Private and public realities: A study of the subjective novel in New Zealand
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The assumption lying behind most criticism of fiction written in New Zealand has been that the realistic novel and short story most adequately convey the experience of living in this country. This thesis questions that assumption in respect of the novel. The argument presented here is that the realistic novel adequately conveys only the experience of young European men who are physically and mentally healthy and renders as insignificant any other perceptions of life in New Zealand. writers wishing to convey a vision of the world which is unacceptable in the world of the realistic novel have turned to another fictional form, that of the subjective novel. In this mode of fiction the authors' concern is with their characters' inner world - the world of the imagination and the emotions - rather than with the physical, outer world which is the domain of the realistic novelist. Three groups of writers in New Zealand have used the form of the subjective novel. They have used it consciously as a vehicle for expressing those visions of the world that are excluded from the realistic novel. These three groups are women writers, Maori writers, and a group of men authors. The main part of this thesis is devoted to an examination of their novels - to the ways in which they define their characters' exclusion from what is considered significant and acceptable in the realistic novel, and to a discussion of perceptions of the world which their characters have. In the section on women writers I consider two novels of Robin Hyde - The Godwits Fly and Wednesday's Children - the novels of Janet Frame, Sylvia Ashton-Ytlarner, Joy Cowley, Margaret Sutherland, Jean Watson, and Marilyn Duckworth's first novel A Gap in the Spectrum. Three novels by Maori authors are discussed in Part 11 of the section on the subjective novel - witi Ihimaera's two novels Tangi and Whanau and Patricia Grace's novel Mutuwhenua. In the final part of this section I have grouped together eight novels by male writers: Frank Sargeson's I Saw in My Dream and Michael Henderson's The Log of a Superfluous Son, Graham Billing's The Slipway and Ian Wedde's Dick Seddon's Great Dive, and the four novels of Ronald Hugh Morrieson. The conclusion of this thesis is that the subjective novel offers us one more way of "seeing" and that to ignore the forces of the imagination is to ignore part of the experience of life in New Zealand.