Fictions of anti-conquest : Origins and ambivalence in some recent Pakeha historical novels
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
In this thesis I examine how some recent Pakeha writers have dealt with the difficulties of a colonial past in their fictional histories. I look at C. K. Stead's The Singing Whakapapa (1994), Ian Wedde's Symmes Hole (1986) and Maurice Shadbolt's New Zealand Wars trilogy: Season of the Jew (1986), Monday's Warriors (1990) and The House of Strife (1993). I focus on the techniques employed by these writers to construct a secure and guiltless sense of belonging for a late-twentieth-century Pakeha readership. This involves a look at how they approach issues of cultural authenticity and tradition and how they negotiate the difficulties, identified by Romi K. Bhabha, at the colonial moment. I argue that ambivalences similar to those identified by Bhabha re-emerge in these contemporary narratives. However, in their attempts to authorise a continued Pakeha presence, the novels respond to a new context. Increased Maori assertiveness and a growing awareness of colonial injustices left many Pakeha, in the 1980s and 1990s, with feelings of anxiety about the past; something apparent, for example, in Michael King's "ethnic autobiographies". Bhabha's theories, in order that they remain applicable within this new context, require modification and must be combined with other theoretical approaches. These are provided by Stephen Turner, Jonathan Lamb and Mary-Louise Pratt. With reference to these theorists I argue that, in the novels of Stead, Wedde and Shadbolt, new ambivalences arise out of the contradictory demands of a contemporary Pakeha readership. Other difficulties are inherited from the narrative of "anti-conquest", a term borrowed from Pratt to describe how, in order to circumvent guilt, colonial domination is rewritten in passive forms. Irony, a complicating factor in each of these novels, is used to obscure uncertainty and to protect the narratives and the politics behind them from criticism.