New Zealand biography in the 1940s and the 1990s : a comparative view.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts (Hons)
The focus of this thesis is intellectual and literary history within New Zealand biography. Its central argument is that biographical writing changes over time because each era has new questions and needs concerning the intersection of history, society and individual experience which the genre of biography feeds. In order to study the changes in New Zealand biographical writing over the second half of the twentieth century, the two centennial decades of the 1940s and the 1990s have been chosen as periods of contrast, when an increase in national consciousness led to an upsurge in the writing of biography, and differences in biographical practice between the two decades were able to be identified. The topic has been divided into three main themes: biographies of 'Great Men'; biographies of 'Women Too'; and biographies of 'Significant Others'. Within each theme three biographies have been selected, one from the 1940s and two from the 1990s, and each discussed in discursive essays that delineate their main biographical concerns. The general characteristics of the biographies have then been evaluated within certain biographical principles that include: the choice and treatment of the subject, the relationship between the subject and the biographer, ethical concerns, the availability of sources, and the varieties of form. This made it possible to identify developments that took place in biographical writing between the two decades. The changes that were most evident were: an expansion in the range of subjects; greater impartiality by the biographers towards their subjects; the increase in availability of sources; the inclusion of greater detail in the fuller portrayal of a life; an increase in the professionalism of biographical writing; a conservative attitude towards the greater variety of acceptable forms. Initial assumptions were that biographical writing would develop in a straightforward manner changed by a maturing national consciousness and by trends in contemporary literary history. But it was not as simple as that. There were found to be similarities between biographies from the two decades, as well as differences. For every generalization that could be made, in this relatively small study, there were exceptions. While the selected case studies were all representative of types, all types were not represented. Nevertheless, those that were selected served to illustrate many of the changes in biographical writing in New Zealand that occurred during the fifty years under review. These changes were part of a general biographical approach that spanned a wide range of disciplines.