Title: The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965

Author: Joan Stevens

Publication details: Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, 1966

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Sylvia Johnston

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965

Chapter 1 (pp. 9-21)

page 150

Chapter 1 (pp. 9-21)

1. At the time of their first publication, these novels raised quite a storm. In the light of M. H. Holcroft's remarks, can you suggest why? David Ballantyne's The Cunninghams, 1948; Jean Devanny's The Butcher Shop, 1926; Jane Mander's The Story of a New Zealand River, 1920; John Lee's Children of the Poor, 1934; Janet Frame's Owls Do Cry, 1957; Dan Davin's For The Rest of Our Lives, 1947.

2. Now that plenty of the letters and memoirs of early settlers are in print, it is possible to assess the basis of truth in our first New Zealand novels. How do Isabella Aylmer and Charlotte Evans and the rest compare with, for instance, Lady Barker in Station Life in New Zealand, 1870, or Station Amusements in New Zealand, 1873?

Other records which picture pioneer life are Charlotte Godley's Letters from Early New Zealand, 1951, Alison Drummond's collection Married and Gone to New Zealand, 1960, or, for the menfolk, Samuel Butler's A First Year in Canterbury Settlement, 1863, and F. E. Maning's Old New Zealand, 1863.

3. It has been suggested that the writer who wishes to set a serious novel in the Maori past faces a difficult task; can you say whether any modern writers about the past of a non-European race have succeeded in making their stories both truthful and interesting? Is it easier for a writer on India or China, than, say, on Africa or Polynesia? What seem to be the major difficulties?

Would you agree that on the whole our writers have exploited the Maori theme, rather than attempted to understand or interpret it?

4. New Zealand pioneer experience took place between 1850-90, when literary models for would-be novelists were somewhat conventional. Suppose, instead, that we had been colonised between 1920-60; would the models of that period have provided our novelists with more effective techniques—or with worse ones? Imagine Distant Homes planned in imitation of Virginia Woolf, or Wild Will Enderby copying James Joyce, or Taranaki, A Tale of the War in the style of Hemingway! Would you say there is any trace in present-day local fiction of the influence of the great moderns?