The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
Chapter 2: Preaching and Interpreting (1890-1910)
Chapter 2: Preaching and Interpreting (1890-1910)
O pioneer soul! against Ruin here hardily pitted, What life wilt thou make of existence?
Philosopher Dick. We spoke, at the beginning, of the four stages to be observed in the development of New Zealand fiction, those of recording, exploiting, preaching, and interpreting. Except for John White's unreadable Maori novels, the works discussed so far have been concerned chiefly with the first two stages, those of recording pioneer experiences, and of exploiting the literary possibilities of an unfamiliar and sensational background.
After 1890 the post-pioneer period was setting in. Settlers were consolidating their gains, looking back upon the melee of a receding past, assessing the present, building for a foreseeable future. It is at this point that New Zealand novels appear which, whatever their deficiencies, are trying to interpret something to somebody, to depict the thoughts and actions of characters representative of real life. The exploiting novel continues, as ever, to flourish, but the recording novel proper begins to die out.
The earliest novel which I would classify as serious literature—or attempting to be—is George Chamier's Philosopher Dick, 1891. It is the most mature of our novels before the turn of the century; it relies recklessly, however, on all the fictional devices of the age, letters, diaries, inset yarns, authorial intrusions, lengthy meditative musings. Richard Raleigh, the stock English emigrant-author-hero, is distinguished by education and some idealism from good-time Philistines such as W. M. Baines's hero in The Narrative of Edward Crewe. He has come to the New World hoping for better things; part of the interest of the novel is in his reaction to what he finds in New Zealand life, to its failure to exemplify the "pilgrim dream". As Allen Curnow writes in The Unhistoric Story, "It was something different, something nobody counted on". Richard Raleigh comes to Marino station, bringing with him those symbols of culture which we have already noted, a flute, the right books, and painting gear. (We are spared the Voyage Out, and begin forthrightly and naturally with "There was a large muster in the men's kitchen at the Marino station that evening . . .") In this assemblage of men of all types and histories, "Philosopher Dick" shakes down, sar- page 23 donically eyeing the standards and assumptions of this microcosm. Are these the Staunch Pioneers, setting up an ideal world in the Wilderness? Is this Progress? Is this the Good Life? Dick does not think so, concluding rather that "Creation is an armed camp, and the work of slaughtering its principal occupation". Disgust with his fellows accumulates. Dick takes on the lonely job of boundary rider, and broods among his mountain grandeurs upon the mystery of the Universe. Had Chamier been reading Hardy? He is not equal to the study which he has here attempted of the disintegration of a man under such conditions, but the themes he opens up are real, and to judge by their recurrence in our later writing, ones which are permanent in our way of life. Among them, for instance, are the un-happiness of the cultured man (or woman) in uncongenial surroundings (Edith Grossmann, Jane Mander), the utilitarian values of the mushroom towns (David Ballantyne, John Guthrie, Gordon Slatter, Bill Pearson, Janet Frame), and the need for fellowship among men (John Mulgan, Guthrie Wilson, Frank Sargeson).
The novel is a shapeless holdall, exasperating and baffling, but full of good things. The pricking of the balloons of pioneer rhetoric is particularly effective—as are the satirical comments on life. Here are some samples:
"The pig has some distinguishing qualities of the successful colonist, —so it prospered." "A man with an overdraft of £50,000 could only be considered a personage of great weight."
(About New Zealand politics.) "Their everlasting tinkering at legislation, their pettifogging local squabbles, their miserable subserviency to every popular outcry, and their lavish expenditure." (True, now as then?)
Chamier's book gives an excellent picture of the working sheep and cattle men of a big Canterbury run, uses New Zealand vocabulary and slang effectively without feeling any need to explain it, and gives the details of daily life in vigorous profusion. The style is uneven, varying suddenly from an upholstered rhetoric in scenic descriptions to unpretentious New Zealandisms, and with some of that distressing tendency to polysyllabic humour for which Dickens is probably to be held responsible. The tone of the book is not consistent, either, for Raleigh's wry sarcastic attitude shades off at the end into a different one of inquiring interest. Instead of philosophising in revolt against the way of life he finds about him, Raleigh ends by partly accepting its basic premises. When he turns his analytical gaze "philosophically" upon it, some of his musings will remind readers of "Sundowner's" recent contributions to the New Zealand Listener.
