Janet Frame Frame (Clutha), Janet (Paterson) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Janet (Paterson) Frame (Clutha) 1924–

New Zealand novelist, short story writer, and poet.

After years of intermittent mental care and hospitalization, Frame was at last able to confront directly her great need to be "an apprentice to solitude and silence," to pursue salvation by "making designs from my dreams." Her first novel, Owls Do Cry, was considered the first important novel by a New Zealander; this work and her subsequent fiction has secured for her an important place in contemporary letters.

(See also CLC, Vols. 2, 3, 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

The New Yorker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

This first novel ["Owls Do Cry"] is very promising, full of the beginner's desire to get everything in, and full of good things mixed up with blunders. Through a fog of deliberately overwritten prose, one gets glimpses of a well-understood working-class New Zealand family muddling along through more than its share of trouble. It is possible to pick up enough of the family's story to realize that Miss Frame is a very sharp judge of character and a writer with a real narrative gift. However, somewhere along the line she has acquired the idea that these are old-fashioned and unaesthetic things to be, and that writing, to be good, ought to be difficult. The result is a tantalizing mess—a book that would have been genuinely impressive if it had been handled simply, instead of being swamped in faked profundity and complexity. (pp. 103-04)

"Briefly Noted: 'Owls Do Cry'," in The New Yorker (© 1960 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 36, No. 26, August 13, 1960, pp. 103-04.

David Dempsey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "The Reservoir," the first volume of a collection of Miss Frame's shorter works], the inference is that the Welfare State has lighted up the dark places of the soul without filling the emptiness. People die without having really lived, and those who make a try at life are usually disappointed….

People pursue a dream and then, when it is within reach, are afraid to grasp it. A middle-class timidity rules, but since the author does not connect the failures of society with the failures of people, the modern idiom is missing and many of the stories stop just when you wish they would start making ripples. Perhaps half of them are not true short stories so much as incidents and character sketches in which the saturnine mood becomes a cliché….

Death fascinates Miss Frame. Almost a third of the stories include the word in the final paragraph, where it is usually capitalized. These paragraphs are often little sermons tacked on to the finished story to make sure we get the message. The self-hating must hate others; the lonely neurotic wishes his fate on those who are normal; escape from the human condition is a will o'wisp that beckons only to betray us….

Miss Frame is at her best with children, perhaps because they are not old enough to be really unhappy, yet still young enough to find disenchantment exciting. Childhood is the lost Eden not because it is carefree and lacks the crushing...

(The entire section is 505 words.)

Honor Tracy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The only obligation, said Henry James, to which in advance we may hold a novel is that it be interesting; and if this is true The Adaptable Man is very good indeed. The reader must plough through, or skip, an old-fashioned Prologue and three little chapters of portentous rhetoric, aggravated by lyrical prose; but thereafter the book becomes extraordinarily interesting, indeed bewitching, and remains so to the very last page.

The theme is Past and Present and the struggle between them in the human mind, a ceaseless interaction which may be likened perhaps to that of ocean and land….

[Miss Frame's characters] are not alive. Each is in part an idea, in part a mouthpiece for the author: Their peculiarities do not well up from their innermost being but hang limply on them like an identification tag. For this reason, absorbing as the book is, it does not in retrospect altogether satisfy…. Alwyn murders an Italian farmhand and throws his body in a pool: This is to point up an image of the ancient closed community rejecting an outsider, and to reflect the casual acceptance of bloodshed by 20th-Century man. But we cannot believe Alwyn ever did this deed, any more than we believe in the incest with his mother, because we cannot believe in Alwyn at all.

Miss Frame, moreover, shows the disregard of reality, of hard fact, often met in writers of her philosophical and contemplative mind. She will have...

(The entire section is 558 words.)

Millicent Bell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There are themes that may be ultimately inimical to fiction. Too absolute a despair about meaningful connection between events is the death of plot. Too great a reluctance to find coherence in personality prohibits the presentation of character. Too feeble a hope of human communication is the withering, ultimately, of style. Janet Frame has sought, in six novels, to express these negative convictions with such brilliance and earnestness that she makes something, if not always a story, of them.

