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

Chapter 5: The Forties

page 63

Chapter 5: The Forties

No people can possess a land,
Where every single sod and stone is strange, . . .

Keith Sinclair—Waitara

In comparison with the lean years of the thirties, the years 1940-9 are quite fat ones. Dan Davin's first novel appeared in 1945, as did Frank Sargeson's, though he of course had published short stories before then; James Courage's first is dated 1948; so is Roderick Fin-layson's. There are several good novels which represent "one performance only", such as David Ballantyne's The Cunninghams, and Erik de Mauny's The Huntsman in his Career. (See chapter eight.) A number of writers keep the entertainment story alive, including the Four Experts already discussed, as well as a group of newer romancers who continue on into the fifties and provide a good deal of bread-and-butter New Zealand reading.

Some generalisations are possible. Three novels draw upon the material of small homogeneous local groups, national or religious in origin. These are Helen Wilson's Moonshine, Dan Davin's Cliffs of Fall and Roads from Home (and later, No Remittance). There is a group of war novels, beginning with Dan Davin's For the Rest of Our Lives. Two writers, Erik de Mauny and R. M. Burdon, take up the theme of outlawry and pursuit which John Mulgan found fruitful. Three deal with the tensions of lower suburbia as the young experience them, Frank Sargeson, David Ballantyne, and James Courage.

Other groupings may be noted. Sargeson's great originality, for instance, lies in his inventing a convention of toneless, colloquial dialogue or thought-monologue which suggests our speech rhythm and idiom. In this F. S. Anthony and M. Escott had been before him, but neither was so convincing. Ballantyne and Finlayson also attempt to get our way of speech on to paper.

The novels of the 1940s moreover, have in common an avoidance of any crusade. None of them has a message, as had John Lee and John Mulgan. Is passionate devotion to a cause something which died after 1945?

There is little more, either, of the open expression of the "urge to be a country" of which Robin Hyde spoke. Novelists go about their business of interpreting something to somebody without being selfconsciously national. Only in the exploiting fiction of the time, as still today, does obtrusive local colour flaunt itself on the pages. What page 64 may be called the "tourist novel" still babbles of bellbirds; the serious novel has outgrown the tendency.

Finally, only one of the major novels of the decade has a conventional old-fashioned plot. Plots aplenty feature still in light fiction, but the thoughtful novel uses other scaffolding. Helen Wilson's Moonshine is the exception. She works with the old ingredients, a hero, a heroine, a villain and a contrived mechanism. Most novels of this time do not have a hero, except in the sense of having a central figure, and none has a heroine, though there are womenfolk around. They even have no villains, unless circumstances, war, slumps, fate, can be said to be villainous. In the 1940s our writers no longer see the world in Technicolor, nor in black and white, but only in a drab grey for which no one in particular can be blamed.

Outlaws. It is true to say, probably, that John Mulgan's Man Alone is the best handling of the theme of outlawry and pursuit which we have had. But R. M. Burdon's Outlaw's Progress, 1943, touches upon the same material, in particular the pressure of economic forces on the post-war settler. Like Mulgan's Johnson, Burdon's Owen Marley is a returned soldier, who has "been in all the wars" but finds that there are "worse things about the peace". His hopeless struggle on the starveacre soldier settlement, Donovans, is described to us rather than felt by us, but the township Rangitira is vivid enough, with its queer cards, businessmen, humours, disasters. Marley is driven helplessly along the road to rebellion. Finance, banks, the law, bring him at last to murder. Burdon has the Graham case in mind, but shifts our sympathy to the hunted. But Outlaw's Progress does not really penetrate beyond a surface treatment, and lacks the grip of tragedy. Burdon, who is a South Canterbury man, ex-soldier, run-holder, and author, is better known for his biographical series than for what he now calls a "damn bad novel".

Another novel of "the hunted", to use John Lee's title, is that by Erik de Mauny, The Huntsman in his Career, 1949. This does get below the surface, being an exploration of the problem of personal responsibility. Most young men have had to consider their attitude to war or capital punishment. "Thou Shalt Not Kill" is a commandment—when, if ever, do circumstances justify a man in setting it aside? When may he refuse to take part in actions sanctioned by his society? If he conforms, to what extent is he guilty, or to what extent can he contract out in spirit while obeying physical commands? How far is a man involved in the collective guilt of the community, and how may he purge such guilt?