Philosopher Dick, then, attempts to interpret, not merely to record life as George Chamier knew it. It is a muddled, odd book, but for all its faults it is a genuine New Zealand novel, not a travelogue, a Maorilogue, or a flight of romance. "In more senses than one," writes page 24 E. H. McCormick, "it is a pioneer work, an attempt to impose some coherence and form upon a formless mass of experience."2
In a sequel, A South Sea Siren, 1895, Philosopher Dick Raleigh is living in the small settlement Sunnydowns, ironically amused at the goings-on of the farmers of the district, "not the common cockatoo, but gentlemen farmers", who "with very little capital, less knowledge, and no practical experience whatever" were trying to set up a miniature Old World in the New. "A goodly company—while they lasted." The story turns on the contrast between Dick, with his brilliant superstructure of ideas, and his opposite number who has eyes only for the main chance. Dick in the end is accepted by the girl of his heart, and goes to Wellington to become a journalist on the Monitor.
Ninetyish Society. Several women writing in the 1890s may also be said to be interpreting the life they knew, trying to evaluate it as well as describe it. One such is Anne Glenny Wilson, whose two novels Alice Lauder, 1893, and Two Summers, 1900, depict comically the snobisme of the rising colonial gentry. Lady Wilson is no Jane Austen, and is not sufficiently detached from the society she portrays to maintain a consistent critical tone. Still, her work offers a lively picture.
In Alice Lauder, the raw Australian girl goes Home to study singing, meeting on the journey the cultured gentleman hero. The plot provides some nasty jabs at English snobbery as well as at colonial uncouthness. In the end, Alice "sacrifices" her art to marriage—for the feminist movement has begun to shadow even a love story.
Some remarks from Two Summers will reveal the author's critical attitude, as well as her uncertainty about the right loyalties for Aucklanders in the nineties. Were they English? Or Colonial? (Or—name it not—New Zealanders?):
"Alicia's circle and atmosphere had seemed to him hitherto too much and too consciously a copy of the English original; they were much the same as would be met with in any smaller English centre, but tinned, as it were, and of rather provincial flavour at that. Freddy . . . was always trying with might and main to be colonial. He wore the most extraordinary boots and riding clothes, and was always cracking a stock whip ... his wife [was] trying to be English . . . with a deeper British dye than ever."
Another by-no-means bad novel of the nineties, as well as picturing this provincial world, poses a special New Zealand difficulty, that of the social position to be granted to the educated half-caste girl. Jessie Weston's Ko Meri, 1890, gives an amusing sketch of upper class society in Auckland. We have the grammar school dance, the choral society's Messiah, social life and tea parties revolving round the Church, Christmas at the Antipodes, a little watercolour painting, page 25 tennis, and soulful religious discussions in which agnostic, churchman, and intellectual probe the secrets of the universe in very emotive prose. On the fringe is Mary Balmain, a half-caste Maori princess, whose uncertain hold on Christian belief makes another thread in the preachment. She is brought up by her guardian among the best people, learns to "dispense dainty cups of tea from a dainty teapot", and sings and paints a little as a lady should. Enter Captain Deering, an English gentleman, who falls in love with her. "Surely Paris never wooed Oenone or the Grecian Helen in a fairer land than this suburb of Auckland on the day that the English soldier declared his love to this daughter of the soil!" No wonder he was struck by her, for how different she was from the girls he knew at Home.
"... she paced up and down the room with a sweeping pantherlike grace, her eyes brilliant with that dangerous light never seen except in the eyes of native races, whose souls know no law but their own instincts and passions—a magnificent figure in her long trailing gown and splendid, voluptuous beauty, the veneer of civilisation fallen off, and the Maori blood surging wildly through her veins."
