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

It's Nothing Serious

It's Nothing Serious. To take the stories for the feminine market first. In addition to Rosemary Rees, Mary Scott, Nelle Scan-Ian, whose work continues to be widely read, there are a number of authors who have become popular only within the last ten years, when opportunities for publication have so greatly improved.

These novels vary greatly not only in their competence, but in their range. Some are wholly concerned with personal relationships, some are religious, some aim at farcical comedy, some give an unpretentious but lively picture of New Zealand life as the average woman-in-the-home knows it. None of them questions the assumptions of our society, or explores it in any depth; but several of them do achieve a minor authenticity of a delightful kind; several writers are successful in certain elements, such as the portraiture of girls, without being able to control a whole novel.

Dulce Carman writes artless rose-tinted stories for an overseas romance series, and has to date published fifteen ; Mavis Winder, who also writes as Mavis Areta, has scored up fourteen, several with a strongly-toned religious message, and all riotously emotional. Similar colourful unreality is offered by Margot McClymont, A. L. Cherrill, Phyllis Sutton, Rosaline Redwood, March Wingate, Ivy Preston and Catherine Mann. Hamilton Grieve, best known for her Sketches from Maoriland, 1939, also wrote three love stories, gay trifles with merit in their kind. One of her titles, Its Nothing Serious, 1950, might well stand for this group as a whole.

Indeed, so saleable at present is the New Zealand romance—how different the situation from that thirty years ago—that several overseas manufacturers of entertainment have paused in their production to place a story in New Zealand. Elizabeth Goudge, for instance, in her Green Dolphin Country, 1945, tells of an 1840 Channel Islands page 85 emigrant; she admits that she has not been here, but has taken her historical material from Maning's Old New Zealand. Later writers are neither so honest nor so successful. Usually these yarns are unredeemed by any of those moments of truth, of humour, or of shrewd observation which even unsophisticated local writers can often provide. Kathleen Lindsay, Dorothy Quentin, Elizabeth Fenton are very amusing reading for New Zealanders, though not perhaps in the way which their authors intended. Their novels are concocted of those elements of local colour which may be taken to be known to overseas library readers. Plots are complicated, with geysers, kiwis, Maori maids, sexy surgeons, tattooed tohungas, rich widowers, long-lost uncles; heroines are lithe, slim, have flame-coloured hair, and an astonishing toughness in resisting every kind of disaster in the interests of a happy ending. Occasionally the hero is not a doctor or a big sheep man, but a bee-keeper—echoes of Sir Edmund Hillary? One is even noted as having "the shapely feet of a man of breeding"!