De Mauny weaves a net of tentative explorations round a murder (the Graham case again). His seeing eye is young Peter Villiers, a sensitive intellectual, journalist, and pacifist. There is much talk of books, ideas, values and the meaning of life. As an outlet for his page 65 nagging sense of guilt about society, Peter leans to Socialism, and offers his pity to the refugee Kurt. When war comes and Kurt is interned, Peter reacts by enlisting to fight the foe, but finds himself first a member of an Army team detailed to hunt down a murderer.

Next in the pattern, but unrelated in any way to Peter, is Bernard Cleaves, whose growing up in shoddy suburbia is drawn parallel to Peter's. Bernard is murdered by the third figure, Gerald Milsom, a backblocks boy, who has been driven into a nightmare fantasy by years of unrewarded slogging, financial trickery and long suppressed hatred of his father's authority. These three barely meet—but "no man is an island"; murderer, victim, hunter, are linked. Who is innocent? Whose is the guilt? And who may kill? There is no villain, or scapegoat. The hunting down of Milsom becomes the image of Peter's private war with himself.

These themes are strongly handled, but the ending leaves a vague sense of failure. Peter decides "I will kill this man because pity and understanding are not enough . . . only the act . . . has reality . . . If it should be the act of another, I would have to consent to it . . . But by making it my own, I make the responsibility mine: and I do not consent." Making thus a positive gesture, he fires the shot which kills Milsom. He then departs on an overseas troopship. In spite of the weaknesses of an uncertain philosophy and a rather undisciplined style, this book has merit, not least that of taking life seriously.

Dan Davin. Dan Davin has made for himself a little corner in Southland Irish Catholicism, all but two novels and most of his short stories being born of that material. Davin's typical hero is young, at odds with the world, essentially puritan but tempted beyond the range of home decencies, anxious to find his own way yet saturated with the outgrown beliefs of a religious childhood, unhappy, a misfit. Is it fair to say that each of Davin's novels is a further attempt to say what he said best, perhaps, in his first book of all, Cliffs of Fall? O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap May who ne'er hung there. Davin used Gerard Manley Hopkin's words in this first novel for their relevance to its particular inner struggle; but it is permissible to ask whether the "cliffs of fall" may not be also those other elements which recur so constantly in his work, the rejection of home loyalties, of religious affiliations, of one's native land. These colour all that Davin has written. In a sense, he is still writing the same novel.

Cliffs of Fall, 1945, tells of Mark Burke, chafing at the restraints laid on him by the narrow interests and pieties of a tight little Irish Catholic community. Somewhere in the ancestry of this, clearly, is James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen Dedalus, too, was caught in the nets of home, religion, and national- page 66 ism. Mark is no new type in New Zealand fiction, even in 1945; "Get out, young man" . . . "the godwits fly" . . . these are old compulsions. "I want to get out of this country and over the sea," says Mark.

The setting is Southland, Otago University, the pub, student digs, Dunedin's Town Belt, the suburbs. The story is outwardly about the way in which Mark is driven to murder. Inwardly it is about the struggle between freedom, experience, and ambition on the one hand, and conformity, love, and the cramping domestic routine of New Zealand respectability on the other. The inner and the outer plots fuse in a figurative and an actual interpretation of the title. Once over the edge of his decision, Mark is driven by his obsession to throw himself off the St. Clair cliffs. The writing is uncertain, and often too high-pitched. In parts the method seems wrong, especially the mixture of the realism of the Irish home and student days with the fantasy nightmare at the end. Taken as a whole, however, the book is a remarkable achievement.

Roads from Home. Roads from Home, 1949, centres on the same milieu, seen more elaborately this time, with a family as its focus, rather than one rebellious young student sprig of it. This is, of course, Dan Davin's own background. He was born in Invercargill in 1913, educated at the Marist Brothers' schools and Otago University; a Rhodes Scholar in 1935, he took an Oxford degree and joined the Clarendon Press. He saw war service with the 2 N.Z.E.F. in 1940-5, and compiled the official war history, Crete.

The short stories in The Gorse Blooms Pale, 1947, had sketched in this Southland world of childhood with acute perception; his war novel, For the Rest of Our Lives, 1947, will be discussed later. With Roads from Home, the return to local themes which had deeply impressed themselves upon Davin's mind and imagination resulted in a renewed clarity of vision as of writing.

