Dehistoricised Histories: The Cultural Significance of Recent Popular New Zealand Historical Fiction
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
The recent popularity of mass-market New Zealand historical fiction coincides with the increasing vocality of particular cultural discourses that resist the influence of revisionist histories on dominant understandings of national identity. This thesis examines how the depiction of colonial history in four such novels legitimates and sustains hegemonic understandings of New Zealand as culturally European. The novels analysed are The Denniston Rose (2003) by Jenny Pattrick, Tamar (2002) by Deborah Challinor, The Cost of Courage (2003) by Carol Thomas, and The Love Apple (2005) by Coral Atkinson. The cultural context in which these books have been produced is situated within a history of nationalist discourses and Raymond Williams’s theorisation of hegemonic cultural processes is employed to explain how contemporary national culture continues to rely on colonial principles that sustain settler cultural dominance. Close analysis of the temporal and geographical settings of the novels reveals how the portrayal of history in these novels evades colonial conquest and the Māori cultural presence. A comparison of the historical and contemporary cultural significance of the spatial settings employed in these novels – the wilderness, pastoral, and colonial urban spaces – highlights how these settings tacitly communicate that New Zealand is culturally European. Nevertheless, the problematic cultural legacies of colonialism still haunt these novels. The way in which the narratives resolve these issues reveals that hegemonic New Zealand identity is reliant on a dehistoricised view of settlement and therefore perpetually vulnerable to the intrusion of Māori memory.