The Heart of the Bush
3.A Love Triangle
3.A Love Triangle
The first part proper is titled ‘Between two hemispheres’, as Aidie returns to her childhood home from England after ten years away. Grossmann’s Adelaide Borlase is a product of frothy frocks, feminine whimsy, and transported London manners, as she returns to the farm of her youth with all the polish and poise of a European education, and a suitable suitor in tow. The novel turns on Adelaide’s re-emergence as Aidie to her father, sister, and her childhood sweet-heart, Dennis, and over the three parts of the narrative defines a new version of marriage for the young couple, as they begin their lives together. The conventions of the romance genre are loosely adhered to as the couple misunderstand each other on their first meeting; Adelaide is a young woman in an ‘exquisitely cut riding-habit’ (10), and Dennis is ‘the native Charon of the flood’ (13), whose disrespectful demeanour is such that Aidie is convinced she won’t ‘like democracy in the least’ (17). Aidie has been transformed by her education, as observed by Horace Brandon, with whom Aidie has an ‘understanding’, into a creature ‘English enough to be tame and civilized, colonial enough to have the charm of novelty and piquancy’ (11). She seems to be quite the square peg in the round hole, finding her homecoming spoiled by Dennis’ attitude and inability to ‘recognise her superiority’ (22) that she is ‘Lady Bohun’s grand-daughter, the fiancée of Horace Brandon, the pet of London drawing rooms’ (25).
The crux of the first part is Aidie’s growing awareness that she is a New Zealander, and her position ‘between two hemispheres’ aptly describes the dilemma she faces choosing between her two potential lovers. She has returned home to the farm and is required to listen to the voice of her heart, and begins to understand that while ‘[J]udged by every civilized standard, Horace Brandon was incomparably the finer man of the two, [but] he would have been most incongruous amongst the mountains and the clouds where Dennis was quite at home’ (34). Grossmann draws connections between the ways in which Aidie fits into the different worlds she has lived in, and the difficulties that she faces transitioning between them, and Aidie articulates this expressly, saying ‘I feel that I am transmigrating, and am a compound of two beings’ (46-47). Patrick Evans puts is bluntly when he writes of the importance of:
‘Adelaide Borlase’s initial choice of the local farmer Dennis MacDiarmid for a husband over an oleaginous English suitor who is well connected but probably less well hung. By choosing a wild colonial boy, Adelaide seems to have made a good start on the symbolic acceptance of the local.’26
The modernity of Aidie’s education has grounded her explicitly in the upper class milieu in England, and this lifestyle bears no relevance to the lives led by the settlers in New Zealand. Whilst Aidie can travel between her grandmother’s castle in Cornwall, London drawing rooms and opera houses, and the high mountain paddocks of lilies and gentians in New Zealand, she begins to recognise that in order to belong to one place, she must sacrifice some part of the others.
Upon her return home, the relationship between the sister becomes strained as Aidie aggravates her sister through her treatment of Dennis. Emmie tells a few home truths about the farm’s economic predicament, and reproaches her sister for her lack of sensitivity, while Aidie is disillusioned by her sister’s looks – Emmeline looks homely and local, compared to the elegance and froth of Adelaide. Emmie’s mother was previously Borlase’s housekeeper, while Aidie’s mama was the daughter of Lady Bohun in Cornwall, and the implication is that Emmie is much more well-suited to the life of a settler because she comes from the right sort of stock, and that Aidie has been bred for something better. Emmie is the capable sister at ease in the modern settler society, washing, cleaning, cooking and sewing her way through her days and nights. She has a tender relationship with Dennis and though Dennis certainly loves Emmie, it is only as the practical and sensibly-abled sister-in-law; his heart is Aidie’s even as she is so deeply rooted in poetry, myth and the romanticism of the bush. The irony is though that Emmie’s multiple intercessions and interferences are the catalysts for overcoming some of the difficulties that the lovers face.
