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Fretful Sleepers and Other Essays


page vii


I have often been asked to collect these essays or to have one or other of them reprinted. 'Fretful Sleepers' has been clandestinely photocopied for class use at a teachers' training college, and a Maori advancement committee once asked me if I could disseminate my essay 'The Maori People' more widely.

The essays range more widely in topic than those of most literary critics; but most of them are concerned with the distinctiveness of living in New Zealand and with making meaningful imaginative play of that experience. For us the heightened self-awareness which is the breath of art entails some knowledge (and revaluation) of our double traditional heritage, European and Polynesian, some recognition of our changed relations with our neighbours in the Pacific islands and in South and East Asia so that we can discard attitudes and assumptions that we inherited from our late Victorian and Edwardian predecessors, and some understanding of our own society. The changing continuum of experience and attitudes and ideas, a sort of communal stream of consciousness, is the element in which works of art are conceived and to which they are in time delivered, and is too often dismissed as a chaos of 'non-literary considerations'.

I have wondered how much to revise the essays. I think it would have been a mistake to update them and my principle has been to revise only to clarify the original meaning or remove an obvious error or injustice or repetition. 'Under Pressure to Integrate' (originally called 'The Maori People') belongs so much to the context of the official Government policy towards Maoris at the time that updating would destroy much of its value. But I believe that the principles governing good race relations that are implied in the essay stand as strongly as they did when it was written, and I am sure that Maori aspirations have not changed, rather they have intensified. In 'Fretful Sleepers' I have removed a footnote where I was rash enough to make a prediction that did not come off. Although the last paragraphs of that essay refer to contemporary alarms I have left them page viii intact since they convey something of the fears that leftists felt in the time of cold war in which it was written, and though parliamentary acts may change, I am not convinced that we have seen the last of the danger of censorship or persecution of artists.

Most of my reviews of fiction were written a year or more after the book being reviewed had been published, so that it had had a chance to be read widely beforehand. My aim has been to stimulate thought and I did not expect my evaluation of a novel to be taken as more than one intent view; not necessarily the view I would take now, because several of the writers have increased their stature since, enabling one to see their early work differently. If the reviews struck some readers as sharp it will be seen that I could admire but where I saw defects I felt obliged to speak plainly. One of them I was told had hurt the writer whose book I was considering and for that reason I would have preferred to leave it out, but it has been misrepresented as a jealous attack on a new talent and it is necessary to bring it forward so that readers can see for themselves. It is not wise to review in a small country and I gave it up.

I have included my earlier study of pakeha writing about Maoris in preference to my later and fuller one for two reasons. First, that some people have told me they found it more rewarding than the later one. Second, that the later one, 'The Maori and Literature 1938-1965', is available in two other books currently in print: The Maori People in the 1960's, edited by Erik Schwimmer (Longman Paul) and in Essays in New Zealand Literature, edited by Wystan Curnow (Heinemann Educational Books). In 'Attitudes to the Maori in Some Pakeha Fiction' I have revised one passage where (as Frank Sargeson has shown me) I read too much into the closing sentence of a story that I discuss. If before preparing these essays for the press I had thoroughly reconsidered Roderick Finlayson's stories, as I did immediately after for the edition of Brown Man's Burden and Later Stories about to be published by Auckland University Press, I would have further modified the comments that I make on them in two or three of the essays.

'The Recognition of Reality', originally delivered as an address to an audience who could not be expected to know a lot about our country or its literature, repeats ideas that originated in earlier essays but I have included it because it takes a broader perspective than they do and comprehends a number of my ideas.

Bill Pearson
July, 1973