New Zealand Literature
New Zealand Literature
The following entry considers literature indigenous to New Zealand, including Maori literature.
New Zealand has produced a number of writers, poets, and dramatists. However, because the domestic market in the country was considered too small to sustain a publishing industry of its own, most major writers in the country were, for many years, dependent on overseas publishers for their livelihood. This situation put tremendous pressure on native New Zealanders to write according to the literary requirements and tastes of their overseas audience. The most widely read New Zealand writers in the early twentieth century included a large group of romance and popular fiction writers, including Edith Lyttleton, Essie Summers, Dorothy Eden, and Mary Scott. Other famous authors from the country include Ngaio Marsh, who established herself as one of the preeminent crime writers of her time, and Katherine Mansfield, whose work in the short fiction genre has been much acclaimed. In addition to these New Zealand writers of European descent, the country is home to a wide variety of Maori literature, in the works of such authors as Witi Ihimaera, Patricia Grace, and Keri Hulme. Believed to have migrated to New Zealand from East Polynesia around 800 A.D., the Maori are now considered the indigenous population of New Zealand. Their writing has a strong tradition in oral and anecdotal literature, and in the later twentieth century, Maori writing has come to gain a central place in the literature of the country. In general, all New Zealand literature is characterized as a colonial literature, reflecting concerns that are significant to other colonial literatures. As such, themes of national identity, cultural integrity, and racial issues are central to many New Zealand texts, including Maori writing.
For many years, writing in and about New Zealand society was dominated by writers of European descent. From their perspective, New Zealand's colonization had resulted in a harmonious society, with little or no discrimination. This view of society, however, was challenged in the writings of indigenous writers, who present a radically different perspective in their own works. Beginning in the 1970s, when Maori inhabitants of New Zealand initiated a series of political and cultural initiatives in order to challenge the dominant political order in New Zealand, the gap in perception between Maori writers on the one hand, and Pakeha, or European critics, writers, and scholars on the other, has led to intense debates in New Zealand about the nature of writing and its resulting critical analysis. Writers such as Ihimaera have remarked on the existence of a rich body of Maori oral and written literature that was largely ignored by European-centered critics, a trend that began changing only in the latter half of the twentieth century. In this body of work, mostly written before the 1970s, Maori writing is concerned mainly with preserving and documenting a culture and way of life that was being eroded by the civilization around it. Authors such as Ihimaera and Grace have openly acknowledged that educating their Pakeha counterparts about the intimate details of Maori culture was a central function of their writing before the mid-1970s. After the 1970s, Maori writing shifted focus, becoming more political in nature, and often calling into question European attitudes and established practices.
This discourse on culture has also carried over to the genres of poetry and drama in New Zealand writing. Poetry in particular, parallels the growth of fiction, with a distinctly colonial phase of writing characterized by its tendencies to mime European tastes and writing styles. This was followed, in the early 1900s, by a surge of nationalist sentiment in New Zealand poetry, although development of poetic style was still defined by tendencies overseas. The subject matter of the poetry written during this period, however, was shifting, reflecting the more domestic and cultural concerns of New Zealand's writers. In the 1960s, poetic style and subject matter underwent another major shift, this time resulting in not only the creation of a large body of poetry, but, according to Terry Sturm, “unusually rich discourse of poetics” as well. In addition to mainstream poetry, New Zealand has a rich tradition of Maori verse as well. Largely an oral tradition, many of the Maori myths and legends have not been translated into print, but they continue to be part of on ongoing oral tradition in the Maori tribal culture. Modern New Zealand poetry is, in general, a reflection of the diverse society it represents, continuing to grapple with issues of language, identity, and culture, as do other genres of literature in the country.
