of fortune which could assail the new settlers and the new families or neighbours encountered in the colony with secretive pasts. In A Strange Friendship this occurs in the Somerset’s negotiation of neighbourliness with the Ainsleighs, whose suitability as family acquaintances undergoes several reviews, in particular by Violet Somerset’s elder sister Dolly. Thus the uncertainties of relationship in Evans’ escapist version of colonial emigration could be said to share certain characteristics in common with Eliot’s novel of English provincialism, as both novel plots reflect the shifting social boundaries of British industrialisation and the Empire period.
Evans’ exploitation of plot in the sensation genre emphasises certain features mentioned by Lawrence Jones in the Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English, for example, the crimes and secret past separating hero and heroine, and an emphasis on the ‘unravelling of a mystery’ and use of false identity (Jones 125). The narrative techniques used by Wilkie Collins also feature a preoccupation with mistaken or ‘false identity’ involving detective work9, (Jones 125), all of which relate to the plot in A Strange Friendship. Foremost in the underlying plot of A Strange Friendship is the marriage contract and the hope of an eventual marriage for Harry’s two sisters each living in a colonial social milieu of bachelors. This was a situation not inconsistent with the landed provincial gentry back in England, but complicated further in A Strange Friendship by gender disguise and subterfuge. Similar to Over the Hills and Far Away the future destinies of several of the characters are occluded by past misdemeanors with their solution remaining dependent upon the outworking of a romance plot. Within A Strange Friendship can thus be seen two interweaving plot themes; the ‘strange friendship’ between Violet Somerset and ‘Madelaine’ Ainsleigh (alias Richard Carewe) and their elopement to Australia - and the ‘hidden romance’ theme of Alan’s attraction to Dolly and desire for an engagement. Two further sub-plots also emerge in the uncovering of Madelaine’s disguise and the restoration of the Carewe estate ‘Curtis Knowle’. Also serving these plot elements however are the plot devices of clues, letters and a series of criminal investigations coincident with the conventions of sensation narrative. Throughout A Strange Friendship Evans therefore constructs an intricate thread of suspense within a discourse of the light popular fiction genre.
A Strange Friendship’s structural divisions can be divided into three main sections: ‘Dolly’s Story’ (Chapters 1-3, 6-8, 10-17) concerning the introduction to the Somerset family and emigration to New Zealand and the sister’s new acquaintance with the Ainsleighs; ‘Alan’s story’ (Chapters 4-5, 9 and 18) relating to his meeting with the Somersets, his first impressions of Dolly and Violet and departure for Auckland. This is followed by his confession to Dolly. In Chapters 19-26 concern over Violet’s disappearance accelerates the dramatic and mystery suspense plot elements and considers the effect Violet’s disappearance is having on the Somerset family. This development is accompanied by Hugh Maberley and Alan Ainsleigh’s departures for Australia. Violet then returns to New Zealand followed by Richard Carewe (formerly ‘Madelaine Ainsleigh’s’) with tragic consequences. The deaths of the eloped couple back in New Zealand then allow Alan and Dolly to marry as inheritors of ‘Curtis Knowle’.
A Strange Friendship is related in the first person alternately by two of the principal characters ‘Dolly’ (Dorothea Somerset) and ‘Alan’ (‘Alan Ainsleigh’ alias Alan Carewe). This occurs in their descriptions of the mutual progress of the Somerset and Ainsleigh families in New Zealand (who are neighbours living in the same district). Having recently emigrated to New Zealand the Somerset sisters are said not to have begun life advantageously having been orphaned (‘we had only each other and Harry’) at an early age (3). In the beginning chapter, the narrative voice is Dolly’s, reflecting upon early events in England prior to departure for New Zealand when the sisters had lived in a grange in Sussex and were bridesmaids at their brother’s wedding. Here, Dolly’s tone of nostalgia draws heavily upon a period during which she and younger sister Violet were close and yet unaffected by the unsettling misfortune of their first years in the colony. Violet’s portrait is drawn in ‘retrospect’ in Dolly's recollection of Violet's ‘bewildering vision of beauty with 'forget-me-nots in her hair the colour of her eyes’ (3). During the journey out to New Zealand, signs already begin to show however that Violet’s lively temperament could persuade her into precipitous liaisons; the first being a ‘young fellow-passenger’ dying of consumption. Very little is mentioned yet of the voyage out to the colonies described by Dolly in still carefree, pleasant terms, before the young family commences the task of settling into the new homestead. This early, formative period in the family’s settlement, involving hitherto unrealised adaptations to practical realities (‘there was so much work to be done, and we knew so little how to do it’ (7)) presents a phase of close domestic cooperation between the two sisters, as well as their step-mother, brother and a new baby. The introduction of a new Scottish servant Lizzie to the household in Chapter 8, brings mention also, in contrast to the gentility of the Somersets, of working class attitudes into the colony, Dolly is nonetheless quick to enthuse over the effect colonial life can have even on domestic servants - including the ‘rapidity’ of the new strengths learnt by Lizzie and ‘her readiness of resource upon an emergency’ (24).
