The Heart of the Bush
5. The Making of A New Zealand
5. The Making of A New Zealand
The question of whether this novel is relevant to a modern reader might be asked; so far the novel has approached each aspect of the romance plot in quite a conventional way. There has been little surprising in any of its parts. In the final section, what is interesting is the way in which both Aidie and Dennis begin to actually understand each other and are able to redefine the terms of their marriage; this makes The Heart of the Bush a curiously modern novel as it comes to its romantic conclusion in the third part of the novel, called ‘The Book of Dennis and Adelaide’. The title of each chapter in this section begins with ‘How…’ giving the reader the cues and clues to resolve the different parts of the story. As each of the chapter titles promise to answer all the questions posed, the first chapter begins with an examination of the newly-weds; ‘How after all would it all turn out, the marriage of the leisured and the laboring class, of art and nature, of civilisation and barbarism?’ (227).
While the romantic plot is resolving itself, the book opens a final thread. In the business of colonisation and settlement, there is much work to be done. With the reportage of the scenic beauty of the land and the removal of the indigenous completed, all that is required now is to bring the land under management, maximizing profit and moving into the capitalism of the twentieth century. Patrick Evans suggests that much of the fiction produced by New Zealand authors ‘reads like a travelogue',31 and this is certainly true of parts of The Heart of the Bush, particularly ‘The Hidden Vale’ section, Evans goes on to say that nature promised a sort of consolation, ‘as long as you didn’t think too hard about it – further down the track. Thinking too hard about things was exactly the opposite of what successful settlement required.’32 Within Grossmann’s journalism, she has a great deal of interest in the natural landscape and there are many passages describing the beauty of her scenic adventures,33. further evidenced by the second part of the novel, but it is evident in this final part of the novel that she is fully aware of the bloody and physical nature of the society that her characters live in, and the tension of the final chapters occurs because of the disparity between the imagination and the reality of the extra-ordinary work that settlement and farming requires.
Previously the novel has been negotiating the relationship between capital-N nature and capital-A art, and what enters in this part of the novel is agricultural commerce. Dennis has been posited as ‘Nature’, and Aidie as ‘Art’, then the economic imperative of farming is the third wheel that provides narrative tension. Evans terms this part of the novel as a ‘symbolic contest’ between Aidie’s desire for innocence and Dennis’ desire for a modern farm producing meat for export.34 Her machinations to set her husband up in society fail quickly, as her husband refuses the patronage of Major Brandon to run for the bye-election, and foils Aidie’s plans for the society of other runholders (243, 246). She is caught out in insincerity, and repents her ‘Besetting Sin’.35 The emphasis up to now has been on the changes that Aidie expects of her husband: while she seems to drive the narrative with her discoveries and plans to ‘adapt’ Dennis, he has his own revelations of the inner workings of the strange creature that is his wife.
In this final part, comparisons can be made between the novel and the ways in which New Zealand literature sought to define itself at the end of the nineteenth century. Evans considers the Grossmann has tried to ‘make a novel that is larger than most fiction of the time, one that makes sense of the nations’ evolving experience’.36 Stafford and Williams make a similar assessment of the struggle between Aidie and Dennis, writing that Aidie insists on a return to the bush; however they make the distinction that this bush is a constructed version of Maoriland, as informed by Victorian fairy fantasies and the mythic ‘Romantic’.37 She begins to understand the ‘unpleasant(ness)’ of her newly-wed life, and that although she ‘loved nature, [but] she loved it poetized, not plain (267). Unfortunately for her, there is much that is plain about farm life.
Dennis has realised that the future of the district depends on using modern agricultural and pastoral techniques, so much so that the whole neighbourhood would be adversely affected by their failure to adapt. His previous success with the formation of the Dairy Factory, inspires his further energies and he applies himself to the creation of a refrigerated meat company. Grossmann examines the recent history of New Zealand within this part of the novel, with attention paid to the global markets that were opening up due to the advent of refrigerated shipping techniques,38 as Dennis gets on with the business of establishing a local company. Evans suggests that the meat processing industry acts as a metaphor for European colonisation, what he calls ‘the choice between paradise and the meatworks, Arcadia and Utopia’.39. It is clear that the bloody nature of the farm and the industrial butchery of the slaughter-house have not yet occurred to Aidie.