Arthur H. Adams
Maoriland, and Other Verses (poetry) 1899
A Man's Life (sketch) 1929
James K. Baxter
Beyond the Palisade (poetry) 1944
Runes (poetry) 1973
The Tree House, and Other Poems for Children (poetry) 1974
From a Garden in the Antipodes (poetry) 1929
Time and Place (poetry) 1936
Waiting Shelter (poetry) 1991
Mine Eyes Dazzle: Poems, 1947-49 (poetry) 1950
The Dark Lord of Savaiki (poetry) 1980
The Frigate Bird (novel) 1989
The Fifth Child (novel) 1948
The Young Have Secrets (novel) 1954
The Forest (play) 1952
Valley of Decision: Poems (poetry) 1933
The Narrow Seas (poetry) 1939
A Present for Hitler and Other Verses [as Whim-Wham] (poetry) 1940
Island and Time (play) 1941
The Axe (play) 1949
An Incorrigible Music: A Sequence of Poems (poetry) 1979
Once Were Warriors (novel) 1990
Bride by Candlelight (novel) 1954
Sleep in the Woods (novel) 1960
The Shadow Wife (novel) 1968
Waiting for Willa (novel) 1970
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Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Sturm, Terry. “Popular Fiction.” In The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English, edited by Terry Sturm, pp. 493-541. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press, 1991.
[In the following essay, Sturm provides a detailed overview of the publishing history and circumstances as well as significant literary characteristics of popular and romantic fiction published by New Zealand authors.]
THE PUBLISHING CONTEXT
In 1908 the influential New York publishing firm of Doubleday Page offered some friendly advice to G. B. Lancaster (the pen-name of Edith Lyttleton, 1873-1945), whose fourth book they had recently published. The advice took the form of a complaint, that the ‘tremendous power’ of her work was not being ‘used to best advantage because it had never been turned into producing a novel along more usual and conventional lines’:
If you would write a novel or two, more of the sort that people are accustomed to buy in this country, it ought to be possible to secure a public here which would thereafter take anything good that you cared to put before them. But in the books so far, the people, the surroundings, the conditions and even the language, are all so foreign to any experiences or ideas which the average American has, that it is extremely difficult for him to establish that basis of human sympathy which a man...
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SOURCE: Orr, Bridget. “The Maori House of Fiction.” In Cultural Institutions of the Novel, edited by Deidre Lynch and William B. Warner, pp. 73-95. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Orr discusses Maori writing in the context of New Zealand's writing history, remarking on the lack of critical analysis of indigent Maori texts by mainstream critics.]
In 1973, Witi Ihimaera published Tangi, the first novel by a Maori writer. In the twenty years since that first text emerged, many other novels by Maori, including Patricia Grace, Keri Hulme, Heretaunga Pat Baker, and Alan Duff have appeared, achieving recognition not only in Aotearoa/New Zealand but internationally. Although it is problematic for a variety of reasons to identify the texts produced by these authors as “Maori novels,” the combined oeuvre provides a clear challenge to the dominant narrativization of New Zealand history and society.1 Until recently, settler literature and historiography figured colonization as largely benign, celebrating the country's relatively harmonious “race relations,” high rate of intermarriage, and lack of formal discrimination as an aspect of the national progressive liberalism that guided the creation of one of the earliest welfare states and first gave women the vote. The novelistic contestation of hegemonic colonial or settler...
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Criticism: Maori Literature
SOURCE: McRae, Jane. “Māori Literature: A Survey.” In The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English, edited by Terry Sturm, pp. 1-24. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press, 1991.
[In the following essay, McRae documents Maori oral and written literature as it developed in New Zealand, including brief discussions of poetry, publishing history, and cultural and political context.]
HISTORICAL AND CONTEMPORARY SETTING
Before there was a literature of New Zealand, there was a Māori oral tradition of Aotearoa with an ancient history which began in the Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. A Māori literary tradition has a recent history which tells of the effect on the people of the occupation of New Zealand by the European immigrants who brought the technologies of writing and print. The two traditions have become inextricably linked, although the oral tradition remains a vital part of Māori society. There has been a written form of Māori since 1815, but the benefits of writing were attenuated by the reduction in the use of spoken Māori which occurred in the wake of a predominance of English speaking colonists. A long tradition of orality, a recent history of literacy, and a decline in the spoken language might suggest a paucity of literature in Māori. There is, however, a considerable literature which is of great significance to Māori people and which is...
