Frank Sargeson 1903–1982
New Zealand novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, and dramatist.
Sargeson's fiction focuses on alienation and isolation among New Zealand's lower classes. His characters are often uneducated, inarticulate, and frustrated male drifters and deviants who cannot conform to the standards and expectations of society. Many of his protagonists seek comfort in "mateship," a relationship in which they are dependent upon other men for support and affection. Sargeson usually portrays his heterosexual characters as discontented, having found females to be either insensitive or inconsequential. Sargeson's works that concern homosexuality include the highly acclaimed long story "That Summer" (1943) and the novellas "A Game of Hide and Seek" and "I for One," collected with the title story in Man of England Now (1972). Other works which promote the idea of male primacy are the narcissistic tales of Michael Newhouse, a latter-day Casanova recounted in Memoirs of a Peon (1965), and Joy of the Worm (1969), a novel in which the Reverend James Bohun and his son Jeremy discard a succession of submissive women in order to reserve their true admiration for themselves.
Sargeson began to comment on society in the stories of his first collection, Conversation with My Uncle and Other Sketches (1936), which are restricted in their focus upon certain people in certain circumstances. Later, though Sargeson continued his social criticism, his tone and approach became more relaxed. He began to inject humor and tolerance into his work and, though he continued to use New Zealand life as its basis he began to broaden his themes. Among the more prominent themes in Sargeson's fiction is the individual's search for freedom in a repressive, puritanical society. Sargeson's own renunciation of unnatural, guilt-producing tenets is reflected in his autobiographical novel When the Wind Blows (1945) and its sequel, I Saw in My Dream (1949). Repression often finds an outlet in violence, as in the short story "Sale Day" and in the novel The Hangover (1967), in which the protagonist cannot reconcile with reality the messages of inflexible Puritan ideology.
Because of the inability of his narrators to express themselves in any but elementary terms, Sargeson's stories are sometimes limited in character development, point of view, and language. Many of them are episodic or anecdotal; as a result, much commentary has been devoted to the brevity of Sargeson's work. Most critics consider his writing to be exceptionally realistic, in part because of his ability to assume "masks," or the personae of his narrators. Many caution that his is still an artistic interpretation, however, and should not be taken as representative of the people and conditions in New Zealand.
In addition to his stories and novels, Sargeson also wrote two plays, A Time for Sowing (1961) and The Cradle and the Egg (1962), and three highly praised volumes of memoirs: Once Is Enough (1972), More than Enough (1975), and Never Enough! (1977).
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed., Vol. 106 [obituary].)