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


Established? This study of the New Zealand novel in its first hundred years has revealed our persistent urge to get the people and the country on to paper. The task has not proved easy. Nobody realised until the 1930s quite how difficult it was to pioneer a new literature. Like the early settlers, our early writers were content to transfer the plants of European culture to the local scene, without realising the differences which a new environment might impose. Nor did they reckon sufficiently with the possibilities of native growth.

The resulting discrepancies between fact and fiction, between the reality and the convention, did not become fully obvious until the third generation of native writers was in its maturity. Earlier voices of protest—Katherine Mansfield's or Jane Mander's—were no more than individual cries.

But those who grew up with Robin Hyde effected a change in our state of mind. As she knew, her generation had discovered their real identity, and found ways of expressing that experience in works of the imagination. The natural conservatism of the reading public, together with the retarding effect of the war, held us back for a while from appreciating just what the 1930s achieved. Now it is possible to see that those were the years in which the New Zealand novel began to take root. It may be too soon to say that the plant is now established, but it is a native, tough, resilient, and it is doing well. The present climate seems favourable, the soil is certainly fruitful.

Recently, the crop has been of high quality. Moreover, there seems to be an expanding market for the product; perhaps we can look ahead with some confidence to the next one hundred years.

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