From the very beginning of the novel the mutual acquaintanceship of the new neighbouring families forms the main preoccupation of the narrative. As the sisters become more deeply involved with Alan and his ‘sister’ Madelaine, the position of Harry Somerset as the central male figure in the Somerset household assumes its own dominance over the family’s practical survival; the family homestead being situated in an unfamiliar terrain wherein ‘creeks will sometimes rise in a few hours’ (25). Even more than the Somersets, the Ainsleighs appear to be of the ‘gentlemanly’ class, yet their appearance and conduct are still subject to close scrutiny, in particular by Dolly, as younger sister Violet becomes increasingly infatuated with Madelaine. What has yet to be discovered, is that Madelaine is not a woman at all, but a man in disguise having the real name of ‘Richard Carewe’ (Alan’s step-brother). While rounds of introduction continue Madelaine’s ‘stranger than strange’ friendship with Violet continues to maintain its outward semblance of normality with the only hint of masculinity being Madelaine’s extra-firm handshake and strikingly independent nature. In addition to the Somerset’s circle of acquaintance is the entering into their lives of Hugh Maberley, another bachelor of the district, who becomes drawn inexorably to the blushing Violet while remaining hopeful at the periphery of her affections. A major turning point in the plot then occurs in Violet’s sudden and mysterious disappearance which precipitates a series of incidents, including the unsolved death of a man in a nearby creek, during which period clues begin to uncover the nature of Violet’s fate. While the Somerset home is in turmoil the male characters, including Violet’s friend Madelaine, move in and out of the storyline, travelling over to Australia in search of the missing heroine, which, in alan's case, involves the attempt to solve his family and inheritance problems.
The main characters in A Strange Friendship are the Somerset family of two sisters, Dorothea (‘Dolly’) and her younger sister Violet, their elder brother Harry Somerset and his new wife Kate. In their marriage which takes place in the first Chapter, Kate and Harry replicate the earlier absent patriarchal family, out in the colony while the younger women Dolly and Violet act as nurturers as well as being eligible to form their own marriage partnerships. Dolly is ‘plain’ and conventional (246), while Violet, with an implusive nature might suddenly threaten to transgress moral safety, is a source of concern. Both sisters concern themselves with the prospect of marriage in a colonial society of male frontier culture and a society of bachelors of and expansive landscapes in which distance and population define the social milieu. Evans thus forms her characters around the social realities of the colonial frontier; a place of increased neighbourliness and new freedoms though guided still by Victorian paternalism.
