Introduction: "A Land Mild and Bold, Diffident and Pertinent"
New Zealand is unusual among settler countries in that its settler period did not generate a myth of nationhood or transmit a body of literary texts which explained to the descendents of the settlers their transplanted past. In Australia, the late nineteenth century saw the emergence of a collective narrative founded on the experience of the outback, the democratic nature of relations among itinerant working men, and the peculiar harshness and beauty of the physical world. In Canada, mid twentieth-century literary nationalist critics looked back to a body of canonical texts from the nineteenth century. But in New Zealand, the literature of the colonial period, especially that associated with a dawning nationalism, produced in the succeeding generation a culture of embarrassment, and was virtually unread. For the generation of writers that appeared in the 1930s, who saw themselves as the first to produce a literature true to the particularities of place, colonial writing figured as a kind of whipping boy, despised for its nostalgic backward regard to the centre, its sentimentality (often prejudicially associated with women’s writing), and what was conceived as its colonial deference to English literary forms, contaminated, as they were held to be, by Victorian habits and practices. This stance has occluded and distorted knowledge of a crucial period in the shaping of settler culture. In reality, the nineteenth-century New Zealand literary scene was vigorous, broadly based and central to the culture of the growing nation. Revaluation of this period without modernist prejudice is long overdue, and the publication of a substantial body of colonial fiction by the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre will be a valuable tool in such a revaluation.
Apart from the oral transmission of traditional ballads of sealers and whalers and the occasional travel account, there is little literature in English in New Zealand prior to the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Treaty marked the acceptance by Maori chiefs of British rule in return for which they were promised the rights of British subjects and the protection of their lands and resources. By the time that the British signatory Governor Hobson uttered the words ‘He iwi tahi tatou’, ‘We are one people’, the printing press and those missionaries who saw literacy as a tool of religious conversion had already started work, and European settlers were arriving, bringing their literature—mainstream Victorian with a substantial dash of Scottish. From 1840 to 1850 systematic colonisation was organised from London by the New Zealand Company under the guidance of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. His theory of colonisation, set out in a manifesto entitled ‘Letter from Sydney’ (1829), but in fact written while he was in Newgate prison serving a sentence for abduction, was predicated on the ideal of New Zealand as a ‘Better Britain’, which would control land prices and replicate the values and the hierarchies of the home country. It was, as Philippa Mein Smith has noted, a future dependent on buying cheap land from Maori.1 The violent confrontations and military engagements of the mid-century demonstrated the pressure that increasing settler numbers imposed on the obligations of the Treaty, as Maori, unfamiliar with European notions of land as a commodity individually owned, came under pressure to sell.
Despite the pragmatic demands of early settlement and the preponderance of non-fiction records and instructional manuals in the earliest written productions of the colony, a surprising number of settlers combined felling the bush and negotiating land purchases with writing epic poems and romantic fiction. The press was the key institution in literary life, as is demonstrated by the career of Julius Vogel, founder of The Otago Daily Times, described by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography rubric as ‘journalist, politician, premier, writer’.2 Poetry had a pervasive presence in the form of political satire and public celebration as well as sensitive reflection, and was published in newspapers and locally produced pamphlets. The short story, as in other colonial settings, was a key form, as colonial yarns, ghost stories, and romances reflected the incompleteness and arbitrary nature of existence as well as the pragmatic restrictions of local publishing. The novel had a more difficult task of establishing itself—difficulties that were both formal and pragmatic.