She has been absorbed into the settler lifestyle. Having been transformed by her marriage with a ‘new-blown matronly air’ (240), she is quickly run down by her circumstances. She is lonely and looks ‘pale’ (258) and ‘faded’ (259), and the drudgery of her existence comes to a head. Dennis’ return from a day on the farm provides the catalyst: she sees her bloody husband, and is fascinated ‘morbidly’ (266) by the implications of that blood. Dennis attempts to alleviate her concerns, suggesting wittily that there be a ‘Colonial version of the New Testament’ (267), but there is no avoiding the work of farm-life. What is more, she is unable to find any resemblance between the killing that occurs on her farm, and that which occurs at the end of a fox hunt. The business of death is associated with the Smithfield market (268), and is absolutely inflected by class. This conversation goes on to reveal that Dennis had shot a treasured childhood pet, Rangi, after the dog had been caught savaging sheep on a neighbouring farm. Aidie’s sense of grief fires the novel into the home stretch. She has made her repentance and Dennis his confession, so all manner of things should now be well.
Grossmann has described the details of farming practice, and the scope of Dennis’ plans for the farm, and it is the matter of Dennis’ ambition and desire to care for his wife and provide for her that is the pivot for this final section. The death of his father-in-law, Mr Borlase, Aidie’s dangerous labour, and the still-birth of their child are the events that change the course of their lives immediately – Dennis refuses to leave his wife, choosing her over the work of the Refrigerating Company (297), calling her back to life (301). Having saved his wife from death, as he had previously promised to do, Dennis returns to his old habits, working too hard and staying away too long, and it is reliable Emmie who sticks her oar in to save the day, and the marriage.
The happy ending that Dennis and Aidie seek is provided as he agrees to abandon his business, and all ends well. It seems that they have finally told each other what it is they really want. He realises that Aidie doesn’t need a large home, nor does she want trips to Europe, and all she wants is for her husband to be closer by. Clear communication saves the day, and a happy future is assured. The pair:
‘read “poetry books” and “history books” together… picnics “all alone by themselves”… went walks together…. “as if they were sweethearts and not a married couple,”’ (331)
while the neighbours and the servants enjoy the humour of such behaviour and make the most of Dennis’ foolishness of throwing away ‘all his golden chances once again’ (331). Stafford and Williams conclude that the resolution between the pair and ‘Dennis’s capitulation’ may seem sudden, but say that it is logical given Aidie’s sentimentalised version of the bush.40 Evans writes that Grossmann has retreated from the implications of brutality in settler life, and turns toward the sublime with her “happy ending” for the couple, calling it an ‘infantilising conclusion’,41 but this seems an unnecessarily harsh assessment of the text. Perhaps it is more helpful to remember for whom this novel was written – the readers of this text would most likely have been women for whom the opportunities that Aidie had received were not available. Grossmann offers these readers, even the locally born, a fairy tale ending for a new and foreign place.
31 Evans, Patrick The Long Forgetting. Post-colonial literary culture in New Zealand Canterbury University Press, Christchurch. 2007. 102.
32 Evans, Patrick The Long Forgetting. Post-colonial literary culture in New Zealand Canterbury University Press, Christchurch. 2007. 106.
33 The Papers Past website at the National Library have an extensive collection of Grossmann’s work online. Much of her work was published in the Otago Witness, including travelogues of her European trips, and other titles like ‘Among the Alps’, ‘Valley of Lower Hutt’, ‘On the West Coast Road’, ‘Valley of Hakataramea’, etc.. A number of these are collected in the Appendices
34 Evans, Patrick Penguin History of New Zealand Literature Penguin Books, Auckland. 1990. 61
35 The title of this chapter is ‘How Adelaide repented of her Besetting Sin’.
36 Evans, Patrick Penguin History of New Zealand Literature Penguin Books, Auckland. 1990. 61
37 Stafford, Jane and Mark Williams Maoriland. New Zealand Literature 1872-1914 Victoria University Press, Wellington. 2006. 179-80.
38 Grossmann had written an article on refrigerated cargo, published by the Otago Witness in 1903. http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=OW19030909.2.181&srpos=84&e=-------50--51-byDA---0grossmann+cargo--. Accessed 14 December 2011.
39 Evans, Patrick The Long Forgetting. Post-colonial literary culture in New Zealand Canterbury University Press, Christchurch. 2007. 116.
40 Stafford, Jane and Mark Williams Maoriland. New Zealand Literature 1872-1914 Victoria University Press, Wellington. 2006. 197.
41 Evans, Patrick The Long Forgetting. Post-colonial literary culture in New Zealand Canterbury University Press, Christchurch. 2007. 118.