The Captain proposes, and Mary goes to England to marry him. When, however, he is killed, the uncertain poise of her training collapses; she returns to New Zealand and to the Maori way of life in the pa, claiming her Maori kindred with the words, "The night that has fallen upon my race has fallen upon me, and it is well that I should share the darkness with my own people".
The Maori Again. This belief that the Noble Savage was doomed was one sincerely held in the nineties; A. A. Grace entitled his Maori sketches of 1901, Tales of a Dying Race. Dora Wilcox, in her poem Onawe, 1905, speaks of the ruin of a great Maori fortification at Akaroa in these words:
Tena koe Pakeha! within this fortification
Grows English grass—
Tena koe! subtle conqueror of a nation
Doomed, doomed to pass!
E. H. McCormick links this idea with the beginnings of Pakeha endeavours to preserve Maori tradition before it was too late, as evidenced by the founding in 1892 of the Polynesian Society, and the sponsoring, in the years that followed, of many studies of the Maori race such as those of John White, already noted. At least the belief that he was doomed enabled writers to dignify the Maori in fiction by giving him tragic stature, as Jessie Weston does. The tragic figure is a little more human and convincing than the comic stereotype.
Four other novels of the time deal with the half-caste theme: A. A. Grace's Atareta, Belle of the Kainga, 1908; H. B. Vogel's A Maori Maid, 1898 ; A. H. Adams's Tussock Land, 1904; and Banner- page 26 man Kaye's Haromi, 1900. Katherine Mansfield also was attracted by the topic; in 1908 she considered writing a story Maata which would be a "psychological study". Part of a novel survives, but has not been published.
A Maori Maid is really very well done. Harry B. Vogel, a son of Sir Julius Vogel, has several novels to his credit, one set in Tasmania. In A Maori Maid, a Wellington surveyor John Anderson meets in his Taupo camp a Maori heiress, with whom he contracts a "Maori marriage". A daughter, Ngaia, is brought up by Anderson's evil stockman Jake as his own child. Ngaia is sent to a Napier school to be made into a lady, but Jake soon claims her, and leads her a life of misery on Anderson's Te Henga sheep station. There, English cadet Archie Deverell, son of a baronet, falls in love with her. They spend their honeymoon in the bush, prospecting for gold. Sensational elements are provided by Anderson's white son, a gaolbird, and by the sequences of a manhunt. In the finale, Ngaia inherits Te Henga. The problems faced by Archie and Ngaia in reconciling their differences of race and background are well handled. Vogel has a keen sardonic humour, and has contrived some really funny Maori episodes, the tangi at Tokaanu, for instance.
A. H. Adams was known as poet, journalist, and playwright. His five novels are all readable, Tussock Land in 1904 being the only New Zealand one. The central issue is the same as Vogel's, the relationship of a half-caste girl and a white boy, and is treated with imagination and insight. In spite of a clumsy exposition and a rather too contrived ending, the book has form. It opens in the tussock hills of Southland, with their homesteads full "of the usual furniture of up-country stations", prints, photos, shells, woollen mats, and "glacial sofas". Here Aroha Grey at nineteen finds her fairy prince first in her father's ploughman, then with more discernment in twenty-year-old, white King Southern of Dunedin. She, the half-breed, is the true New Zealander, for she belongs to a "newer people, a nation that has no past". The story of her relationship with King is most sympathetically handled. King, of what Adams emphatically calls the "dying race", is weak, and after repudiating Aroha when she comes to his home town, retreats to Sydney. There life teaches him to grow up. In the end he finds that New Zealand is his real home, to which he must return. A. H. Adams finally brings the tired King and the disillusioned Aroha together without sentimentality or romantic passion. So the white man finds strength, the half-caste finds security, and the future lies before their children.
This solution—that New Zealanders must find their future in a racial and cultural blend, was highly unorthodox in 1904, though it may yet be the verdict of history.
