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

That Summer

That Summer. This body of stories made Sargeson's reputation, so that it was no surprise to followers of modern writing when his short novel, That Summer, appeared in three parts in Penguin New Writing in 1943-4, Nos. 17-18-19. The English critic and literary historian, Walter Allen, wrote of Sargeson, "he does seem to me the first New Zealand NATIONAL writer".17 Allen expands this; it is not a matter merely of setting, for neither Dan Davin nor Katherine page 70 Mansfield strikes an Englishman as strange. It is, Allen suggests, a matter of assumptions, of accepted normal classlessness, of rootless men without tradition wandering in a countryside which seems relatively empty, men who are equal and unrelated atoms redeemed only by their inarticulate trust in each other.

That Summer is really a long short story, a nouvelle; it is told by a narrator who seems to be called Bill, and who is caught in the big city with his pal Terry; they live in dismal lodgings, try their luck at the races, fumble round with a sheila, get into trouble. Terry, the cobber, falls ill; Bill is hauled before the court and has a taste of gaol, but is released without conviction. He wangles Terry's escape from the hospital to which he had been taken in Bill's absence, and tries for a job. Terry dies. That was the summer.

Sargeson's world is one where there can be no satisfactory relationship between men and women. Only between cobbers can there be the tenderness and compassion which the disorganisation of society and our puritanism deny to us, so Sargeson suggests, in other relationships. This aspect of Sargeson's fiction is fully discussed by Winston Rhodes {Landfall March 1955) and by Robert Chapman {Landfall March 1953, "Fiction and the Social Pattern"). It is the dominant element in a number of Sargeson's stories of mateship, treated at its upper level of human need for companionship. "A man wants a mate that won't let him down."

The literary craft of this little novel is very fine indeed; Sargeson keeps to the semi-articulate narrator's viewpoint, using his memories or snatches of dialogue simultaneously to develop the story, evoke its setting, suggest character, and record the teller's emotions about events and people, both at the time of the story and at the time of recalling it. This is almost a dramatic technique and leads the reader to identify himself with the teller, without the need for clumsier expositions.

Earlier it was noted that New Zealand writers were technically unadventurous; this cannot be said of Frank Sargeson. By his discovery of a stylisation of our idiom which could fulfil his creative purpose, by his control of the point of view, by his elimination of irrelevancy whether in character description or in presentation of local scenery, he shows himself to be a craftsman of a high order. But his best work is in his stories and nouvelles.

Winston Rhodes writes, "Many [readers] have felt uneasily that the Bills and Bobs and Freds and Jacks and Teds are by no means typical or even individual New Zealand figures . . . Sargeson's art is deceptive in that it might lead his readers to think that he is engaged in reporting the lives of representative New Zealanders in a series of vivid snapshots of character and episode, but, ... he is concerned with a private vision ..." This private vision is the substance of the novel I Saw in my Dream, 1949.