In Britain, this period shows a shift in fictional style from the realism of the first half of the nineteenth century to a revival of romance by the 1880s. Vanessa Smith writes, ‘In opposition to what was perceived as realism’s fictional determinism – its grafting of authorial invention to the social text – romance was represented as dictated by the immediate desire for escapism and adventure: as a literary product of imaginative license’.3 Robert Dixon connects this new tone with developments in empire: ‘In literary debates the New Imperialism was associated with the revival of romance, which its champions claimed as a uniquely masculine preserve …. They saw romance as serving to deflect attention away from the dangerous unpleasantness of realism, which fostered introspection, unmanliness and morbidity’.4 Martin Green describes these adventure narratives as ‘the energising myth of empire’.5
New Zealand novels were not exempt from these influences, tracing a trajectory from the almost prosaic and autobiographical and to the fanciful and romantic. The writers’ orientation throughout this period was firmly towards the imperial centre: explanations, exhortations, self-serving accounts of the exotic registered the sense of an audience elsewhere and superior. The literary forms of colonial cultures elsewhere were replicated in local examples, written according to British models and trimmed to the schematics of international genres. The settler project of taming the land and making a home was celebrated in narratives of the challenges of the physical landscape, and metaphorically rendered in the encounter, trials and final resolution of the romantic plot. The realism of these narratives was shot through with a gothic element acquired from the unsettling aspects of the landscape and from a sensationalised version of the indigenous population. The first local novel, Henry Butler Stoney’s Taranaki: A Tale of the War, not published until 1861, twenty years after first settlement, was received by a critical and unsentimental readership: ‘Is this the very worst, or only the second worst book we have ever met with!’ asked Chapman’s New Zealand Magazine.6 In the 1998 Oxford History of New Zealand Literature, Lawrence Jones uses a similarly negative stance, characterising the first generation of local novels as having ‘no continuity of development, no conscious sense of a local literary tradition. Certain common character types, motifs, and themes do emerge, but these are the result of common factors of the pioneering experience and of imported Victorian conventions, not of direct influence of one New Zealand novelist upon another’.7
If most European representations of colonial and Maori life in the mid nineteenth century were Victorian in form and tone, they nevertheless had an authentic input, which evaporates subsequently. The difficulty that this generation of writers encountered was common to all settler cultures: how to write about a new place while using the literary language of the old. Victorian forms were imported, and the Romantic poets, especially Wordsworth, and the Victorian theorists of the sublime such as Ruskin, were used as a means of confronting a strange and overpowering landscape, countering the bleakness of colonial existence, and giving moral shape to a community which Thomas Arnould characterized as ‘a damned dull collection of log huts’.8 The heroism of the pioneer is celebrated in such titles as Isabella Aylmer’s Distant Homes: Or, the Graham Family in New Zealand (1862), Benjamin Farjeon’s Grif: A Story of Colonial Life (1866), Justin Charles MacCartie’s Making his Pile: A Colonial Story (1891), Bertha Cameron’s In Fair New Zealand (1899), or Dugald Ferguson’s Vicissitudes of Bush Life of Australia and New Zealand (1891). The exotic aspects of the new colony as a specifically delineated setting for the generic imperial adventure story finds expression in works such as Vincent Pyke’s Lost in the Gold-fields (1868), A. Hood’s Dicky Barrett with his Ancient Mariners (1890), and Fergus Hume’s The Expedition of Captain Flick (1896). The colonial romance is exemplified here in such titles as Gilbert Rock’s By Passion Driven (1889), W. B. Churchward’s Jem Peterkin’s Daughter: an Antipodean Novel (1892), Oliver Growden’s Matthew Redmayne: A New Zealand Romance (1892), George Chamier’s A South Sea Siren (1895), E. Bayly’s A New Zealand Courtship (1896) and Two Women and Three Men by Anon. (1896).
Given the imperial orientation of New Zealand writing, its market advantage was that supplied by an exotically conceived native race. The literature of ethnographic encounter is a feature of fiction throughout this period, in a variety of genres, perspectives and agencies, from the gothic to the gruesome, the romanticised and picturesque to the ethnographic. In this collection the range is demonstrated by such titles as John White’s Te Rou: or the Maori at Home (1864), George Wilson’s Ena, or the Ancient Maori, William Kingston’s Waihoura (1869), John Featon’s The Last of the Waikatos (1873), J. C. Johnstone’s Maoria (1874), Emilia Marryat’s Amongst the Maoris (1874), Alexander Bathgate’s Waitaruna (1881), R. H. Chapman’s Mihawhenua (1888), Robert Whitworth’s Hine-Ra (1887), Jessie Weston’s Ko Meri (1890), J. Hall’s Potona (1892), Tua-o-Rangi’s Utu (1894), Robert H. Scott’s Ngamihi: or the Maori Chief’s Daughter (1895), and Harry Vogel’s A Maori Maid (1898). Early titles of this kind often reflected autobiographical experiences of the writer; later in the century the increasingly important oeuvre of local ethnological scholarship is tapped as a source of another form of authenticity and authority. And, in response to the popularity of the historical novel genre elsewhere, New Zealand’s recent history of military engagements between Maori and Pakeha provides subject matter for works such as Rolf Boldrewood’s War to the Knife: Or, Tangata Maori (1899), Henry Butler Stoney’s Taranaki: A Tale of the War (1861), J. H. Kirby’s Henry Ancrum: A Tale of the Last War in New Zealand (1872), and Hume Nisbet’s The Rebel Chief (1896).