Still, one cannot help feeling that what she makes—call it what you will—is somehow less than her talents entitle her to. What a novelist she might be, I have felt after reading each of her books, if only her imagination were not so severely confined by her views, or, more correctly, her lack of views….

[In] "A State of Siege," the desire to see truly is, as a matter of fact, the compelling force that drives a retired art teacher to leave her southern New Zealand birthplace for an island in the subtropical north. Malfred Signal hopes to be alone with nature and the "room two inches behind the eyes"—free of the dominating presences of her family, free of the long habit of attaching "correct" shadows to coal scuttles, milk pitchers and other humdrum objects. She makes her journey, moves into her beach cottage, and—? Well, what happens is not clearly evident in the bright outer air of the sunny island.


(The entire section is 577 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The poems in Janet Frame's The Pocket Mirror abound in neat, topographical observations, rendered sensitively and often given a sophisticated twist. She writes easily about the flora and fauna of her New Zealand landscape, with an occasional more interesting note of reservation and disquiet…. But the ease quickly turns into facility and garrulousness, leaving a finished, but hollow, quality in her diction…. There are too many trivia in the collection—poems of embarrassing word-play or clumsy jabberwocky—and the general effect is of an agreeable, if sentimental, talent given too relaxed a rein.

"Topography and Triviality," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1968; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3442, February 15, 1968, p. 155.∗

Anna Rutherford

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The intention of this paper is to examine Janet Frame's two worlds, the people who inhabit them and the forces that have created them. This in turn will involve a discussion of the Life/Death, False/Real, Seeing/Blind, Sane/Insane, Treasure/Rubbish dichotomies that occur in all her works.

"This" world, the one inhabited by most of us, is one where "no one must be out of tune" …, a place where man has been robbed of his individuality and reduced to nothing more than an "empty blackened little column of cardboard" …, a puppet to be manipulated as the paper dolls are made to dance by the old lady in The Edge of the Alphabet….

In "this" world individuality is an affliction...

(The entire section is 2032 words.)

W. D. Ashcroft

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The theme of the journey has undergone several developments in the literatures of Australia and New Zealand. In both countries (particularly Australia) the concept has been grounded in the mythologies of landscape and history, and in both, the peripatetic movement between 'Home' and colony has registered a deeply embedded sense of cultural schizophrenia. The novels of Janet Frame constitute the most explicit statement in either country of the journey through the contours of the consciousness as a specific psychological imperative.

All Frame's novels are firmly anchored to a central desire to explore the possibilities open to a consciousness willing to break through the accepted limitations of modern...

(The entire section is 2005 words.)

Margaret Atwood

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Living in the Maniototo" could hardly be more different from the fiction that readers may have come to expect from [Janet Frame's] part of the world. Its subject is New Zealanders when they're at home, not in a Maori tourist paradise but in a horrible suburb called Glenheim, where the suicide rate is high and the windowless shopping mall is named Heavenfield….

"Living in the Maniototo" is held together by the consciousness of its narrator, a consciousness as elastic and snappy as a handful of rubber bands. This is no mere double heroine: on the first page we're given the choice of no fewer than 12 possible identities. True, only about four of them are explored in any depth, but the others remain...

(The entire section is 546 words.)

Carole Cook

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Janet Frame may be the most important novelist to come out of New Zealand, but her books are so unlike what we expect a novel to be that they almost evanesce into their own mysticism….

Nevertheless, she's been compared to Woolf for her impressionistic sensibility, to Rilke for her deliberate obscurity—and I'm tempted to add the names of Barnes, Nin, Mansfield, if only to suggest the rarefied atmosphere one encounters while living in the Maniototo.

The Maniototo, in essence, represents the farthest, most inaccessible reaches of personal imagination. Geography and language stand in for plot as Mavis buries two husbands in Blenheim, visits Baltimore, copes with an unexpected...

(The entire section is 191 words.)