The Preachers. The nineties were an earnest decade; we have page 27 already noted their sense of responsibility about racial problems, about social distinctions, about religious doubt, about a philosophy of living viable in these islands. Attempts to understand and interpret these questions were paralleled by attempts to teach possible answers. Most of the avowedly didactic novels are poor stuff. A short account of them, however, is needed to fill out the story.
Some "preaching" novels were economic or socialist fantasies of the Utopian variety, designed to show us a Better Way. Julius Vogel's Anno Domini 2000, published in 1889, is a good example of this. It is an abysmally stilted tale of Hilda Fitzherbert, Duchess of New Zealand ("from her earliest years she had never failed in any intellectual exercise"), who in an era of women's equality becomes a great "statesman", marries the Emperor of Britain, reconquers the American colonies, institutes Social Security, sets up Home Rule for Ireland, and establishes equal rights of inheritance for men and women to the imperial throne. The book, as E. H. McCormick notes in his Survey, is "an oblique testament of faith ... in the ideals which [Vogel] had laboured to impose on a generally acquiescent population" during the years of the Vogel boom. McCormick goes on to point out that "three main strands of thought and sentiment run through this extravaganza, as indeed through the later history of New Zealand".3 These are affection for the Mother country mixed with the desire to be free of her trammels, a humanitarian liberal outlook, and a dominant material philosophy which equates progress with cash.
Both this, and Butler's earlier A First Year in Canterbury Settlement, 1863, give an extraordinarily truthful report of the state of mind and spirit of the settlers of the 1870s. The unresolved tension between past and present, the colonial uncertainty as to whether "Home" or New Zealand was "home", and the money-making realism which was the normal daily life of those who dreamed of Utopias— these are notable in Butler's record. At present it is the Utopian aspect of Erewhon that concerns us.
Erewhon is a novel of ideas, with a plot contrived to provide a loose framework for an onslaught on the hypocrisy, humbug, and false philosophy of its time. Butler was exposing pretences in home, school, law, medicine, economic theory, Church, politics and social attitudes to crime and disease. The account of the territory of the upper Rakaia River and the crossing of Whitcombe Pass provides the tough, factual and fully credible material from which alone a well built satiric fantasy can spring. Precise details of navigation and shipwreck serve the same purpose in Gulliver's Travels. A number of things in Butler's settler experiences, including his knowledge of Maori ways, undoubtedly sharpened his impulse to lash the age.page 28
Joseph Jones, in The Cradle of Erewhon, 1959, puts it thus:
"For Erewhon the native background proved enriching; it lent remote-sounding names, a grotesque art, a possibility of being piously regarded as the lost tribes of Israel, one full-length character in Chowbok, and a topsy-turvy code of morals."
Yet for all this, Erewhon is only marginally a New Zealand novel, and its relationship to the Utopian fiction which sprang up in the nineties is a tenuous one.
This fiction of reform includes many queer, forgotten items. Macmillan Brown, professor of English at Canterbury College, under the pseudonym of Godfrey Sweven published two "novels", Riallaro, 1901, a satire, and Limanora, 1903, a Utopian study. Edward Tregear's Hedged with Divinities, 1895, tells of the sole male surviving after a world catastrophe; he is elected king of the women of New Zealand.
There were a number of pamphlet-novels arising out of the land problems, full of amateur, earnest criticism and cranky notions. G. M. Reed's Hunted, 1889, is about an Irish family ruined by the land monopoly. J. C. MacCartie's Making His Pile, 1891, W. Freeman's He Who Digged a Pit, 1889, are others in this surge of stories critical of colonial values. The problem of poverty in the midst of so-called progress is one which found early expression in our fiction, though it is only later writers such as John Lee (Children of the Poor, 1934) and Robin Hyde (Passport to Hell, 1936) who handle it with insight and force.