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SOURCE: James, Trevor. “‘Telling Our Own Stories’: Reclaiming Difference, a Maori Resistance to Postculturalism.” In Cross-Addressing: Resistance Literature and Cultural Borders, edited by John C. Hawley, pp. 51-65. New York: State University of New York Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, James contends that Maori writers have infused a distinctive sense of spirituality into their writing, using this as a means of differentiating themselves from New Zealand writers of European descent.]
The thrust of this [essay] may be simply stated. In New Zealand literature one of the ways by which Maori writers have defined an indigenous identity has been to claim a difference from a surrounding and dominant Pakeha culture. (“Pakeha” is the Maori word for New Zealanders of European descent.) This difference has been fixed in the assertion of a distinctive spirituality—a view of life that is nonmaterial, that unifies past, present and future, and that underpins Maori language, customs and the relationship with the land. However, it is at this same point, the question of spirituality, that the Pakeha critic, whether modernist or poststructuralist, has been confronted by Maori texts in which spiritual concepts are either foregrounded or at the very least an essential part of the cultural vision. In some instances the confrontation has been a hostile one and in others it has been simply one of...
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Criticism: New Zealand Drama
SOURCE: McNaughton, Howard. “The Emergent Drama, 1840-1914.” In New Zealand Drama, pp. 15-27. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981.
[In the following essay, McNaughton presents a survey of New Zealand drama from the late 1800s to the mid-twentieth century.]
When the systematic colonization of New Zealand began in 1840, the English and Scottish settlers faced a rugged, largely unexplored country. The six early townships were widely separated through the two major islands, and each settlement quickly established cultural idiosyncrasies which were to be fostered by isolation and parochialism. The indigenous Maori population had no theater form of its own, and the European settlers—with a background of Protestant puritanism—were largely antagonistic to the arts. This meant that mid-nineteenth-century New Zealand drama was practiced by an atypical minority, viewed only by the more adventurous of the citizenry, and reported—if at all—by morally defensive newspaper columnists. However, when one considers that one quarter of these early settlers were totally illiterate, and that these seem to have constituted the bulk of the early theater audience, it is easy to accept that colonial New Zealand drama was initially a laboring-class phenomenon which often attracted wider public attention only through the court columns of the newspapers.
I COLONIAL PRODUCTION CONDITIONS...
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SOURCE: McNaughton, Howard. “The Development of Poetic and Realistic Drama.” In New Zealand Drama, pp. 38-45. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981.
[In the following essay, McNaughton surveys the work of several New Zealand playwrights who wrote during the time of World War II, including Allen Curnow, D'Arcy Cresswell, Ian Hamilton, Howard Wadman, and Claude Evans.]
World War II altered the character of most New Zealand theaters, changing the nature of the active membership but generally not reducing it. Unbalanced resources led to a period of conservatism in the larger civic theaters and a consequent resistance to local scripts, but the war years also saw a substantial development in university drama and the emergence of socially committed theaters in Wellington and Auckland. At Canterbury University College, Ngaio Marsh directed a series of celebrated productions, mostly Shakespearean, and at Auckland University College Arnold Goodwin developed a marionette theater which also toured Shakespeare productions.
It is almost inevitable that a literary theater movement such as Ngaio Marsh encouraged at Canterbury, stressing voice and stylization, should produce its own original works. The establishment of the Caxton Press had temporarily given Christchurch the highest density of poets in the country, and most of them were involved in the theater. Here James K. Baxter got his first experience...
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Criticism: New Zealand Fiction
SOURCE: Roberts, Heather. “Mother, Wife and Mistress: Women Characters in the New Zealand Novel from 1920 to 1940.” Landfall: A New Zealand Quarterly 29, no. 3 (September 1975): 233-47.