The family with whom the Somersets become involved in the colony comprise Alan Ainsleigh and his sister Madelaine. Other minor characters in the story’s plot are Hugh Maberley (a local bachelor) and Lizzie the Somerset’s house servant. Each of the female characters have distinct personal characteristics that are seen to emerge principally through the observation of Dolly and also Alan Ainsleigh whose point of view dominate the plot. The demure and ‘naturally shy’ Dolly, modelled after a Quaker sister of her mother’s, whom she also ‘resembles in placidity of disposition’ (7) assumes the role of protectress toward her younger, prettier sister Violet. Dolly is in turn viewed by Alan Ainsleigh in terms of ‘sweetness and light’ with a ‘certain honesty of expression’ (48). Having grown up with only an older brother, the two sisters are, in effect, orphans. They are often depicted also as caregivers or nurturers for the new Somerset family. Although seen as stereotypical female figures with strongly dependent family ties, Dolly and Violet are seen as paradoxically estranged from normal family relations, having had a somewhat mysterious upbringing with a mother since long dead and now able to be recalled only as a 'fair memory of our childhood’ (3) (and a father as Dolly remembers, gone since she was ‘quite baby) (3)). Violet appears in the story as a lively, capricious, rather spoilt female character who is poised to instigate an upheaval in circumstances that will propel the romance plot. Her appearance is her most striking characteristic. She is first described by Dolly as ‘a bewildering vision of beauty, with forget-me-nots in her hair the colour of her eyes’ (3). She emerges, more strongly, in Chapter 3 as being somewhat independently minded and impetuous and also rather vain. Violet’s attention to dress and appearance appear to predominate, according to Dolly, in her outward concerns.
The other members of the Somerset family, Harry and Kate, appear both to be practical and ordinary in appearance. Kate, says Dolly, is nonetheless occasionally inclined to a ‘temper’ (7). Harry is said to be ‘fair, thin and very good tempered’ (29) and does not appear to be noticeably patriarchal but prone only to a little ‘masculine judgment’ (80). The Somerset family thus represents an ideal kind of settler family; a class of people with some financial means with a will to work and build a new life in the colony. The Ainsleighs, on the other hand, as a more sensationalised form of exiled aristocracy - a more rare occurrence among settlers - seem to be more involved with family inheritance, or escape, from previous misdemeanors. Alan Ainsleigh appears therefore more complex, in typifying the romance and sensation plot’s character with a ‘past’. His opinions, which feature strongly in the narrative, are primarily concerned with his need for a secretive life wherein his real name, social status and liveliehood, are subsumed within a state of exile. Alan is described by Dolly as having the easy manners of the upper class (35) with an ‘air of patrician grace’. The interior of Alan's homestead ‘Fernyhurst’, indicating a state of gentility, has, however many ambiguities, being in Dolly’s eyes ‘a strange and careless medley of elegance and coarseness’ (35). Alan's character could thus be described as the troubled ‘aristocratic’ type with his step-brother Richard Carewe (also ‘Madelaine’) seen as the foil for Alan’s self-image and moral and social restitution.
As a pivotal character, Alan’s “sister” Madelaine presents the main crux of his problematic existence and is probably also the most fascinating and extreme character in the novel. The persona of Madelaine, or ‘Madame Ainsleigh’, is in fact a blatant invention of a trans-gendered character living under a female disguise to hide a criminal past. How the other characters in the story, notably the Somersets, respond to this ‘unusual’ woman becomes increasingly evident in their inability to fully accept the Ainsleighs into their circle without some hesitation. As a somewhat ‘camp’ impersonator Madelaine has touches of the bizarre, but, in the earlier chapters with Alan at ‘Fernyhurst’, presents nonetheless in the guise of a plausible female character. In many ways Madelaine is the least real of Evans’ characters, seeming to be more an invention for the sake of the text. In her ‘transformed’ self as Richard Carewe, she fulfils however a double role as both impersonator and plot villanness. On the surface Madelaine exhibits the necessary female characteristics. She has a taste for expensive Parisian couture, but her hair, worn in a ‘chignon’, also features a ‘false plait’ hiding shorter, curly hair and she has a strange tendency to ‘whistling’ (60).
In her depiction of the principal female characters Dolly, Violet and Kate, Evans conforms in general to a sentimentalised and ‘saccharine’ version of Victorian and romance conventions, with including much discussion over physical appearance and its denoting of character. In addition Evans uses the separate dispositions of the sisters to present a moral perspective over vice and virtue and the getting of material fortune (a dream, which Dolly observes Violet to adhere to most particularly). Violet also likes to imagine herself indulging Dolly once she has been able to make a home with a wealthy husband - hence, appearances, the dress code and the leisured activities associated with “privilege”. Books and horses also dominate each of the sisters’ lives. Like Bronte’s heroine in Jane Eyre, Dolly’s plainness of appearance is seen to attract Alan’s admiration, in preference to Violet, whose pretty liveliness is considered untrustworthy. In contrast, Dolly’s lack of physical vanity, modesty and discerning nature fulfils the destiny of the virtuous Victorian heroine; of happiness, in marriage, to a wealthy man.
