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

Mary Scott

page 45

Mary Scott. Mary Scott has also won a considerable degree of popularity here and overseas; her field, like Nelle Scanlan's, is the light love story, though two novels which appeared in 1934 and 1935 under the pseudonym Marten Stuart are more melodramatic. In 1936 she published a volume of sketches centred on the country housewife, Barbara, whose light-hearted idiocies had been amusing womenfolk in various newspapers in the country. A more recent collection, Barbara Sees the Queen, 1954, is well known.

Mary Scott's stories, Breakfast at Six, 1953, Dinner Doesn't Matter, 1957, Tea and Biscuits, 1961, A Change from Mutton, 1964, and the rest, are certainly readable; they follow an easily foreseen pattern, evoke the expected reactions, and provide comedy without ever stretching the faculties too far. By dint of repetition, she has almost established a stereotype in our fiction, just as the early novelists did in dealing with Homeys. The Homey or new chum was a fumbling fool, who had to be taught to be an acceptable colonial; Mary Scott has stylised the 'Townies' who similarly have everything to learn when they go into the Great Open Spaces. To a man—or rather more often, to a woman—they are flashy, butter-fingered, intellectual and incompetent. They do not know a cow from a bull, a sheep from a goat, or a teatowel from a dishcloth, and it is the business of her ever resourceful country folk to turn them into dinkum Kiwis.

Yet these novels, for all their shallow portraiture, have gaiety and life, with flashes of perception, and with enough information about country goings-on to build up some picture of what the North Island backblocks are like. This is just as well, seeing that they are translated into a number of European languages. One, The Unwritten Book, 1957,  a serious novel, has an obvious autobiographical basis. It traces the life story of a girl graduate who in 1913 abandons the academic life in order to marry a farmer, and lives through events tragic, comic and sensational on a back-country farm until almost the present day. Of the lighter novels, the most successful is possibly One of the Family, 1958,   in which a visiting English uncle is initiated into family and farm life.