In the latter decades of the century, poetry, novels, short stories and plays using Maori oral literature, legends, art forms and customs came to be characterised by the name ‘Maoriland’, a term derived from the Sydney Bulletin but adopted widely in New Zealand. Such appropriation was seen as not only licensed but necessary, a view based on a tacit and at times highly metaphorical adoption of the ‘dying race’ myth, where such material is available as a tool in fashioning settler identity because the original inhabitants are no longer there to claim it. This was a statistically dubious fact none-the-less rendered in suitably elegiac tones. The beliefs, practices and traditions of the Maori are contexualised and universalised for the European reader unfamiliar with such intriguing barbarisms. Newly indigenised, late-colonial authors could turn their minds to the modern—the brave new world of women’s suffrage, innovative social legislation, and the construction of a modern, albeit still colonial, economy. Maori, as part of the same process, were excluded from the modern nation and relegated to a romanticised status as actors in a highly colored, imaginative fantasy world. A burgeoning tourist industry concentrated on iconic scenery—Mount Cook, the Milford track, the thermal region of the central North Island—produced travel writing both for a local and a British audience. And these increasingly formulaic descriptions were used as a backdrop for fiction, as plot and character were constructed against empurpled descriptions of bush and mountain.
Exploiting the unwritten nature of the landscape was a way of expressing the reformist social and political agendas of the new place in a genre whose surplus of invention supplied the substance and detail that the new colony was felt by its inhabitants to lack. And these aspirations found indirect expression in utopian and science fiction forms such as Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872) and Julius Vogel’s Anno Domini 2000 (1889). Utopian fiction was a feature of nineteenth-century New Zealand writing, often specifically directed towards social and political agendas. Urbanisation brought with it the woes of an industrialised world exacerbated by the Long Depression of the mid-eighties to mid-nineties. The social legislation of the Liberal Government of 1891–1912 was partly a counter to this, partly a fulfillment of the reforming notion of New Zealand as a social laboratory. Free compulsory secular education was introduced in 1887. Males, both European and Maori, had had the vote subject to a property qualification since 1867; this was extended to all men in 1879 and in 1893, after a lively nation-wide campaign, women were given the vote. The women’s franchise movement with its close connections to the temperance movement provided a feminised and moralised counter to the masculinist tendencies of settler society. A feature of the writing of this period was the enthusiastic participation of women writers, many of whom earned a living from journalism, across all genres. The work of writers such as the novelist Edith Searle Grossmann, educated, articulate, with a local reputation, addressed a middle-class colonial audience with an interest in extending progressive politics to embrace gender issues. The novel acts a vehicle of expression for issues that were part of current political and social debate, whether Davy Heber’s Netta: Or, A Plea for an Old Age Pension (1894) or Grossmann’s Salvationist and suffragist novels Angela: A Messenger (1890) and In Revolt (1893). But the opportunities for extending feminist writing to deal with female sexuality were circumscribed by the puritanism of Pakeha culture. Katherine Mansfield, back in Wellington between 1906–08 after school in London, was interested in precisely this terrain, exploring in symbolist terms the excitements and frustrations of young women seeking more dangerous kinds of adventure than a colonial society allowed or a colonial reading public would have tolerated. How Mansfield might have progressed as a writer had she stayed in New Zealand has become the subject of speculation. She might have mined the colonial genre she experimented with briefly in London around 1911. More interestingly, she might have brought a fully modernist sensibility and technique to the writing of Maoriland, which veered between a confident registration of the colony’s modernity and Victorian habits of thought and literary practice.
Mansfield’s absence after 1908 meant that the particular modernism of the advanced international feminism of the day—that which recognized the force of female sexuality—was not addressed in New Zealand writing until the 1920s, when the novel of the New Woman was modified in terms of Freudian theory and socialist politics in the works of Jane Mander and Jean Devanny. Sustaining an advanced audience in New Zealand during the nineteenth century was fraught, in spite of New Zealand’s reputation for being socially progressive especially in respect of women’s rights. The magazine of Wellington Girls’ College, in which Mansfield had published a story in 1899, printed in the issue for the third term of 1908 extracts from the Lady Principal’s report which cite Sir Arthur Rucker, Principal of London University: ‘I believe you have very advanced ideas about women in New Zealand’.9 Mander, arriving at Barnard College in New York City in 1912, found herself as a New Zealander ‘an object of inspiration’: ‘We were then leaders in social legislation.... We were utopia materialised!’10 Mander’s ‘sex-problem’ novels were mainly published in the United States, Devanny’s The Butcher Shop was banned in New Zealand, and Devanny moved to Australia where she lived for the rest of her career.