There are still patches of melodramatic heightening and clogged rhetorical flights. The theme is still conflict between the different values of the generations. Norah Hogan, the mother, is devoted to God and to her menfolk, but the menfolk strain at the leash of her affectionate control. The two sons, Ned and John, are trying to beat out their own roads in life, which lead inevitably away from mother. Ned's problem is religious. He has trained to be a priest, but his faith is weakening, and in any case the priestly vocation will, as he begins to appreciate, cut him off as a man apart from the warm community about him. Is this, then, the right road? (Mark Burke, the intellectual in Cliffs of Fall, also had to face the result of cutting himself off.) John has married a Protestant girl; in addition to the problems which this creates within the circle, he has begun to question the satisfactions of the road he earlier chose, when he "swerved away from books" and "became a man of his hands". Is this the page 67 right road, the so typical casual male New Zealand way of races, football, rabbiting?

"Ferreting wasn't the fun it used to be . . . Something had gone out of it. You had a tendency now to think about what the rabbit must be feeling."

Even the father of the family, Jack Hogan, wonders whether his life took the right direction long ago when he became a railwayman. Whichever road you take, you will damage someone. This is the human predicament. Davin makes this movingly clear, in a convincingly drawn New Zealand setting, without any parade of local colour.

Moonshine. At this point readers may wish to check Davin's picture of the little Southland pocket of Irishism against two other books which offer testimony about it. Both are by Helen Wilson, a novel, Moonshine, 1944, and her autobiography, My First Eighty Years, 1950. These are indispensable supplements to Davin's novels and short stories.

Moonshine is set in the 1880-1900 period, and tells the story of Tangi Flat, a South Island settlement of "bog Irishmen" who were isolated by geography and deliberate choice from the hated English about them. The material on which Helen Wilson drew is given in its factual form in her autobiography, chapter five, where she describes her experiences as a young teacher in the late 1880s at Waitohi Flat. In the novel she makes the teller of the tale into a young man, Robin Marchant, a transfer of viewpoint which is not very effective. Much that Marchant thinks, sees, feels, is not masculine, so that as a character he is a failure. As the structural centre of the book, however, he is adequate, and in any case the virtue of Moonshine lies neither in its sensational plot nor in its hero, but in its astonishingly real Irish settlers. Nothing in the 1940s can touch the Irish character portraits in this book. In 1944, before Davin's stories, the type was quite original in our fiction. The women are the best drawn. Helen Wilson manages to make us see through Irish, not Saxon, eyes, as the hero, like the reader, becomes more and more a part of the community. Most notable of all is the conversation. The plot, which involves an Irish colleen, an Irish villain, illicit whisky, and a tragic ending, has enough body to give the book tension and shape. It creaks at the joints, however, which shows that Helen Wilson has not fully transmuted what she so shrewdly observed into a satisfying artistic whole. She is too near to her own experience, and attempts to order it in the technique of yesterday. Moonshine has zest, humour, sympathy, insight, and deserved to make more stir than it did.

Davin's next novel, The Sullen Bell, 1956, acknowledges his expatriate status by being set among New Zealand exiles in post-war London. The title has the usual literary echoes. Shakespeare's "No page 68 longer mourn for me when I am dead/Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell ..." gives us the clue that this book is about those soldiers who did not die, and must forget their friends who did. The characters are all desultory wanderers, forming and reforming casual groups which mirror their inward uncertainty. All have lost someone, and try to find a reason for beginning again. Hugh Egan, probably the central figure, is of Irish-New Zealand descent—educated at Otago University, and (can you guess it?) an Oxford man, a returned soldier, a compiler of an official war history. Round him revolve spasmodically other Kiwis, equally obsessed with memories of war and home. The plot contrives their happy ending, whether in violent death or resigned affection. The sense of a narrow circling expatriate society is brilliantly conveyed, "the goldfish bowl of people" as David Hall put it,15 and the lingo of these islands is heard, familiarly uncouth, among the clipped English tones. But there is much clumsiness; these Kiwis talk almost as much about the English-New Zealand tensions as did Robin Hyde's "aggressively insular" colonials. New Zealand reviewers of The Sullen Bell almost all expressed disquiet. Yet the book holds the attention, for Davin is always readable.

