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


Between 1910 and 1939 stretch thirty years in which the novelist in this country was searching for reality, for the means of depicting it, and for an audience to listen to him. Only at the end of these decades can anyone be said to have found these things, except Kath-erine Mansfield, who achieved success in short stories but did not live to write the novel which she planned to call Karori. It was a period when a writer's best hope seemed to lie in voluntary exile, which could provide both familiarity with techniques developed overseas, and that sense of perspective which would focus our experience and discipline our too provincial tone.

In May 1908, Katherine Mansfield, then in Wellington and absorbed in her struggle to get away, confided in her notebook: "Go Anywhere. Don't stay here."

And again: "I should like to write . . . about a girl in Wellington; the singular charm and barrenness of that place—with climatic effects —wind, rain, spring, night—the sea, the cloud pageantry. And then to leave the place and go to Europe—to live there a [word illegible; dual? real?] existence—to go back and be utterly disillusioned, to find out the truth of it all—to return to London—to live there an existence so full and so strange that Life itself seemed to greet her ... I should fill it with [word illegible; sinister? climatic?] disturbance ... I should call it Strife ..."

Katherine Mansfield lived that story, rather than wrote it; but it was the experience of a number of New Zealand authors during these years. In the end, the story was written, or part of it, twenty years later, in Robin Hyde's The Godwits Fly:

"Sometimes in class Mr Bellew talked about the godwits, who fly every year from the top part of the North Island to Siberia, thousands of miles without a stop. They fly north, they fly north." And again, "Most of us here are human godwits; our north is mostly England. Our page 36 youth, our best, our intelligent, brave and beautiful, must make the long migration, under a compulsion they hardly understand; or else be dissatisfied all their lives long."

Robin Hyde herself made "the long migration". On her way "north", in 1938, writing from China, she recognised the significance of the creative tide in whose turning she had shared. These are her words, in an article in T'ien Hsia:

"... in our generation, and of our own initiative, we loved England still, but we ceased to be 'forever England'. We became, for as long as we have a country, New Zealand."6

The material of the next two chapters will be an outline of what was accomplished by this generation from Katherine Mansfield to Robin Hyde.