Throughout the nineteenth century there was the sense of a local literature as a pious hope to be achieved in the time of some future maturity, a conceit that persists in literary rhetoric into the 1930s. The newly emergent and improvisational nature of publication outlets led to much work that was self-published and ephemeral, while the firmly backward gaze to Britain in the first half of the century magnified the importance of quasi-literary forms such as letters and journals. Novelists had logistical problems which may have inhibited the production of local fiction. While the poet or short-story writer or essayist could easily be accommodated in the columns of the local newspaper, the novelist was more reliant on an established publishing industry and a book-buying market which was slow to emerge. The more successful New Zealand novelists during this period published in Britain, their work either destined solely for ‘Home’ consumption, or re-exported back to New Zealand. Emilia Marryat, Julius Vogel, John White, and George Chamier were all published by mainstream London publishers. Some New Zealand authors were published by London companies such as Eden, Remington which specialised in books about empire. Better known authors such as Rolf Boldrewood and Harry Vogel were included in Macmillan’s Colonial Library series. W. B. Churchward’s Jem Peterkin's Daughter was issued in an ‘Australian edition’ by the London branch of the Australian publishing house Robertson. Publishers exploited the dual market: MacCartie’s Making his Pile: a Colonial Story was published in Melbourne in 1891 and a year later with the more specific subtitle An Australian Story in London. Dugald Ferguson’s Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand first appeared in Dunedin and was, in modern parlance, ‘picked up’ and republished in Edinburgh. Specialist publishers such as the Religious Tract Society and the Bible Tract Society were associated with titles appropriate to their particular concerns.
The importance of Melbourne publishing houses such as W. H. Williams and Angus and Robertson for New Zealand authors is suggestive of the homogeneity of the trans-Tasman market during this period, attested to by the frequency with which New Zealand poets, short-story writers and novelists were published in Australian periodicals and New Zealand readers subscribed to and read The Bulletin, The Native Companion, and The Lone Hand. This diffuseness meant that the emergence of a local literary culture based on the confident conversation between author and reader was gradual and tentative. But a surprising number of novels were published locally, the costs of publication being presumably carried by the author. Newspapers such as The Otago Daily Times (founded by Julius Vogel as the first daily newspaper in 1861), The Evening Post, and The Lyttleton Times also published novels. Henry Brett, the publisher of The Auckland Star,11 and Wilson and Horton, publishers of The New Zealand Herald, appear on novel title pages, often cast as ‘Printer’ rather than publisher.12 And jobbing printers seem to have acted as publishers: Robert Coupland Harding, better known as a typographer and editor of the journal Typo, issued novels in both Napier, and, later, in Wellington.13 John Mackay is associated with publications in Dunedin. Edith Searle Grossmann’s 1890 Angela: A Messenger was published by Simpson and Williams in Christchurch, who were also booksellers and stationers.14 This was the model for George Tombs, a Christchurch jobbing printer who formed a partnership with George Whitcombe, a bookseller, in 1882. The company Whitcombe and Tombs came to dominate the local publishing market, although local fiction was never more than a small part of their output. Despite these constraints, nineteenth-century New Zealand saw the production of literature as a crucial stage in self-formation. ‘We are hardly a nation yet’, wrote the Wellington Evening Post in 1900, ‘and we have only the veriest beginnings of a national literature, but our country has individuality. Its scenery, its social life, its political developments are so marked that we ought to have a literature of our own, and as loyal citizens of this beautiful land we should support the efforts made to foster it’.15 In 1909, the Dunedin Otago Witness, looking back on a decade of literary publication, reiterated this consciousness of both lack and potential:
A life insular, apart, in a country striving to realise its own individuality and to bring itself into harmonious touch with the great outer world, a land that can hardly realise its own traditions, for, indeed, they belong largely to a distant empire. A land mild and bold, diffident and pertinent, optimistic in its own ideals, but burdened by its own despair. Youngest of all the nations, green, primitive, novel, yet ancient as the hoary mountains, as history, as even the prehistoric. And through all rings the clash of that great battle between life and art, the temporal and the eternal …16
In a 1909 essay, ‘Literature in the Colonies’, The Times confessed, ‘The people of an old land, priding themselves on their culture, are rather apt to think of colonial life as an uncultured, shirt-sleeve sort of existence’. But, the writer pointed out, ‘you may find in the same Colony, and even within a few miles of each other, the rough pioneer at grips with Nature, and the professional man, the graduate of a famous University, surrounding himself with books and pictures and keeping abreast of all the latest developments in literature and science and art’.17 In 1876, David Kennedy noted the variety of papers provided in the New Zealand Mechanics’ Institutes: ‘Every month fresh literary blood is infused in to the community, and on the arrival of the Home Mail, people crowd the reading room to see the latest magazines and newspapers’.18 J. A. Froude visited Sir George Grey in retirement at Kawau and noticed ‘Quarterlies, Edinburghs, magazines, weeklies—all the floating literature of London, only a month or two behind. Every important movement in domestic, foreign, or colonial politics could be studied as exhaustively at Kawau as in the reading room of the Atheneum.’19 ‘I cannot help thinking’, wrote Constance Barnicoat in a letter to The Times,
that the average dweller there [in New Zealand], belonging to the more educated classes, reads more than people in a corresponding class on this country. Of course I would rather have Mudie’s or The Times library than even the General Assembly Library in New Zealand, especially for foreign books, but I would very much rather have the General Assembly Library or even the Christchurch Public Library in New Zealand than of the suburban libraries, and I feel sure, than many provincial libraries.