Women's Rights. The Utopian visionaries were mostly men. In propaganda for the feminist case, however, it is the women who are to the fore. Louisa Baker has already been noted. Her particular mixture of religious appeal, sex appeal, and championship of women's rights made her one of the popular novelists of her time; her novels even went into American editions. Typical is A Daughter of the King, 1894, set in Canterbury, with chapter headings out of Bunyan, several sickbeds, and a clergyman's unsuccessful marriage ; the climax is the emancipation of the martyred wife who takes to the violin, makes for Melbourne, and ends up resigned to God's will. Independence, writes Louisa Baker, is the "great hunger of the common sisterhood". Women have slowly begun to see "that man— chivalric, deferential, and passionate, or uncouth and uncultured the same—in loving . . . too often is loving self." She sees the women of her time as "in the agonies of the birth pains ... of a larger, broader, purer love, that will triumph over minds illuminated with truth". Local reviewers spoke of Louisa Baker's novels as evil and decadent, but everybody seems to have read them. Constance Clyde's A Pagan's Love, 1905, also pleads for women's independence.
The position of women was a problem occupying the colonial woman even more than her counterpart then campaigning at page 29 Home. In this field, Edith Searle Grossmann is outstanding; she has the idealism and courage of the true pioneers, with notions more advanced than most New Zealand women today would hold. She advocated total equality of economic opportunity, political rights, and social recognition ; she asked for a woman's right to satisfactions in marriage equal to those of the male partner, and for honesty in the relationship of sex. At first her tales were narrow crusading affairs, such as Angela, a Messenger, 1890, set in the Wairarapa. In Revolt, 1893, and its sequel A Knight of the Holy Ghost, 1907, are Australian studies of the feminine idealist dragged down by an evil husband. Hermione Howard wants to learn Latin, and to teach, but are such pleasures womanly? Do "women's rights" include the right to study and to read great literature as well as to bear children and do the household chores?
Hermione marries her wealthy grazier, and finds out. There are swearing, drinking, brutality to man and beast, infidelity, all the horrors. Hermione is caught hard and fast in the matrimonial trap. Several children are born, and then, when she is still only nineteen, Hermione defies her husband Bradley Carlisle in order to give evidence against another wicked husband, this time a wife-murderer. Bradley thereupon beats her up, and causes the death of her little son. She runs away to the wilds, almost out of her mind, while he sinks into drunken delirium. In the sequel, written fourteen years later, Hermione not unexpectedly leads a crusade for women's rights. Bradley, however, with the sanction of society, drags her through the martyrdom of the divorce court, after which she goes forth heroically to die.
The crude exaggeration of this puts it out of court as a serious achievement; nevertheless, Edith Grossmann is dealing with real issues and trying to interpret them, as well as to preach tolerance and independence. There is plenty of evidence in letters and diaries about the moral and intellectual problems which were faced by pioneer women who wished to do more in the world than cook and breed.
Edith Grossmann came nearest to success in her last novel, The Heart of the Bush, 1910. The setting this time is South Canterbury. Adelaide Borlase returns from an expensive English education. Will she marry the bronzed but uncultured colonial, or the too-polished Englishman? Here is dramatised the conflict "Between Two Hemispheres" which was to be acted out in life by so many New Zealanders, from Katherine Mansfield to Robin Hyde. Edith Grossmann gives a crisp amusing picture of Adelaide's struggles to find herself, to know what she really is. Her decision is taken in terms of marriage, when she plumps for Dennis, the New Zealand rough diamond, accepting along with him the diminished prospects of the struggling small farmer. "How will it all turn out," asks the author, "the marriage of the leisured and the labouring class, of art and nature, of civilisation page 30 and barbarism?" Adelaide's father warns her—"You don't know what you are going into—a struggle for years, ... a lonely life on this bush farm . . . work all the year round . . . wait till the children come!" Further problems of adjustment, personal and patriotic, develop. Dennis, attempting to compensate his wife for what she has missed, drives on to success in business schemes of refrigeration. His visits to Dunedin grow more prolonged and Adelaide is increasingly left without companionship or understanding. Only after the loss of a child, and his wife's long illness, does the New Zealand husband accept his lot, as she has to accept hers. They return to the small-scale, local, country life which will give them, if they live it together, a peculiarly New Zealand happiness. Excessive material prosperity, and English-imported culture, are thus both seen to be irrelevant. The future lies in union and compromise. To mark this, Adelaide has at the happy ending "a little secret" to whisper to her husband. Edith Grossmann is no craftsman. Her prose style is bedevilled by the impulses to fine writing which set up a barrier between our early novelists and a truthful perception of emotions or landscapes. But she is still worth reading—where so many of these writers are not—because she has attempted to explore some of the difficulties of life for the women of her time.
