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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 7 (November 1, 1933)

New Zealand Literature

page 51

New Zealand Literature

Part II.

In all countries, a certain development of poetry precedes that of prose story telling. From the time of Maning onward there have been reminiscences, some of them not so much literature as material from which literature might be made. Perhaps our first genuine novelist was Samuel Butler. He was a young English cadet, who pictured for himself a kind of Utopia in the then unexplored country behind the Southern Alps. “Erewhon” and “Erewhon Revisited,” although a little out of date in some respects, still make very interesting reading. Then our Katherine Mansfield became, before her death, a figure of world renown as a writer of short stories. No one has so mastered the art of holding the reader in suspense till an unexpected twist at the end makes the whole thing complete; just as a blackboard cartoonist inserts a mouth or an eye, and presents a living face before you. Jane Mander was certainly our first New Zealand woman novelist. She produced, years ago, two novels, “Alan Adair” and the “Story of a New Zealand River” that do portray our life very truly; but, receiving little recognition here, she travelled farther afield, and has been writing the more ordinary society novel. “Pins and Pinnacles” is a Continental story, and “Besieging City” deals with New York. Now she has returned to her native country, and we hope to have from her pen before long something that will embody the merit of her earlier work, together with the experience she has gained abroad. Miss Nelle Scanlan also had to go from us to seek her fortune. After an extensive journalistic experience, she wrote two English novels in rapid succession. Then came “Pencarrow,” with a background of pioneer history, and the “Tides of Youth,” carrying the family story down through the generations. Miss Scanlan has the journalistic faculty of seeing a thing in clear perspective and conveying a vivid impression to the reader. Her characters are likely and likeable people, and there is a sense of atmosphere and of movement in the stories. Miss Rosemary Rees is the third woman novelist to visit our shores this year. She has written a number of novels with a slight New Zealand background, although rather the New Zealand of the Christmas Annuals than the New Zealand we know. The most notable achievement of all, however, is that of G. B. Lancaster. Her new novel, “Pageant,” a story of early Tasmania, is almost epic, both in proportions and in character. It has received the unique honour of being chosen as the Book of the Month both in England and America. G. B. Lancaster (Miss Edith Lyttelton) was born in Tasmania, but came to New Zealand at the age of four, so that she is in all essentials a New Zealander. Long ago G. B. Lancaster had several stories in Christmas numbers of the “Press.” The fly-leaf of “Pageant” gives six earlier novels, beginning with “Jim of the Ranges.” She also has been abroad, and her short stories have found acceptance from many of the leading magazines of the world.

There is still another literary form very fashionable at the moment—the dramatic. The number of people writing plays is only slightly less than the number reading them. There were a very formidable number of entries for the British Drama League's Competition last year, and there will probably be even more this year. The “Seven One-Act Plays,” published by them last year are of a high standard. The brilliant play “Musical Chairs,” by the young Wellington dirttrack rider, Ronald MacKenzie, killed last year, was produced in London, won high praise from such a critic as St. John Irvine, and was chosen for publication by Victor Gollanz at the head of the best plays of 1932.

And still our list is not exhausted. Miss Edith M. Howes and Miss Isabel Maud Peacocke write delightful children's stories, and the latter has published also an excellent novel of London life—“Waif's Progress.” Miss Elsie K. Morton and Miss B. E. Baughan excel in essays and sketches—the latter in poetry and short stories also. In humorous writing and sketching we have Mr. Ken Alexander and Mr. A. S. Paterson. And last, but not least, the general standard of our Press in New Zealand is admittedly as high as that anywhere in the world.

With all this wealth of production, then, how comes it to be said that we have no literature? Partly through sheer ignorance and want of appreciation, and that inverted and vicarious modesty that cannot believe that anything really good can originate here, unless and until, as in the case of our novelists, it has received the hall-mark of recognition abroad. But, in part, and with modifications, it is true that we have no literature thoroughly characteristic of New Zealand, as Australian literature is becoming characteristic of Australia; no group, or groups of writers who share the same methods and the same outlook on life. Only by place-names, or by descriptions of certain trees or foliage, could a critic recognise a New Zealander to be a New Zealander. This again, I think, arises from an excess of one of our virtues. We are more British than Britain herself. We are so satisfied page 52 with British models and standards that we are in no haste to establish a school of our own. And we are so young—a whole generation younger than Australia, and we are only now establishing the habit of self-expression. Then again, New Zealand scenery is infinitely diversified, whereas Australia is a comparatively simple and homogeneous country. Australian landscapes can be painted with broad sweeps of the brush, and that is the method her writers are also adopting. By sheer monotony and repetition Australia impresses her personality. But the spirit of Maoriland must be pondered and studied before it can be conveyed. It is, indeed, a shy and delicate thing. It has retired before the onslaughts of the white man to the depths of the forest, to the fastnesses of the mountains and the fiords. Even the Maori—a comparative newcomer in the land —was never quite at one with this spirit. He feared and dreaded the bush, deeming it the home of lost ones, and he never penetrated to the mountains. But in another century or two, when our two races shall be blended into one, with the adventurous urge of the white tempered by the whimsical fancy of the brown, a race may arise that will achieve unity with the spirit of the place, just as the union of Norman and Saxon gave birth to all the glories of English poetry. A national literature, like the Kingdom of Heaven, cometh not with observation, but as a thief in the night.

A Railway Camping Holiday

Considerable novelty has been given to railway travel in Britain recently. Like the New Zealand lines, the Home railways
(Rly. Publicity photo.) The Dunedin-Christchurch express passing along the picturesque sea-front at Timaru, South Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The Dunedin-Christchurch express passing along the picturesque sea-front at Timaru, South Island, New Zealand.

have sought to attract the traveller by the operation of mystery trains, hiking trains, cruise trains, and so on. Now, the London and North Eastern Railway has developed another novel idea, which takes the form of a camping car scheme. This provides for the conversion of disused railway carriages into complete homes on wheels, which provide every facility and convenience for a profitable railway camping holiday.

The carriages are placed near pretty roadside stations on selected routes. Accommodation is given in each carriage for six people, the tenancy rate being £2 per week per carriage. Large numbers of holiday-makers are availing themselves of this cheap accommodation. Fitted with all essential equipment, including cutlery, crockery, kettles, pans, beds, bed-linen, lamps, etc., each carriage provides two bedrooms, one for two persons, and the other for four persons; a living room; and a small kitchen. All that is necessary is for the party to travel by rail to the site of their selection, and arrange their own commissariat. The camping habit is growing steadily in Britain. Here is a plan by which may be enjoyed all the delights of camping, with none of its privations. —(From Our London Correspondent.)