The one story and the four ways of telling : the relationship between New Zealand literary autobiography and spiritual autobiography
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis intends to examine the most significant examples of literary autobiography in New Zealand to the present day. These are Sargeson (1981) by Frank Sargeson, I Passed This Way (1979) by Sylvia Ashton-Warner, An Autobiography (1994) by Lauris Edmond, and An Autobiography (1989) by Janet Frame. My aims are twofold: to argue that there is a general tendency in New Zealand autobiography to write spiritual autobiography (this involves first showing how the above are spiritual autobiographies), and to interrogate why this is. Is it a case of the general social climate in New Zealand, pmiicularly in regards to the status of the artist in a provincial puritan society, or is it due to different, personal reasons that each writer writes spiritual autobiography? In the introduction I will briefly give an historical overview of New Zealand literary autobiography (and biography also, because together they have emerged from a few isolated works in the 1950s to be significant literary genres), summarising why the above are the most significant, and discussing why I have excluded Charles Brasch's Indirections (1981). I will also discuss the origins and history of the spiritual autobiography, particularly focusing on the Christian conversion experience which is replaced by the epiphany in the secular (non-religious; literary) autobiography. Epiphanies in the modernist fiction of Katherine Mansfield and James Joyce will be compared to confirm the basic strncture of the modernist epiphany; Joyce is especially significant because his semi-autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) is also a spiritual autobiography, and has been influential in the New Zealand context. Chapter 1 will focus on Sargeson. Chapter 2 will look at Edmond and AshtonWarner concurrently. The final chapter, Chapter 3, will examine Frame. There will be a brief conclusion in which all four authors will be compared. Details of all references in the text will appear in the List of Works Consulted.