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


Finally. Finally, to end this survey of the fiction of the thirties, except for the major novelists to be considered in the next chapter, here are three further novels. A brief note should be made of Gloria Rawlinson's Music in the Listening Place, 1938, a fantastic tale involving the Maori fairies, (the turehu), and a teen-age girl with a haunting obsession. It will not be to the taste of all readers.

Beryl McCarthy's Castles in the Soil, 1939, is a historical novel set on the East Coast of the North Island, a complicated chronicle of early settlers, station life, Hauhau troubles, a mixed marriage, estrangement, and ultimate reconciliation. Castles in the Soil won third prize in the section for novels in the literary competitions organised in 1940 to mark the centennial of the founding of the Colony of New Zealand. In the field of the novel, these competitions did not uncover any great talent; it is interesting to note, however, that Frank Sargeson's short story, The Making of a New Zealander, and M. H. Holcroft's seminal essay in criticism, The Deepening Stream, were brought to public notice by the centennial awards.

Similar historical material is in Joyce West's novel Sheep Kings, 1936, a family saga of the Kings, whose founder came to Poverty Bay in 1841, and married a Maori wife. Acquiring in this by no means unusual way some of the wide acres so desirable for sheep, Stafford King established a dynasty, whose fortunes Joyce West then traces through the typical pioneer possibilities. Each generation has a King. Hero and heroine are done with a Byronic magnificence, intended to dignify large-scale land holding and glamorise the great open spaces. "His eyes were arrogant. His hands betrayed the horseman, brown, sensitive, sinewy hands." Neither in style nor in construction is the author equal to her theme, but her subject matter, at least at that time, was fresh, and she has a keen sense of the drama of this type of pioneer experience. The only writer who has yet made it into literature in this country is H. Guthrie-Smith, in Tutira, 1921. This astonishing record of a real sheep king's career proves that it is possible for fact to be more enthralling than fiction.

(Topics for Study and Discussion are given in the Appendix.)