At the same time, Horace Brandon, and his father the Major, counterpoint other aspects of the novel. Horace is intent on making Adelaide his tame, colonial, ‘Twentieth Century’ bride. I can imagine he might have had success with this endeavour had he and Adelaide completed their wooing in London, but the change of scenery brings a change of heart for the returning daughter. She breaks with Brandon, and declares her love for Dennis, whom Brandon calls a half-caste. She defends her love as the son of a Highlander and an Irish woman, with ‘no more native blood than you or I’ (62), even as she confirms she has no “understanding” with Dennis. Brandon refuses to release her from their arrangement, (so far, so melodramatic) and Aidie spends a sleepless night, resolving herself to be ‘a wild girl, untame, un-English, without taste or principles, a social outcast, a moral reprobate, anything but Horace Brandon’s wife’ (73).
Aidie secures her husband and the wedding of her dreams. She wishes to be married from the chapel of the Brandon estate, Miramar, and for the Major to give her away. The Major closes the first part of the novel, presaging elements of the third part, when he comments on Dennis’ work in the district, suggesting that Dennis’ fight with the Road Board and the government, and his popularity amongst the settlers will most likely lead to a career in Parliament. Evelyn and Mrs Brandon also make speculations about the type of life and the potential hardships that the new couple might face, echoing the concerns’ of Mr Borlase. The final paragraphs of this part leave the young couple in their new home, Te Ramarama, with Dennis promising to even hold off death.
More interestingly, as part of the ongoing colonial project of remaking and improving the new country, within the text, there are comparisons to be made between the way in which Horace Brandon, Aidie’s erstwhile fiancé, has designs on training his bride-to-be, and her project to ‘tame’ her husband Dennis. From the very first chapter, Horace Brandon is representative of the wider scheme of the colonization; he is the ‘faultlessly got up Englishman by her side’ (10) and son of the neighbouring gentry, who have a ‘fine homestead like an English country seat, with a grand house of stone, and with pleasure grounds and many oaks and sycamores’ (9). He declares nature to be improved by art, retorting ‘Excuse me if I prefer some culture and art. There isn't a castle or an old cathedral, nor even a thatched cottage in the whole colony’ (10). Horace considers emotion to be ‘mental debauch’ (11) and that the ‘weird mountains and woods’ cannot be compared to ‘our grand old Rome and Venice and Florence’ (10), and muses on the ‘dash of colonial wildness’ about Aidie, and takes some pleasure in imagining the ‘agreeable pastime’ and ‘sportive’ nature of taming her.
The irony, of course, is that Aidie is just as enthusiastic about ‘breaking in’ her new husband; ‘forgetful to the charms of simplicity she vowed to civilise him – in the future’ (170). Riding in the mountains, Dennis has asked Aidie to teach him in the evenings. Aidie reminisces about their childhood and their shared passion for Scott, and agrees to teach him everything she has learnt in the Old World. Dennis has read prolifically from the library at Haeremai, in many aspects of history, and there are many poems that they share.27 Grossmann demonstrates through the novel, and in particular the relationship between Adelaide and Dennis, how education, in a number of guises, might transform and evolve the relationships that grow between men and women. It is because of the education that Aidie and Dennis bring to their new marriage, and the changes that they each make to adapt to their new circumstances that is demonstrably different from the type of marriage that Aidie might expect to have if wed to Horace.
This first part resolves itself with Aidie’s marriage to Dennis, finding love and happiness in a marriage with a man who is ‘nearer my own level, who has faults of his own and can forgive mine’(122). While she has plans to change Dennis, and he has requested to be educated, the desired outcome is yet to be reached. What begins here, under the auspices of marriage, is a synthesis of art and culture with the settler’s life on the farm in the bush: the best opportunity for the two lovers to thrive is for Aidie to educate herself to be modern a New Zealander.
26 Evans, Patrick Penguin History of New Zealand Literature Penguin Books, Auckland. 1990. 61
27 Dennis has read extensively from the homestead library; authors include Josephus, Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, William Hickling Prescott, John Lothrop Motley, Jean-Charles Léonarde Simonde, George Grote, poems by Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Hood, and songs from Robert Burns.