Barnicoat goes on to suggest that, far from being provincial and marginalised, Australia and New Zealand had, by the turn of the century, a highly developed literary culture:
About the homes I used to know in New Zealand far more books, old and new, and far more first-rate magazines and weekly papers used to lie than about most of the homes I know in England. Reviewers here, and a few keen readers, get the new books very quickly, but there is not much difference, I believe, between the time when the ordinary person gets a book in England and the time the reading class of Australasians get it. Books get out there astonishingly quickly, and I have known colonial readers tell English relatives of new works, and not the other way round.20
This literature, and the nationalist mythology it produced, conceptualised New Zealand as a Romantic landscape of bush, river, mountain, and shore. Yet, although there were no international cities on the scale of Sydney or Melbourne, by 1911 forty-nine per cent of the New Zealand population was urban, and thirty-one per cent lived in the four main cities. This urban population was overwhelmingly European. The movement of Maori to the cities did not occur significantly until after the Second World War and became the central topos of the 1970s generation of Maori writers. By the 1880s, New Zealand-born Europeans outnumbered immigrants, and the early days of settlement and the first-hand experience of its privations had passed. As Blanche Baughan lamented in her 1912 story collection, Brown Bread from a Colonial Oven, ‘Young things alter very quickly’.21 As the NZETC collection of nineteenth-century novels demonstrates, the development of a sense of nationhood, within the ambit of empire but differentiated from other colonial societies, gave rise to a mode of writing which used what was distinctive about New Zealand—its landscape and its indigenous inhabitants—as both authenticating marker and inspirational source. At the same time, an increasingly urban society looked back with nostalgia and a degree of imaginative rearrangement to a past which was figured as authentic and adventurous, and which slotted neatly into the international genres of imperial adventure and colonial romance.
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1 Philippa Mein Smith, A Concise History of New Zealand (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 108–111.
3 Vanessa Smith, Literary Culture and the Pacific: Nineteenth Century Textual Encounters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 12.
4 Robert Dixon, Writing the Colonial Adventure : Race, Gender and Nation in Anglo-Australian Popular Fiction 1875–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 4.
5 Martin Green, Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire (London: Routledge, 1980), p. xi.
6 Dennis McEldowney, ‘Publishing, Patronage, Literary Magazines’, The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature, ed. Terry Sturm, 2nd ed. (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 633.
7 Lawrence Jones, ‘The Novel’, Oxford History, p. 121.
8 Robert Browning and Alfred Domett, ed. F. G. Kenyon (London: Smith, Elder, 1906), p. 81.
9 The Reporter, no. 3 (1908), p. 35. National Archives, Wellington, Wellington Girls Archive, AANB, Series 883, Item 4B.
10 Rae McGregor, The Story of a New Zealand Writer: Jane Mander (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 1998), p. 44.
11 Michael Brett, ‘Brett, Henry 1843–1927’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007.
15 ‘Current Literature’, Evening Post, vol. 59, issue 118, 19 May, 1900, p. 2.
16 ‘Lav’gro’, ‘A Decade of Witness Verse’, Otago Witness, issue 2904, 10 November 1909, p. 88.
17 ‘Literature in the Colonies’, The Times, August 1909, p. 2, issue 39042, col. E.
18 David Kennedy, Jr., Kennedy’s Colonial Travel: a Narrative of Four Year’s Tour through Australia, New Zealand, Canada etc. (Edinburgh and London: Simpkin, Marshall and Co., 1876), p. 190, quoted in Lydia Wevers, Country of Writing: Travel Writing and New Zealand 1809–1900 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2002), p. 167.
19 J. A. Froude, Oceana, or England and her Colonies (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1886), p. 308, quoted in Wevers, Country of Writing, p. 152.
20 Constance A. Barnicoat, Letter to The Times, August 24, 1909, p. 10, issue 39046, col. F.
21 Blanche Baughan, Brown Bread from a Colonial Oven: Being Sketches of Up-country Life in New Zealand (London: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1912), p. v.