Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Frank Sargeson has been credited with giving New Zealand literature new life. The path he cleared was for the return home of many expatriates who, as he did, had fled the vast separateness of life which they had perceived in New Zealand for what was hoped to be the rich intellectual life of England and Europe. What Sargeson discovered and encouraged others to recognize was that, as New Zealanders, they could not deny the unique nature of life in their island nation, nor could they write of it in borrowed forms and language. Sargeson wanted to set himself and his countrymen to writing about New Zealand life in a more familiar idiom.

The early years of Sargeson’s career were marked by his success as a writer of short stories. An avid reader of the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain, Sargeson observed how effectively one might approach the heart of a culture or region by way of its curious rather than respectable characters. What emerged was a fiction that seemed to peer at New Zealand life from the dark corners and lonely hearts of the nation. There was no self-conscious posing, nor was an accommodation made for overseas readers. In short, what Sargeson began was the self-examination of the psyche of a small nation, with little regard for what a larger audience might think.

Sargeson’s earliest stories are like parables. He wrote about his waiflike protagonists with insight and concern, often using them to deliver some thinly...

(The entire section is 406 words.)