Janet Paterson Frame was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, the third in a family of five children. George Samuel Frame, her father, worked as a railroad engineer, and the family moved frequently as his place of work changed. Her mother, Lottie Clarice Godfrey, had to raise a large family with little money. Despite difficult circumstances and childhood tragedies, Frame went on to become New Zealand’s best-known writer since Katherine Mansfield.
Frame’s compiled reflections, An Autobiography (1989), tells the poignant tale of young Janet—sensitive, intelligent, and gifted—growing up in the repressive atmosphere of provincial New Zealand. As a child, Frame watched her mother, a talented storyteller and poet, subjugate her life to her husband’s needs and submit to his sometimes brutal moods. In spite of this, Lottie Frame managed to establish an atmosphere of intellectual liveliness in her household, where Janet and the other children were surrounded with poetry and stories. Janet created an inner world that allowed her to retreat into her imagination in self-defense as life became increasingly troublesome. In the world of her imagination there was no punishment for being original or different as there was at school and in society. At home, she and her sisters were beaten by their father for any signs of pubescent sexual curiosity. In small-town New Zealand in the 1930’s no deviation from acceptable behavior was tolerated and people were rigidly stratified into social and economic classes.
During these years, Frame also experienced family tragedy. Her brother, Bruddie, was epileptic—a disease that was not understood at the time—and he was punished when he could not control his fits. In 1937, Janet’s eldest sister, Myrtle, drowned in the local swimming pool. A few years later, her younger sister, Isabel, also...
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