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


Temperance. The temperance movement produced no novelist of Edith Grossmann's calibre, man or woman. Typical of the prohibition fiction, for instance, is A. A. Fraser's Raromi, 1888, published by the Religious Tract Society. It tells the story of the drunkard, Falconer, who is converted from his evil ways, and promises "not to go with the drunken gang at Barrett's Bar". This rouses the wrath of their leader Black Charlie, who hunts down the pious Falconer with Maori trackers in the Karori Bush. There are various pioneer Wellington scenes, much false Maori melodrama, some authentic details such as snaring pigeons, boatbuilding, and so on. In the end Black Charlie dies repentant in the arms of his long-lost widowed mother, while Falconer turns out to be a rich man in disguise, and wins back his lost bride; there was, of course, no liquor at the wedding.

Two women writers who were driven to fiction by the prohibition movement were Alie Kacem and Susie Mactier; both, you will note, also handle other themes which deeply concerned the women of the time, those of dependence in marriage, with its personal consequences, and of financial independence, with its loneliness.

In For Father's Sake, 1897, Alie Kacem writes a highly emotional tale of Nellie Main, whose father's drinking brings ruin; she describes the horrors of the racecourse, slums, and pub. The style is atrocious, a blend of Shelley with The Song of Solomon. "O my beloved thrice blessed isle" she cries, apostrophising New Zealand. Nellie, like Herpage 31mione Howard, becomes a strong-minded saint. She indulges in a riot of cultured independence as a dressmaker with her own bed-sitting-room. "The piano was crowned with Macaulay, Carlyle, Milton, Lamb. In the corner, in one heap of confusion lay, Smiles, Hemans, Browning, and . . . a large volume of Shakespeare . . ."

Susie Mactier's The Hills of Hauraki, 1908, reverts to the marriage theme, with a drunken husband to drag her heroine down to depths from which Nonconformist religion can only just save her. Chrissie Bailey descends from life in a neat cottage on the Thames goldfields, through Coromandel sawmilling, to keeping a hotel in Taranaki and a dreadful death. The dialogue is poor, and the men are quite unconvincing, but there is power in the low-toned picture of the woman's lot. Miranda Stanhope, 1911, is similar in style. A South Island novel about "the fight against The Trade" is Kathleen Inglewood's Patmos, 1905, a startling story of wicked brewers and godly abstainers. A late entry in the temperance field is Guy Thornton's The Wowser, 1916. The author was chaplain-captain to the New Zealand forces, and speaks in his preface, obviously addressed to English readers, of "our brothers of the Southern Cross". The story tells of how the tough bushmen of the King Country came to respect their wowser parson. Some chapter titles are: Raiding a Grogshop, Sunday in the Bush, Bill the Bullocky's Testimony. H. Foston's At the Front, 1921, is a journalistic-propaganda story, unbelievably bad, about religion and liquor in the "Railway Construction Camps of the Dominion of New Zealand".

Temperance fiction was written in quantity, if seldom in quality. Preaching from a predetermined point of view, whether religious, economic, or social, rarely is productive of literature.

The genre of the light love story continued in these years with such items as Ellen Taylor's A Thousand Pities, 1901, and romances by Evangeline Deverell, Dulcie Deamer, E. W. Elkington, W. H. Koebel, and others.