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.
William Satchell. One novelist remains, in all the early years up to 1910, whose work has endured and is still readable in its own right. This is William Satchell. The tragedy is that recognition came too late to help or to encourage him. When the Government in 1939 allotted Satchell a special pension—he was just on 80—Pat Lawlor records that royalties on The Greenstone Door had amounted to only £31 15s. 11d.; a reprint in that year was expected to harvest £30. Compare this with possibilities today for someone who achieves success.
William Satchell was born in London in 1860, and ventured into print with a first volume entitled Will o' the Wisp in 1883. He was settled in the Hokianga district by 1886, trying to farm. In the 1890s he moved to Auckland, where P. J. Wilson (in The Maorilander, 1961) page 32 has tracked him down as contributor to various local and Australian journalistic ventures. He used several pseudonyms, the chief being a partial anagram of his name, Samuel Cliall White. Most of this journalism is article and short story stuff on topics such as Thames goldmining, the gumfields, Maori superstitions, revenge and crime. Almost to the day of his death in 1942 he wrote articles for the old Saturday Supplement of the New Zealand Herald.
The Land of the Lost, like The Greenstone Door, was reprinted in 1936, but, alas, is not available today. The plot has the basic defect of the Victorian convention, that it functions independently of character; its creaking machinery of lost inheritance, wicked uncle, disguised hero, and unlikely high-minded heroine is imposed on a background of minor persons and setting to which it is really irrelevant. But the book has power. The life and atmosphere of the gumlands is very well conveyed; there are no patches of purple prose, but the sense of landscape seeps into your consciousness as you read from a multitude of details presented with a quite natural lack of emphasis. Incidental scenes are brilliant—the races, the betting groups of Maoris, society at the gumlands pub The Scarlet Man. There in particular you feel the tensions generated by homesickness, violence and suffering. You come to appreciate the casual male world, and the social strength of the unwritten laws of the "land of the lost" by which a man's business is his own. As a re-creation of a moment of life in our history, it has not yet been bettered, in my view. For Satchell, of course, it was not so much history, as an experience transfigured. Old-timers insist that the gumlands were not "lost lands", but Satchell makes you feel that they were. He also contrives to give you a long view, a sense of the littleness of this episode in the vast-ness of the earth's history, an awareness of time and fate. The book opens among the kauri forests of the past, it closes with a vision of the future. Jess Olive, the queer fellow, makes a prophecy— "There is a better day coming," he says. "Every year the settler is extending his landmarks and rooting himself like the trees he displaces. As the gum goes he advances ... I see the apple orchards and the vineyards of the future . . . The men we know—the reckless, the hopeless, the unhappy—are gone to their appointed places. I hear the voices of the children at play among the thick-leafed trees."
The Toll of the Bush also has the intrusive plot machinery of the time, the remittance man, the guilty secret. The story, set in a pioneer settlement in Northland, concerns two brothers of contrasted education, Robert the colonial, Geoffrey the English boy, who farm together. Geoffrey loves Eve Milward, daughter of the rich man of page 33 the district, but is rejected by her when he is wrongly accused of immorality. The letter proving his innocence is suppressed by his rival, the unpleasant Rev. Mr Fletcher, who thus gets Eve for himself. There is bush drama in plenty, including a search for the lost and desperate Eve who has fled there, and a fire which kills off the reverend villain. Robert meanwhile has married the daughter of a drunken Swede, Andersen, whose degeneration under bush conditions is sincerely presented. In spite of the high melodrama of the story, Satchell does suggest the malignity of nature. This is indeed, the toll of the bush; interesting comparison can be made between his picture and those in Helen Wilson's My First Eighty Years, Jean Bos-well's Dim Horizons (both are autobiography), or in Jane Mander's novel The Passionate Puritan.