Having characteristics in its narrative style belonging to the sensation novel in its narrative style, A Strange Friendship could be compared with Collin’s The Woman in White although as a more condensed and lightweight version of the same idiom. Like Collin’s novel, A Strange Friendship is multi-perspective, being told, chapter by chapter, from alternating points of view (e.g. ‘Alan’s story and ‘Dolly’s Story’ vis a vis The Woman in White’s ‘First Epoch’ narrated by Walter Hartright and ‘Second Epoch’ narrated by Marian Halcombe) - with a similar emphasis on sentimentalism, and reflection, particularly in its drawing of character and factual description of place and event. The sensation feature of letter writing occurs in Chapter 18 in ‘Alan’s Story’ and in the mention of letters from home, in Chapter 4. Similarly, letters from Madelaine are mentioned by Dolly in relation to the mystery plot and again in Chapter 19- in Dolly’s reference to ‘English letters’ now being too expensive (187). Whereas the crime story in Collins' novel is told by several people and not the authorial narrator, the criminal suspense in A Strange Friendship is relayed via only two persons (Alan Ainsleigh and Dolly Somerset). Each of the novels shares in common, however the narrative voice of the characters, speaking in a tone of recollection and nostalgia.
In its chapter format A Strange Friendship differs from its counterpart, Over the Hills and Far Away, whose chapters rely more strongly on diaries and an authorial narrator. The reporting narrative in A Strange Friendship is, Like Collins, more concerned with the uncovering of the ‘mystery’ sub-plot of Violet’s disappearance (as-for example-in Chapters 10 and 11 where Dolly relates the sequence of events surrounding Violet’s departure). Here the tone of documentary style, or re-telling of incident, is similarly constructed to that of Collins’ in use of the authorial voice of a ‘witness’ (as in The Woman in White wherein Walter Hartright, being ‘more closely connected than others with the incidents to be recorded’, is asked to ‘describe them in his own person’) (1)). Featuring also in the documentary style uncovering of the disappearance mystery the criminal, or investigative, narrative contained in Chapters 10 and 11, sees Dolly recall ‘the strange sensation’ of holding ‘a part of a letter written by Violet herself’ (134).
In A Strange Friendship the points of view of Dolly Somerset and Alan Ainsleigh are each seen to predominate. The central narrative voice in ‘Dolly’s Story’, in addition to the recreation of gentility in the colonial homestead, is characterised by concerns over social relationships and affective ties between the characters. For example, Dolly comments frequently on appearance and behaviour, drawing attention to dress, objects, domestic interiors while also casting a discerning eye over the family’s new neighbours, the Ainsleighs. In Chapter 1, upon first meeting with Alan Ainsleigh, she remarks that he was ‘a man of the medium height, rather dark and brown, and broad-shouldered, with close-cropped hair, and with the air of a person much more used to society than any one whose acquaintance we had yet made (10). Later Dolly reinforces her initial impressions in a description of Ainsleigh’s leisured manners in a home full of apparent contradictions; in which a ‘luxurious easy chair by the fireplace was the only handsome piece of furniture in the room, and evidently the seat of honour’ (34). Dolly and Kate engage also in a mutual Austen-like banter, as for example in Kate’s remark over Alan ('Mr Ainsleigh seems a thorough gentleman, but his sister is not a thorough lady') (30)) and his sister ‘Madelaine’. In general, Dolly writes of her own family-the Somersets-in fond terms-while her view of Violet is a mixture of regret and joy in her sister’s lively attractiveness. Alan’s narrative voice on the other hand dwells on the frustrations of exile under an assumed disguise-and the prospect of ever attaining to the kind of personal and business respectability he needs in order to win Dolly's hand. His letter to Dolly is a confessional of past disgrace and misfortune and need for personal restitution. In Chapter 4 Alan laments, like the romantic hero-to himself on his ‘utter dead weariness’ and ‘blank darkness within and without’ (43). Like the voice of Dolly, Alan in a state of melancholia is affected by loss, hope and regret while -at other times (as in the resolution Chapter 26)- the characteristic optimisim of the colony is able to prevail.