[In the following essay, Roberts suggests that the female characters populating New Zealand fiction between 1920 and 1940 can be divided into three major categories: those who fulfill traditional female roles of wife and mother; those who intrude into traditionally male domains; and those who reject traditional roles in favor of a new place in society.]
Joan Stevens has called the novelists of the period from 1920 to 1940 ‘The Forerunners’1 and the women characters portrayed in their fiction are the precursors of the women in New Zealand fiction after 1940. The three strands that can be traced through the novels of this period are apparent in New Zealand fiction before 1920, but there is not a sufficient body of literature on which to base a satisfactory analysis of women characters.
The novelists of this period portray three different types of women characters. Firstly, there is the woman fulfilling the traditional role of wife and mother. Secondly, there is the woman who should fill that traditional role, but is also an intruder into masculine strongholds. Thirdly, there is the woman who rejects the traditional role and seeks new functions for herself. One finds women authors writing...
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SOURCE: Jones, Joseph, and Johanna Jones. “Expatriates.” In New Zealand Fiction, pp. 22-32. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983.
[In the following essay, the Joneses offer an account of expatriate New Zealand writing, focusing on such authors as Katherine Mansfield, Jane Manders, Shirley Maddock, Robin Hyde, and James Courage.]
It was not that either Katherine Mansfield or Frances Hodgkins totally lacked leisure, paper, pens and paint in New Zealand; on the contrary, each added to her impediments and poverty by going away. They did lack, however, an environment in which they could hope to work themselves to the full. They were conscious of great talents, and convinced that those talents would be stifled in a country that was still, in their eyes, raw, colonial and antagonistic. Whatever was the objective truth of their assessment of New Zealand society, their subjective accuracy cannot be questioned.
—W. H. Oliver, 1960
It was Jane Mander's generation, already adult before the Great War, who saw with bewildered dismay that the country now offered its young less than they themselves had had, and much less than they had imagined themselves working to provide.
—Dorothea Turner, 1976
Long before the phrase brain-drain had been coined, New Zealand was...
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SOURCE: Wilcox, Leonard. “More Versions of the Pastoral: Postmodernism in the New Zealand Context.” Journal of Popular Culture 19, no. 2 (fall 1985): 107-20.
[In the following essay, Wilcox discusses postmodernism as it is expressed in New Zealand's literature, contending that it is closely related to the country's concern regarding ideas of national and cultural identity.]
Foreskin's Lament, a play by New Zealander Greg McGee, was greeted enthusiastically by critics and audiences when it first appeared here in 1981. One reason for its great appeal was its provocative exploration of Rugby and Rugby culture. But beyond this the play spoke to New Zealanders because McGee's treatment of Rugby offered a trenchant exploration of New Zealand identity and an issue central to it—the “provincial dilemma.” This dilemma is embodied in the character of Foreskin, the protagonist of the play. Foreskin finds himself, as a representative post-colonial subject, caught between two worlds: the traditional and indigenous culture of rugby, mateship and devotion to the team on the one hand, and the intellectual realm of the university, purveyor of privileged Eurocentric (and American-centered) cultural standards and forms on the other. The tension between the two worlds initiates Foreskin's crisis, for if the university provides a critical distance on the parochial and macho rugby culture, it fails to provide...
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Criticism: New Zealand Poetry
SOURCE: Paterson, Alistair. “Poetry in Transition: Notes on Trends and Influences in New Zealand Verse.” Landfall: A New Zealand Quarterly 30, no. 1 (March 1976): 76-85.
[In the following essay, Paterson provides a brief overview of early twentieth-century New Zealand poetry, suggesting that it was deeply influenced by the cultural and historical forces that shaped the country at that time.]
How does one write down anything about poetry; it is something almost impossible to define and not much easier to evaluate; but we keep attempting (in spite of the difficulties) to trace out the patterns of its development, to determine the influences which have shaped it and to designate the contributions of individual writers—and even of groups of writers. No one is ever much satisfied with the results. The critics and commentators seldom reach agreement; yet the beast goes on weaving its spell like the hydra-head of Medusa, changes its colours and spots, enchants, mystifies, frustrates and drives to distraction. This country's poetry is no easier to deal with than is the poetry of any other: its beginnings are undistinguished, its antecedents doubtful, its development haphazard, and its future unpredictable.
