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

Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones. A different type of recording novel is that which might be christened the "rolling stone" novel, essentially a man's book, not far removed from straight autobiography, such as H. W. Nesfield's A Chequered Career, 1881. Clara Cheeseman's A Rolling Stone, 1886, is however, in spite of its title, only a three-volume library love story whose hero survives various pioneering vicissitudes.

The most amusing of these novels is W. M. B.'s The Narrative of Edward Crewe, 1874. It is told in the first person, in an atrocious, supposedly funny fashion. W. M. B. is one Baines, who in his preface explains that he has retired to England after "many occupations and page 18 callings" in the Antipodes, and finding himself with nothing to do, has decided "to add that of author to the number". Crewe—a nominal disguise for Baines—ne'er-do-well scion of a good family, arrives in Auckland in 1850. After relating a chapter of New Zealand history from Hawaiki to Hobson, he plunges into every experience the North Island could provide. He goes trading to Thames, Te Aroha, Rotorua, Tauranga. He goes canoeing, pig shooting, goat shooting on Rangitoto, fishing for hapuku and crayfish, climbing gum trees. He sets up a sawmill and store near Coromandel, lectures us on the kauri industry, on dams, saws, trees, axes, boatbuilding. He finds gold, works a mine near Cape Colville, explores the Waikato Valley, catches a "sea serpent ... a fearful looking monster surely, with expression in his eye". That sea monster sums up the book. It has crackling life, if you can believe all Baines says, and has much documentary value as a picture of casual life in those times. Its literary value, however, is nil. Baines swoops from colonial colloquialisms, mostly placed in inverted commas or with a gloss "anglice . . . ", to heavy comic writing, of which "Old Sol was getting low" will do as a sample.

Another picaresque novel, showing the later persistence of the type, is Thos. Cottle's Frank Melton's Luck, 1891. This is, says its preface, "a realistic and truthful description of station life in New Zealand, together with a faithful depiction of the historical incidents woven into the story". With its subtitle Off to New Zealand, and its contents—A Sight of Mount Egmont, A Cattle Muster, Chased by a Cow, I Have a Piano, Gold Fever, Bushed, An Up-Country Race Meeting, A Legacy—it is fully representative of the recording novel, still aimed chiefly at the English market.