The presence of gothic and romantic elements in A Strange Friendship also shares similarity with Over the Hills and Far Away, particularly in the use of ‘domestic gothic’. In Chapter 21, Dolly observes through candlelight the ‘deep hollows’ beneath the once vivacious Violet’s eyes and her transformation into a ‘faded ghost of the past’ (208), while her use of pictorialism is less evident that in Over the Hills. A use of romanticism can be seen also appearing in descriptions of mountain scenery (i.e. ‘clothed in the winter in raiment of dazzling snow’) (26)) and the lurking dangers of the terrain on which the Somerset house is built, with its ‘creeks that 'sometimes rise in a few hours in a manner startling and unexpected’ (25) creating the foreground for the novel’s later plot development of the flood which claims the lives of the villain Richard Carewe. Overall in the novel Maori are barely represented, existing as a convenient exoticism at the periphery of the settlers’ lives. They are mentioned briefly in Chapter 2 as being able to recollect earlier times –when ‘the water had flowed up’ closer to the house (25) - and could be associated with a romantic unpredictability relating to natural elements in the novel.
As the other of Evans’ two sensation novels A Strange Friendship appears primarily concerned with the interiority of the characters, in relation to the sequence of events, with less emphasis on the pictorial qualities evident in Over the Hills. What arouses the reader’s attention is the predicament of Violet and the ‘strange’ nature of her relationship with Madelaine, who unlike Laura in Over the Hills, embodies a complete sexual disguise, not just that of name impersonation. In her contrasting of Violet’s physicality and lively impetuosity against Dolly’s plain ‘little quakeress’ (57), Evans also highlights two gender stereotypes wherein the prettier woman is more likely to be seen as dissolute, or fickle, in nature, thereby ringing up the villain. Even the harsher realities of colonial living appear contained within a saccharine coating of euphemistic descriptiveness. Thus A Strange Friendship fulfils the purpose of light sentimental, fiction by presenting romance and human feelings more as a stylisation of actual life spiced with realism. Through use of first person and the alternating narrative voices of Dolly and Alan, Evans stands back, momentarily, to allow her readers into a more direct personal experience. There is thus a certain equality in Dolly’s demure yet independent reactions. Within the pages of this ephemeral light popular novel life and experience assume a vacariousness which, unlike Dickens, presents human character and life in the colony more as a pastiche of itself than society’s realistic portrait.
1 Moffat, Kirstine E. The Puritan Paradox: The Puritan Legacy in the Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life of New Zealand, Focusing Primarily on the Works of Novelists Writing between 1862 and 1940. Ph.D diss. Victoria University of Wellington.
[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]
2 Jones, Lawrence. Jones, Lawrence. ‘The Pioneer Novel.’ The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English. Ed. Terry Sturm, 2nd ed. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1998.
[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]
3 Stafford, Jane and Williams, Mark. Introduction: A Land Mild and Bold, Diffident and Pertinent. New Zealand Electronic Text Centre, New Zealand Novels Digital Collection, http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/subject-000005.html.
[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]
4 Stafford, Jane and Williams, Mark. Introduction: A Land Mild and Bold, Diffident and Pertinent. New Zealand Electronic Text Centre, New Zealand Novels Digital Collection, http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/subject-000005.html.
[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]
5 Evans, Charlotte. Over the Hills and Far Away: A Story of New Zealand. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low & Searle, 1874.
[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]
6 Jones,Lawrence. ‘The Pioneer Novel.’ The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English. Ed. Terry Sturm, 2nd ed. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1998.
[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]
7 Pykett, Lyn. ‘Sensation and the Fantastic in the Victorian Novel’. The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel. Ed. Deirdre David. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]
8 Jones,Lawrence. ‘The Pioneer Novel.’ The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English. Ed. Terry Sturm, 2nd ed. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1998.
[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]