The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
Personal Protest. Robin Hyde was the pen-name of Iris Wilkinson, who was born in South Africa, coming to New Zealand as a baby and growing up in Wellington. Like Katherine Mansfield, she attended the Wellington Girls' College. She went straight from school to the office of a newspaper. "I was its Aunt Mary [on the Farmers' Advocate, run by the Dominion", she wrote, "and christened chickens, cows, children, on a page for the young idea." The next twelve years she spent as journalist in various parts of the country, being at different times on the staff of the Sun (Christchurch), the Wanganui Chronicle, the Mirror, and the Observer. She became known as a contributor of articles, short stories and poems in the New Zealand and Australian Press.
The kind of life she led at this time, and the kind of writing she page 53 was forced to do, may be found described with a slick liveliness in her first prose book, Journalese, 1934. This is in poor taste, and without literary merit. It is, however, well worth reading for the picture it gives of the job, and of the personalities of the literary world of the late twenties and early thirties. You will find there anecdotes about her Parliamentary reporting, her meetings with the famous, with evangelists, fortune-tellers, faith-healers, with Kingsford Smith, Mona Tracy, Eileen Duggan, Jessie Mackay, Edith Howes, Rosemary Rees, Jean D.evanny, Jane Mander. There are stories of Nelle Scanlan in the Press gallery in Parliament, of the Auckland riots in 1932, and of Jim Edwards, whose story she learnt from him in jail, and whose wife and eight children she befriended. Other names are dotted about —A. R. D. Fairburn, R. A. K. Mason, C. R. Allen, M. H. Holcroft, Ngaio Marsh, J. H. E. Schroder, Eric Baume, and many others.
There is much in Journalese which explains the successes and failures of the later novels. C. R. Allen himself said, in an obituary in The Press in September 1939, that her Grub Street habits hampered her in more serious work, leading her astray into pernicious literary affectation. She knew this herself—but a living had to be earned.
"I don't altogether approve of myself," she wrote to Johannes Andersen who interested himself in her poetry, "how can one approve of a writer who claims a love of verse foremost, but who also writes novels, short stories, and a journalistic hotch-potch? The novels and short stories mightn't be so bad if I could write them as I want to do. But the journalistic stuff ... I hate and fear. But I have never had much option."13
Dates are important in Robin Hyde's story. She had only ten short years between her first book and her last, ten years in which great promise did not quite come to full fruition. Only in a few of her last poems is her genius seen untrammelled by the handicaps of her life and time.
Here then is a list: 1929 The Desolate Star (verse); 1934 Journalese (articles); 1935 The Conquerors (verse); Passport to Hell (novel); 1936 Check to Your King (novel); 1937 Wednesday's Children (novel); Persephone in Winter (verse); 1938 Nor the Years Condemn (novel); The Godwits Fly (novel); 1939 Dragon Rampant (travel); 1952 Houses by The Sea (verse with a biographical introduction by Gloria Rawlinson).