No Remittance. No Remittance, 1959, abandons the method of omniscience adopted in The Sullen Bell, and confines its presentation to the slangy New Zealandese of a first-person teller. This is for Davin a new departure. If James Joyce lay behind Cliffs of Fall, Joyce Cary—a great friend of Davin's—lies behind No Remittance. Gentleman Dick is a seedy sub-hero, a rascal, artful, a failure, "a remittance man without &. remittance", such as Cary could draw well. He leaves an England where his talents are too well understood, and comes to New Zealand, marrying into a small farming Irish Catholic family. An outsider in religion and in race, he can record his observations with some objectivity, enabling the author to dwell once more upon this never-forgotten childhood experience.

The tension has gone out of the struggles recorded in Roads from Home, however, partly because this narrator is old, and looking back not in anger, but in whining self pity. Technique here is almost too smooth. But what emerges, beyond another quite acute rendering of the social pattern of New Zealand life? Davin's major difficulty is that one cannot handle the deepest issues in the slack colloquial medium he has chosen, unless one is a masterhand at selection, as Frank Sargeson is. In any case, prolonged to the length of a novel the mannerism is tiresome. What inner necessity created this novel? It could have been an exciting psychological study, but the theme never quite lives in the story. Perhaps Davin will put his technical skill to good use in a really fine serious novel at his next attempt.

Frank Sargeson. Frank Sargeson is by far the most original page 69 and interesting writer of the forties; unfortunately for our purposes, his best work is in his short stories. His novels suffer from being short novels, or short stories expanded to novel length. As a novelist, therefore, he may not seem so impressive. But readers will wish to follow up his stories as well; here then is a list of his writings.

Conversation with my Uncle (stories), 1936; A Man and his Wife (stories), 1940; That Summer (short novel), 1943; When the Wind Blows (short novel), 1945; I Saw in my Dream (novel), 1949; Up on to the Roof and Down Again (in Landfall 1950-1) ; I, for One . . . (short novel), 1952. (See chapter eight.)

A discussion of work up to 1954 will be found in a symposium of essays edited by Helen Shaw, The Puritan and the Waif, 1954. In an extended review in Landfall 74, June, 1965, E. A. Horsman discusses the art of the short stories, while the Collected Stories, 1964, contains a valuable introduction by Bill Pearson.

Frank Sargeson was born in 1903 in Hamilton. He took a law course at Auckland University College and spent some time in England. Since he returned in 1928, he has lived in various parts of the North Island, but the Waikato and the King Country remain his particular area. Like John Mulgan, he can report most faithfully the speech of the casual North Islander, still to be distinguished at that time, so the linguistic experts say, from the lingo current in the South.

His first book, Conversation with my Uncle, is a set of stories related to the depression-born novels of John Lee, Robin Hyde, and John Mulgan. D'Arcy Cresswell wrote that when it appeared in the mid-thirties "it was as though the first wasp had arrived, a bright aggressive little thing with a new and menacing buzz ... it prefers jam, any kind of bright, sweet, sticky, falsified jam, and open windows and the smell of dishonest cooking. And soon it was evident that the suburbs, where they have flowers on the piano and eiderdowns on the beds, were being severely stung."16

The collection A Man and his Wife contains a well-known story, The Making of a New Zealander, which came first equal in the literary competition organised for the national centennial celebrations in 1940. All but four of the sketches in Conversation with my Uncle were reprinted in this second volume, which is therefore representative of his early work.

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.

page 71

Pilgrim's Dream. The title is from Bunyan: "Now I saw in my Dream, that at the end of this Valley lay blood, bones, ashes and mangled bodies of men, even of Pilgrims that had gone this way formerly; ..." And again, "Now I saw in my Dream, that ... the Pilgrims were got over the Enchanted Ground; and entering into the country of Beulah, whose air was very sweet and pleasant ..."

In this novel the first-person point of view is abandoned, but not the intention of making the reader feel as if he were within the chief character's consciousness. The method reminds us of that in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. There Joyce presents Stephen Dedalus in the third person, but contrives by various devices to place us inside Stephen's experience. There is interior monologue, verbal echo, thematic repetition, and considerable heightening of the prose style.

Frank Sargeson adopts the method of interior monologue but avoids any poetic heightening, and keeps to the flat colloquialisms which his central figure may be supposed to use, for speech or for thinking. When flashbacks into the hero's inner mental world occur, they are indicated in italics. Dialogue, too, is filtered through his mind, so that nobody really is alive in the novel but the protagonist, Henry-Dave.

