Imagining New Zealand: Literary critique and cultural redefinition 1940-1983
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This thesis is a cultural history with a strong literary focus. Its central argument is that the eleven New Zealand essays examined herein demand to be recognised as a distinct mode of writing of local significance. New Zealand literary critique has a genealogy that moves back through the writing of Matthew Arnold, T. S. Eliot, F. R. Leavis, and Lionel Trilling during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, towards the development of the essay form in renaissance times and the birth of the poet-critic in antiquity. The mode developed in New Zealand during World War Two as a means of both appraising the (nascent) state of New Zealand literature and criticising the culture whence it sprang. In line with its genealogy, the mode has a strong romantic orientation - an aspect that has provided a topic of enduring interest for writers across the late twentieth century: The central conclusion of the thesis is that the authors of New Zealand literary critique have presented the country with a body of literary cultural essays that comment upon their nation in not only literary and cultural, but also philosophical terms. The ongoing problem of romanticism is identified and argued to be a central issue in attempts to formulate a local aesthetic. I suggest that the circumstances of settlement during the Victorian era have presented theorists with an over-riding issue that can only be resolved through attention to global attempts to deal with the self-same problem. The global minor reflects New Zealand's own local problematic.