The recent publication of the Ballads of Thomas Bracken1 and Ian Wedde's Earthly, Sonnets for Carlos,2 proves the point. No writings could be more...
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SOURCE: Johnston, Andrew. “Entertaining Possibilities: Six Contemporary New Zealand Poets.” Meanjin 51, no. 3 (spring 1992): 641-52.
[In the following essay, Johnston surveys the work of several New Zealand poets, including Allen Curnow, Bill Manhire, Gregory O'Brien, and Michele Leggott.]
There is no mainstream in New Zealand poetry. Under scrutiny, the critical categories proposed from time to time break down into ever smaller categories, whose number almost corresponds with the number of poets. Rather than offer a guided tour of a hastily erected artificial structure called ‘New Zealand poetry’, I have found it more useful to respond to the writing itself by describing some ways of reading it. I would like to look at the work of six authors who are writing interesting poetry: five who published books in 1991, and Allen Curnow.
Curnow has been a presence to be reckoned with in any discussion of contemporary New Zealand poetry for more than fifty years. His is an extraordinarily complex, individual poetry that resists easy description. It has always combined a broadly philosophical and theological frame of mind with observation of the physical world and an acute consciousness of the slipperiness of language:
I write. Those writings which we now identify doubtfully as such yield nothing. I transcribe tapes of the period recovered from pack-ice,
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SOURCE: Sturm, Terry. “New Zealand Poetry.” In A Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry, edited by Neil Roberts, pp. 293-303. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishers, 2001.
[In the following essay, Sturm offers an account of New Zealand poetry, stressing that although other forms of writing have existed alongside it, it is the poetry of New Zealand that most consistently reflects the ongoing cultural debate in that country.]
A generation ago there would have been widespread agreement about the general shape an account of New Zealand poetry would take. It would have confined itself to poetry in English, and identified a development in two phases: a colonial period of largely Anglophile mimic-verse, lasting from the beginnings of European settlement in the 1840s until the early decades of the twentieth century, followed, in the key decade of the 1930s, by the emergence of powerful nationalist impulses, aligned to modernist developments overseas. These transformed the direction of poetry, establishing a local tradition and the beginnings of a canon. In the later 1960s, however, this dominant cultural nationalist paradigm, buttressed as it often was by romanticist organic metaphors of the birth and maturing of colonies into nations, began to crumble, unable to contain the sheer diversity of poetic impulses—experimental, post-modern, postcolonial, feminist, indigenous—which characterized the practice of...
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Anderson, Atholl. “The Beast Without: The Moa as a Colonial Frontier Myth in New Zealand.” Signifying Animals: Human Meaning in the Natural World, edited by Roy Willis, pp. 236-45. London: Unwin Hyman, 1990.
Brief discussion of the significance of Moa sightings in colonial travel literature from New Zealand.
Arvidson, Ken. “Aspects of Contemporary Māori Writing in English.” In Dirty Silence: Aspects of Language and Literature in New Zealand, edited by Graham McGregor and Mark Williams, pp. 117-28. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Describes the major differences between Maori and Pakeha writing in New Zealand.
Berry, Reginald. “A Deckchair of Words: Post-colonialism, Post-modernism, and the Novel of Self-projection in Canada and New Zealand.” Landfall: New Zealand Arts and Letters 40, no. 3 (September 1986): 310-23.
Analyzes the nature of self as expressed in the postcolonial and postmodern novels of New Zealand and Canada.
During, Simon. “Waiting for the Post: Some Relations between Modernity, Colonization, and Writing.” Past the Last Post: Theorizing Post-Colonialism and Post-Modernism, edited by Ian Adam and Helen Tiffin, pp. 23-45. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: University of Calgary Press, 1990.
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