To appreciate both Sargeson's debt to Joyce, and his difference of method, readers may find it useful to compare the first few pages of the two novels: similarly, to read Sargeson and Hemingway in association is most illuminating.

I Saw ... I Saw in my Dream, falls into two parts. In the first, Henry, son of middle-class, church-going parents, and too much loved by his mother, is shown setting off on his pilgrim's road through life, with assorted giants to bar the way, obsess, and terrify. This is in a small town somewhere in the North Island. In the second part Henry, now become a new personality so different that he is called Dave, works on a sheep farm of marginal efficiency. The first part is the short novel, When the Wind Blows, published in 1945.

Henry-Dave is nebulous as a character, a mere receiver of sensations. The value of the book is perhaps in the picture of New Zealand suburbia, and in the attack on puritanism, sentimentality, mediocrity, fear of ideas, fear of commitment. Jane Mander, you remember, noted our puritanism in The Story of a New Zealand River, saying "Puritanism is an awful disease". Frank Sargeson also sees it as an eroding sickness, responsible for some of the failure among us to respond fully to the experience of living.

I Saw in my Dream is not a realistic novel. Sargeson's New Zealand is a world of shadows, in which the hero is struggling with the dream of the title. Where can a man escape to? "Ron said the escape idea would be all right if there was anywhere to escape to ... If there's page 72 a cave, Cedric's gone to live in it. Lots of people wish they could go away and live in caves." "That's where I've got to get, into that blue bush, and away beyond, away into the blue."

Dave sees in the end that it's not a question of place, "Because, look! A dream comes true . . . The happy land, where there is neither rain nor snow . . . I'm not Dave, not exactly . . . I'm what I was. Henry. But I'm also what I have become. Dave . . . The right place is the wrong place if you're the wrong me. And you have to BE the right me . . . No fretting for the moon. Accept."

The search which the novel prosecutes is for a real self. Sargeson makes more of this than merely the "growing-up" theme we have already met. In the process of knowing himself Henry-Dave comes to terms too with his country. It is a very New Zealand book. Sargeson commented, in 1947, "The writer should have the capacity to hear, see, feel, think, imagine, invent, and arrange; ... his capacity for using words should be such as to make the reader feel that he had received an important communication—one that would be, among many other things, both moving and entertaining, and one that would be truthful above all other things; . . . directly or indirectly, everything he wrote should reveal an attitude." It is in this sense of communicating an attitude that this novel is so remarkable. But it is not a unified whole.

I, for One . . . This is a long short story, in which a triumphant change of narrator has been made, Sargeson rejecting his laconic cobbers for the persona of an old maid. The tone is still grim, waspish, stinging suburbia out of its oily satisfactions. This is still a "private vision", for most readers would feel that the heroine is as untypical as the Bills and Teds of the masculine sketches. Katherine, however, unlike the menfolk in Sargeson's earlier work, is not a rebel, but a conformer squeezed into dry spinsterishness by the pressure of middle-class respectability. Since she writes a diary, we explore her from within. This form, and the narrow three-month period which it covers, give the novel concentration and unity. Katherine moves from sentimentality to disillusionment, from being an outsider because she feels there is more in life than she has had, to being an outsider because what life really can be horrifies her. She, for one, has found that life is not the cosy, rosy, predictable affair which the story books suggest, and that people do not necessarily live happily ever after.

The pattern of irony in I, for One ... is complicated, but close and firm. In its small way, the novel is a triumph. (I, for One ... is complete in Landfall for June 1952; published in book form in 1956.)

A Liberating Influence. Writing for Sargeson's fiftieth birthday, a group of sixteen authors sent him an open letter printed in Landfall in March 1953, in which they spoke of him as "a liberating influence on the literature of this country". Among the crucial points page 73 they noted were that Sargeson had published "work true to his own country" and was recognised overseas, yet had not found it necessary to be an exile in the cultural centres of the Old World to do so ; that he had "turned over new ground" and "revealed that our manners and behaviour formed just as good a basis for enduring literature as those of any other country"; that he had "become a symbol in his own lifetime".

All these things are true. Robin Hyde, who was also born in 1903, spoke the exact truth when she made her assessment of what her generation had done for our literature. "We became . . . New Zealand."

David Ballantyne. By the accident of alphabetical order, the first signature to that letter was David Ballantyne's. He might well have signed first on logical grounds also, for his novel The Cunninghams, 1948, is, in its ironical, compassionate, unheroic picture of suburbia, clearly akin to Sargeson's work. So is its marked success with the artistic rendering of New Zealand idiom.

