New Zealand Literature: The Contemporary Age

In the twenties of the century. XX the literary ferment resumes; the interest in native traditions returns (H. Guthrie Smith, 1861-1940), the work of the writers of twenty years earlier is reworked, Mansfield’s lesson and the new English and American poetic tendencies are absorbed (Jane Mander, Eileen Duggan, Alan Mulgan). Literary magazines (first of all Phoenix) are published which will allow many unknown talents to make a name for themselves. In this context, the New Zealand novel owes much to Robin Hyde (1906-1939), who retraced the steps of John A. Lee in dealing in his work with “uncomfortable” themes such as the misery of the city proletariat and life in the suburbs, producing excellent works such as Passport to Hell (1936) and Nor the Years Condemn (1938). From the same period, we remember the poets M. Ursula Bethell (1874-1945) and JR Hervey (1889-1958). With the second post-war period, the artistic panorama expands and develops a personality more and more distinct from the English one. We remember the first important essayist and literary critic, MH Holcroft; and then again Frank Sargeson (1903-1982), whose best known work is Conversation with My Uncle (1936), who carries on the tradition of short stories begun by Mansfield and in the field of the novel, James Courage (1903-1963) and Dan Davin (1913-1990). In particular, the latter must be considered among the best twentieth-century storytellers, with a strong sense of observation towards men and social environments; among the works we remember his Roads from Home (1949). The landscape of poetry is varied and vital, initially with groups of tendencies that refer to the various cities, so as to have the group of Wellington (with James K. Baxter), that of Auckland (Mary Stanley, MK Joseph), etc., which develop mainly urban themes and environments, in contrast with the poets of the South, mainly of Christchurch (Basil Dowling, Paul Henderson, Ruth Dallas), who tend to a different tone more calm and metaphysical, with a greater presence of the natural element. Among the most recent poets, very active, original and difficult to classify in groups or trends, we find Sam Huntu (b.1946), Ian Wedde (b.1946), Arthur Baysting (b.1947), Murray Edmond (b.1949) and Don Long (b.1950). Since the late 1950s, the novel has become the most important expression of Janet Frame (1924-2004), with the publication of Owls Do Cry (1957). In her subsequent Faces in the Water (1961), Scented Gardens for the Blind (1963) and Intensive Care (1971), Frame demonstrated that the new type of narrative was of a completely different quality to the social realism of moralistic intent of previous decades., also developing in the following works a subtle work of psychological analysis and an inventive and experimental exploitation of the infinite possibilities inherent in language, as well as a merciless and almost punitive satire – in The Carpathians (1988) an entire street in a residential neighborhood is made materially disappear – from the petty-bourgeois and suburban environment. At the same time as Frame, MK Joseph (1914-1981) also began his career as a writer, original and eclectic author of novels that were very different from each other not only for the topics covered but also for the genre to which they belong: Joseph ventured into the historical novel, in science fiction, in the war novel, and in all cases he can be cited among the best exponents of the genre. Among his works, A Soldier’s Tale (1976) and the posthumous Kaspar’s Journey deserve to be mentioned (1988). In both, the story is told from the point of view of a character who is at the same time materially involved in the great events of European history described (the Second World War in A Soldier’s Tale, the Crusades in Kaspar’s Journey), but morally detached from them, with the attitude of the so-called peripheral narrator. This is a perspective that Joseph is a master at rendering, and which has often been adopted in New Zealand fiction, since, as it has been pointed out (Robinson), it faithfully expresses the relationship with which, as a country located in Oceania according to, New Zealand arises with the world. This perspective allows the representation of extremely penetrating observation and analysis processes, according to the theory that the peripheral narrator, precisely as such, is often able to see more and better than others. Intrinsically “peripheral” narrators such as children or the elderly are so often at the center of novels by New Zealand authors, as is the case of the octogenarian Sir Papps, protagonist of Prowlers (1987) by Maurice Gee (b. 1931), an author who, after a more conventional initial period, proved to possess a genuinely innovative talent, first with the “Plumb trilogy” (Plumb, 1978; Meg, 1981; Sole Survivor, 1983) and then with the aforementioned Prowlers, which was followed by Go West (1994), The Scornful Moon (2003), Blindsight (2005). Elizabeth Knox is one of the best examples of younger generation storytellers: The Vintner’s Luck (1998) is his most famous novel, translated in many countries. ยง Among the Maori before colonization we cannot speak of real literary manifestations. But it is customary to distinguish in this Polynesian-type culture, concretized in myths, songs and oral legends, an archaic period or Moa Hunter, which began in the century. X, when the first groups landed on the island, and in a classical period or Fleet Maori, started in the first half of the century. XIV, which represents the last era of the great Polynesian navigators. Subsequently, the contact with Europeans caused a real oblivion for indigenous literature, until the slow but steady revival of the twentieth century. Maori language and literary production have regained vigor bringing to the fore authors such as Hone Tuwhare (1923-2008), the first Maori poet to attract attention abroad (No Ordinary Sun, 1964); Witi Ihimaera, who in his works investigated the relationship between natives and settlers (Tangi, 1973; The Whale Rider, 1987); Patricia Grace, whose eclectic style together with the heterogeneity of the themes touched made her one of the main interpreters of Maori and New Zealand culture (Potiki, 1986; Bulibasha, 1994); Alan Duff, author of Once Were Warriors (1990), of which the film adaptation is probably most famous, and Out of the Mist and Steam (1999), who did not spare the criticism of the Maori community for the mistakes made in the past in supporting its cause.

New Zealand Literature