The Elixir of Life is set on shipboard, but, says E. H. McCormick, "The ocean was a poor substitute for the gumfields, and the conduct of a shipload of New Zealanders gave the author only limited scope for his gift of sympathetic portraiture—it called rather for . . . the satirist."4 What can be made of the topic may be seen in a humorous novel of 1954, Voyagers in Aspic, by John Gillies.
The Greenstone Door. Satchell's fame rests ultimately upon his last book published in the unlucky year of 1914. The Greenstone Door is a historical novel, set in 1830-60, and involving not experience recalled and transmuted, but a past reconstructed. It is more carefully organised, more thoroughly prepared than the earlier three stories.
In the previous chapter it was suggested that serious Maori novels set in the past tend to sink under the weight of necessary information. Satchell chose most skilfully to focus his story through the mind of an adult remembering his childhood. The reader is in this way taken naturally into the hero's confidence. To some extent, the reader learns as Cedric Tregarthen learns; where needed, and quite acceptably, Satchell exercises the storyteller's usual privilege of supplementing with extra material, but this does not spoil the illusion, for the teller is still Cedric himself. Thus, in chapter 1, Satchell begins evocatively with Cedric's earliest vivid memories, slips in the further details which the grown man knows though the child did not ("I have no actual recollection of the moment when these two intrepid white men . . . ") and fills out the picture from a later point of view with such phrases as "at the moment of which I write ..." or, "At this period the practice of cannibalism . . ."
It all falls together naturally; the recollections of childhood blend with the later wisdom of the man who writes them down. It is a simple technique, handled artlessly, but it works well enough for its purpose, at least in the first half of the novel.
Many New Zealanders know The Greenstone Door. Cedric's father page 34 is killed by the Maoris, the child is protected by Trader Purcell, the Thumb of Te Waharoa, and adopted by that chief as his Little Finger. He grows up among the Maori people, with his foster sister Puhi-Huia, and his friend Rangiora.
Together the three young people penetrate to a secret limestone cave, where in their fancy the stalagmites take the shapes of men and women in some drama of the future; Rangiora and Cedric end the racial hostility of their boyhood with an oath of peace, the compact of the Tatau Pounamu, that the Greenstone Door be closed.
Events then move on in history, through the troubles that followed Waitangi. In his teens, Cedric is sent to Auckland, to be initiated into the white man's world; this enables Satchell to give us our dose of Pakeha facts in their turn. The boy grows up into an eligible young man who meets Sir George Grey and falls in love with a heroine improbably called Helenora. When the wars break out, sympathies and loyalties are divided; we are shown both sides. Purcell, who joins the Maori people, is executed as a traitor. Satchell contrives in Scott's manner to involve his fictitious persons in historical events where they can play noted parts. Cedric goes, for instance, with General Cameron to the siege of Orakau Pa in April 1864, and accompanies Major Mair to the edge of the redoubt to make that famous offer of surrender terms the resounding rejection of which has been so well remembered. It is Rangiora who is made to speak the Maori defiance "E hoa, ka whawhai tonu ahau ki a koe, ake, ake!" (Friend, I shall fight against you for ever, for ever!) Puhi-Huia is among the slain. With all his companions dead, shattered by his experience of conflicting loyalties, Cedric lies desperately ill, but is nursed back—alas, in the best Victorian sentiment—by the repentant Helenora.
The difficulties of this sort of thing are considerable, but many of them, I suggest, are surmounted. E. H. McCormick comments that "the plot is more improbable and melodramatic than ever"5—but is an author not entitled to pile it on a bit in a historical romance, as R. L. Stevenson did?
William Satchell's achievement is, considering his time and environment, a real one. He is, moreover, the earliest of our novelists to be widely read today. When The Land of the Lost comes into circulation again his reputation should be secure. P. J. Wilson's biography, The Maorilander, has added to our appreciation of the literary and social background of his times.
(Topics for Study and Discussion are given in the Appendix.)