The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
Growing up. A quieter novelist is C. R. Allen, who retired from the church on account of blindness and lived in England during the years 1919-1926. His first three books have English settings. He also made a name for himself in plays and verse. His earliest New Zealand novel, A Poor Scholar, appeared in 1936. It is the story of the evolution from humble beginnings of a Rhodes Scholar. Ponto is studied from childhood, through Otago Boys' High School and university. The picture of his friendships, adolescent moods and longings, and his growth to maturity is set against a leisurely rendering of the life of Dunedin. Character drawing rather than action gives the book its quality. The Hedge Sparrow, 1937, has a similar theme. Nicholas Broadbent, whose blind father and washerwoman mother eke out a living in a poor Castle Street home, is helped to an education, and becomes a lawyer and a radical politician, winning a seat in the post-war election of 1919. His emotional problems as boy and man are the material of the story. These novels have not worn well, but they have a pleasant flavour.
This theme of the sensitive boy growing up in small town or suburban New Zealand life, making his adolescent explorations, revolting against his home, having passionate friendships and calf-love ecstasies, and arriving at last at an adult awareness of himself and his country—this theme haunts our last fifty years. The "portrait of the artist as a young man" is almost a local literary genre. Besides Allen's two novels, those of Hector Bolitho, Solemn Boy, 1927, and Judith Silver, 1929, are made out of the idea. It will recur, much more skilfully handled, in the 1940s and 1950s.
Solemn Boy begins in Opotiki with a study of the English grandmother who cherished her nostalgia for the culture of Home. Timothy the hero, stifled by this environment, escapes to Auckland, journalism, love, and the war. Judith Silver offers us Simon's development, from a start in Karangahake. Pat Lawlor's The House of Templemore, 1938, is in the same tradition, treating of a queer childhood in Wellington, with vignettes of Cuba Street, Boulcott Street School, and family life against a background of Irish ways.