After various jobs, a year in the army, and another as reporter on the Auckland Star, Ballantyne left for England in 1954. There he has been successsful in journalism and in serious television drama. His novel The Cunninghams was published first in New York, where it was acclaimed, in spite of the critics' bewilderment at its New Zealandisms. Owing to dollar shortage, the novel has never been easy to find here, and is not as well known as it deserves to be.

It offers us a small-town family, and because it apparently keeps to a transcript of fact, readers tend to bypass the literary question and, as they do for John Lee, Jean Devanny, John Mulgan, Frank Sargeson, to ask instead, "Is New Zealand life really like this?" Usually they then answer themselves, "No". But anyone who reads Truth, or does social work, will admit that the edges of our society are ragged. If you object, "Yes, but why choose to write of such people", I would say that an analysis of a way of life is often most significant if made at the point where that life is disintegrating—that is, at the not-so-presentable fringe.

Let us then consider the literary question, is this a good novel? It presents Gil, Helen, and Gilbert, "man, woman and child", and out of the failure, futility and uncertain explorations of their lives, builds up a commentary on lower middle-class life, on our utilitarian values, on the inadequacy of our social philosophy, on the sterility of our spiritual satisfactions. Gil, the returned soldier—the year is 1936— has been defeated by his ruined health and his lack of inner strength. Helen believes that we all have a right to be happy. When she gets her bit of fun, it is a half-and-half affair which offers neither her nor her lovers what they thought they would get. She has no depth for remorse, only a mild regret at not measuring up to her private view page 74 of herself as wife and mother. No one in the book has any stronger compulsions than the outward discipline of social opinion. The son Gilbert is another version of the adolescent, caught by school, and society, and sex.

These three threads plait into a tale. There are no crises. There are no colours, certainly not rose or pink. It is a book without hope. Tragedy, or even pathos, requires an imaginative lift, which you find for instance in Man Alone. This book is the poorer for being so deliberately flat in tone. There is not even anger in it, merely a grey pity. It is a version of T. S. Eliot's The Hollow Men, with the poetry taken out. Nevertheless, The Cunninghams is a book significant in our literature, it is adult, technically competent, and unusual enough to have made a name overseas on its own merits. (See also chapter eight.)

Growing up Again. Adolescent agonies are probably natural quarries for first novels by young novelists; certainly they haunt our literary landscape in outrageous quantities. When, however, mature writers return again and again to the theme, one is moved to ask why. Is our writers' preoccupation with it a kind of mirror image of our growing pains as a people, a necessary part of the process of finding ourselves in a literature? Certainly it is only a post-nineteenth-century phenomenon; those hardy pioneers to whom the first two chapters were devoted sprang up fully adult with their pens in confident untroubled hands. Only in this century has the topic of childhood been so noticeable; Katherine Mansfield may be said to have started the trend, perhaps.*

James Courage. It is the novels of James Courage, especially The Young Have Secrets, to which these remarks are leading. Courage, like Sargeson, was recognised and successful overseas. Unlike him, he was a permanent exile, moving further and further away from the refreshment of actual contact with the world he was impelled to write of. Has this not led to nostalgic falsity of rendering, as well as to thinness of texture, in his novels?

His first New Zealand novel, The Fifth Child, was published in 1948, and is set in the North Canterbury of his boyhood. Courage was born in 1903 at Amberley, the eldest of five children, brought up on his father's sheep station, and given an education at Christ's College and Oxford. From 1923 until his death in 1963 he remained in England, except for. brief visits home. His first novel, One House, was set in England. Following it, he tried to find a publisher for New Zealand fiction, but in the mid-thirties, as we have seen, there was page 75 little interest in our novels overseas, except as a tourist curiosity "babbling of bellbirds".

The germ of each of James Courage's novels is a remembered experience which struck such deep roots into the boy he was between 1903 and 1923 that he could draw upon its substance twenty-five or thirty years later. Katherine Mansfield, the obvious parallel, was never as far away from her past as that. The perils of the situation are obvious, and it cannot be said that Courage surmounts them. The Fifth Child is good in parts. Mrs Warner, at forty-six about to bear her last child, takes a house in Christchurch for the winter to think over her marriage. The children are well drawn, especially Barbara the teenager, with her motor-biking boy friend. The family life is that of 1948, but the setting, with servants, private schools and swaggers on the streets of a Christchurch suburb makes the psychology an anachronism. Were there motor-bikes in the swagger days? The New Zealand scene is rendered self-consciously in the bad old manner, nor'-westers and the Cathedral being given real blurb treatment. The theme too, is not new in our fiction; Edith Grossmann and others had been busy on the situation where a husband insists on his rights, while a bored, anxious wife dreads more childbearing.

