Introduction to the Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde
Robin Hyde remains one of the most intriguing and important figures in the formative years of modern New Zealand literature partly because she produced such a wide-ranging body of work. Poems, novels, biographies and journalism were all part of her repertoire as she worked to establish a literary reputation and to generate a liveable income. Gill Boddy and Jacqueline Matthews' Disputed Ground: Robin Hyde, Journalist has done much to highlight Hyde's achievements as a newspaper reporter but there is a considerable amount of work still to be undertaken to identify her contributions, which were often either anonymous or pseudonymous, and to integrate these ephemeral pieces into a broader picture of her writing life.1
One slice of Hyde's journalism that has received a particularly small share of attention is her work as a parliamentary reporter writing from the Ladies' Gallery of the New Zealand House of Representatives, which she undertook in sporadic bursts between 1925 and 1932. To date it has been unclear how many reports Hyde wrote, where she published them and under what name. Boddy and Matthews' research established that Hyde contributed the column "Peeps at Parliament" to the Dominion in 1925 under the pseudonym "Novitia," and produced some parliamentary journalism for the Ladies' Mirror in 1928, as well as one further piece written for the New Zealand Observer in 1932 and printed under her real name, Iris Wilkinson.2 But there has been no definitive list of the names, dates or places of publication for her columns.
The reports she composed have been neglected for two reasons. The first barrier facing readers concerns access. Hyde's reports have until now remained unpublished beyond their original appearance in a newspaper or magazine. Readers who wished to peruse the material have had to consult microfilm copies. Secondly, the topicality of the writing not only makes it somewhat difficult for modern readers to follow but also allows it to be labelled as ephemeral and thus less worthy of critical attention than more permanent literary works. This approach unfortunately obscures some important features of Hyde's reportage. Since topicality is essential to effective journalism, her successful engagement with topical material in her reports, regardless of their literary merit, points to her talent as a working journalist. Beneath the veneer of topicality, moreover, lies crucial evidence that can contribute to our understanding of her literary style and influences. One of the most important aspects of the reports for literary scholars trying to further their understanding of Hyde's intellectual life is the wide range of literary allusions that she includes. Browning, Tennyson, de la Mare, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll and (most frequently) Coleridge and Kipling, all make appearances in Hyde's quirky responses to the proceedings of the House of Representatives. Readers can thus expect to receive two quite separate insights from reading her reports: an awareness of how firmly ensconced she was in the issues of the day and a simultaneous awareness of the literary knowledge she brought to bear on her task.
Although Hyde's parliamentary corpus covers three quite different publications, and a period of seven years, beginning when she was only eighteen, all of the columns bear the unmistakeable stamp of her style. Hyde aimed to recreate for readers the experience of attending the House and hearing the speakers, lacing her descriptions of the debates of the day with revealing insights into the status of women journalists reporting from the Ladies' Gallery. This approach did not appeal to everyone—the M.P. John A. Lee called the columns "awful tripe"—but it did provide a unique perspective on the political process.3 Readers were not provided with in-depth political insight as much as a taste of the way in which parliamentary business is conducted. Frequently, particularly in the 1925 columns for the Dominion, Hyde's reports were gently satirical, making fun of the pomposity of the speakers and the arcane procedures of the Parliament.
The consistency of this style underlines the importance of reading the individual columns as a series and of coming to terms with her body of parliamentary journalism as a whole. This electronic edition aims to address this need by reproducing all of the columns Hyde wrote between 1925 and 1932. In total there are 53 separate pieces: 49 from the Dominion, three from the Mirror and one from the Observer. They form the first complete collection of this important subset of Hyde's journalism.
1 Gillian Boddy and Jacqueline Matthews (eds), Disputed Ground: Robin Hyde, Journalist (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1991).
2 Boddy and Matthews, pp. 19-38.