Desire Without Content, 1950, is equally unsatisfactory. Its plot is what would be called "strong". Mrs Kendal, the mother-heroine, is left to manage a big Canterbury run with the assistance of one of those crusty Scots lovables who crop up continually in our 1890 novels. She has a retardate son, Lewis, to whom she devotes her life. When he is in his teens, his abnormality troubles her, but the problem is shelved until later when she gives hospitality to the young fiancee of the local minister. Effie, daunted by the prospect of parish life now that it is just ahead of her, finds Lewis interesting, draws him out, provokes his love. When Lewis threatens to marry Effie, Mrs Kendal is faced with an unresolvable conflict of duties. The story gains force toward the end, with the foreseen tragedy of murder and madness coming to pass. Mrs Kendal is left to struggle with her inner confusions.

Fires in the Distance followed two years later. Again, it is a tragic love drama, a foursome, set in the Canterbury back country. The time is 1921. Donovan, fiftyish, an Irish colonial, and his wife, very English, drag along together. Mrs Donovan is the consciously nostalgic exile, cultured, over-sensitive to the brutality about her. (There are plenty of echoes there!) Neurosis is her refuge, as liquor is her husband's. There are three children, Katherine, who like her father, enjoys sheep work in the open air, Leo, who resembles his mother, and Imogen, who is an average accepter of what life offers. For a short visit there comes a young farmer's son from near by, who writes poetry and is about to "go to far-off England". Katherine, Leo, and Mrs Donovan all fall in love with him, being in their cir- page 76 cumstances ready to be drawn emotionally to any kind of escape. As a result the mother gets up from her neurotic bed and tackles life again, Leo moves out from home into a job on the coast, Kathie rushes off and marries the neighbouring boy she was plighted to. There is a lot about love, moonlight, breasts, and thighs, on a level of sentimentality barely above that of romantic light fiction. Some attempt is made to relate the emotional distortions of the characters to their setting in time and place, but Courage in this is not as successful as Jane Mander. His technique however is never amateurish, as hers was. '

The Young Have Secrets. This is certainly James Courage's best effort. It was published in 1954, and met with instant recognition, being chosen by the Book Society for December of that year.

Its achievement is the portrait of a child, ten-year-old Walter Blakiston, to whose point of view the reader is restricted. This narrowed focus gives Courage dramatic economy of persons and dialogue. It is by now a well-known device for a certain sort of concentration, such as is achieved for instance in L. P. Hartley's The Go-Between, possibly an ancestor of The Young Have Secrets. Or there is Henry James's What Maisie Knew. Courage however is concerned more with Walter as a seeing eye than with Walter as a person; as a character he is rather misty.

The plot is neat and tidy, while the background of 1914 Christchurch is memorable. The emotions of the adults are still "strong", but are muted by the child's relative incomprehension. Walter is touched by their feeling only where it impinges upon his own private world.

It remains a question however whether any adults would so frequently confide their woes to childish ears; this is a necessity of the method, not of the characterisation. And is the symbolism too obvious?

Walter of course is the sensitive boy; fortunately there is also an insensitive, earthy one, the delightfully drawn Jimmy Nelson, with his even earthier mother, whose robust vulgarity is a welcome contrast to the expatriate gentility of the Garnetts. The book has a high professional polish on it, but leaves an uneasy impression of artificial contrivance.

Expatriates Again. The Call Home, 1956, is very uneven, in spite of its deft construction. Norman Grant returns to his half-forgotten homeland in search of emotional and physical health. His sojourn in his North Canterbury parental home traverses his inner seasons as well as the external ones of dry summer, declining autumn, fast-frozen winter, and reviving spring. Other poetic echoes and parallels of imagery attempt to reinforce the impression of depth. Both Norman and the woman he comes to love, Louise, have known failure and loss; they are brought neatly together, each to revive the page 77 other's capacity for love. All the loose threads turn out to have their destinations after all, and Norman at the end can unwind the journey he made at the beginning, having found his traveller's joy. The title The Call Home, then, has a designed ambiguity in keeping with the neat shape of the novel. The material, however, is close to the borderline of sentimental light fiction. The heavy psychologising among the scenery and the sheep fails to carry conviction. There is a great deal more open discussion of sexual matters than surely is customary between men and women in this country. And there is another child, a frightful one called Stella.

Perhaps the most convincing element in the book is the dry, hard observation of life which Grant is able to make by reason of his being an expatriate, at once familiar with and critical of Squatterdom. His father and mother, his sister and brother, are a dismal set, modern versions, it seems, of the displaced unhappy ones in our fiction of the 1900-1930 period. Or should we compare them with Sargeson's hopeless folk in the other island, whom they do resemble in spite of differences of class?

Courage's last two novels have English settings. A critical essay on his New Zealand novels, by R. A. Copland, appeared in Landfall 71, September, 1964.

"The Totara Tree". In the centennial literary competitions in 1940, when Sargeson's "The Making of a New Zealander" won a first prize, third prize went to Roderick Finlayson for "The Totara Tree". Like Sargeson, Finlayson has done his finest work in the short story, though he has written two novels.

His first collection, Brown Man's Burden, 1938, like his second, Sweet Beulah Land, 1942, is animated by a belief about New Zealand life which is more commonly appreciated by our poets. It is that man, brown or white, will not be satisfied or find fulfilment in this country until he recognises his dependence on and relationship to the power of natural forces. This, Finlayson suggests, was well known to the old-time Maori, but is a wisdom lost today. "In this duty to the soil lies our strength and our health," he wrote in Our Life in this Land, 1940, "and we have neglected it." We have mined and marred the land with get-rich-quick farming, with ill-conceived scientific exploitation, being "miners, not husbandmen". Finlayson, who has Maori ancestry, writes with subtlety and understanding on the conflict between racial values, on the simple verities, on the problems of those who live on the margins of our society. The title story in Sweet Beulah Land is, like Sargeson's, taken ironically from The Pilgrim's Progress. The Land is God's Own Country, a Land of Heavenly Joy which Christian knows to be neighbour to the Celestial City. At a hui, Maori elders are flattered in the excitement of a spree into selling page 78 the communal acres, while a Pakeha evangelist distributes tracts about Sweet Beulah Land.

Finlayson's first novel, Tidal Creek, 1948, is a series of similar sketches held together by the central figure, Uncle Ted, and by its theme, which is that just outlined. The setting, somewhere tidal north of Rangitoto, is reached by a symbolic voyage in a crock of a coaster. Ted and his visiting town nephew Jake appear in all the tales, which often have the same quality as the inserted Dickensian yarns of our earlier fiction. Is Uncle Ted something more than his unshaven rural bachelor self? Is he to be linked with those other repudiators of society's values who recur in New Zealand fiction, hermits, rejectors of collars and ties and conformity? He is, in fact, a 1948 Philosopher Ted, or a fictional version of the poet Denis Glover's Arawata Bill. Ted will have nothing to do with the modern world, with its tractors, artificial manure, cities, and slick agents; he rejects the respectability of home and church. Even the prospect of meeting his sister makes him uneasy and he puts the ordeal off continually, saying to Jake, "We won't go up to your Ma's place yet". In addition, Uncle Ted has his dream, a "long trip" to the North Cape. "Must be a mighty lonely place. Yes. I'd like to go there. . . . That sounds lonely enough for me." He is too wise, however, to put his dream to the test. "Some day, Jake, some day. What's the hurry?" Uncle Ted has a philosophy too, rather a homespun affair. "Old Tidal Creek has got the lot [town blokes] licked. We own ourselves . . . What I do know is that I've dug in my dung here till me and the land sort of belong to each other. And here I live till I die."

Through the medium of rural sketches designedly comic, and somewhat of the Me and Gus type, an attempt is made to suggest a deeper significance. Ted is now himself, now a symbol. The book is uncertain in aim, but it is most original.

The Schooner Came to Atia, 1952, is a much more closely knit short novel restricted in time and place. It is set somewhere in the Cook Islands, which Finlayson does not see as a paradise. Missionary, native girl, visiting seducer, shooting, blackmail, are elements in a yarn intended to be not romantic entertainment but a bitter comment on the human situation.

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

* The childhood theme in New Zealand fiction is discussed by M. H. Holcroft in Islands of Innocence, 1964.