“Robin Hyde: A Political Reading”

by Mary Paul

This paper is excerpted from chapter 6 of Her Side of the Story: Readings of Mander, Mansfield and Hyde (Dunedin: U of Otago P, 1999) with permission of the publisher. Please refer any enquiries to university.press@otago.ac.nz

I found myself under a sort of compulsion to try and relate the lives of people I knew to the panorama of history. John Dos Passos [1]

This chapter starts out with the question of how readers should position themselves to see meaning and unity in Robin Hyde’s later works, 1936-39. These works seem problematic both because they are so diverse and because they are such a departure from her earlier production. Familiar readings include attempts to see her as a nationalist or as a feminist. This chapter is an attempt to develop a different kind of political reading. It retains aspects of previous readings but takes a different approach to reconstructing the 1930s political/historical contexts, both national and international. Like previous feminist readings, it focuses on Hyde’s construction of herself as a female intellectual and her interest in the representation of women but when it discusses gender it tries to do so with specific reference to the 1930s political context. In this way it tries to transcend the familiar debate between feminist and nationalist readers, and the limitations of the way in which Robin Hyde had been “restored” by recent critics.

I can indicate the limitations of the way Robin Hyde has been “restored” by discussing an anecdote told by New Zealand/Australian novelist Ruth Park in her 1993 autobiography Fence Around the Cuckoo. During the depression, because of financial circumstances, Park was forced to leave school to live with her parents in a “backblocks” area of the King Country:

Life is never speedy enough for the young, especially the despairing young. I did read the living-room walls, standing on a chair, hunting for consecutive pages. These came from very old copies of the New Zealand Observer, and the text was solid Robin Hyde, whose style became so familiar to me I believe I could even now recognise it anywhere. How I envied her, secure in her job, praised as a poet, with a beautiful future. But in fact at the time she was overworked, ill-paid as all women journalists were, worried about her child, always in pain from a diseased bone, and planning suicide.

A year or so later, too shy to speak, I was to pass her in a newspaper office, unfortunate Robin, a lame, worn-looking woman, pale and ill nourished, with lank light brown hair. It must have been just before she left for China, a journey that led to her early death. [2]

Could this example of a shift in understanding about Robin Hyde’s life have come about without her “restoration”? Ruth Park has clearly read Derek Challis’s description of his mother’s plight in the introduction to A Home in this World as well as Hyde’s own description in that work. The update is significant because it is only latterly that the circumstances of Hyde’s life were seen to be important to understanding her work. However, the outcome is not very satisfactory—the way that Ruth Park opposes her once naive assumptions about the successful journalist, to the painful reality, seems to me to be not only patronising but also unhistorical. Park’s double-take is matched by what has happened in Hyde’s feminist rereading, which—because of the interest in Hyde’s suppression as writer and woman—risks a sense of special pleading. It also gives a tragic tone to the work that may have other possible aspects. A more detailed reconstruction of the 1920s and 1930s may suggest that this was not so much a tragic individual situation as part of social life, especially women’s life, at this period. Park hints at this period context with her phrase “as all women journalists were” but her focus is on the “unfortunate Robin.”

Another example is helpful here. An MA student who, like Hyde, had experienced the death of a baby, presented a seminar in which she put manuscript material from Hyde’s “Autobiography” (manuscript MSS 412 held in the Auckland Public Library) alongside the veiled account of losing a baby in The Godwits Fly. She then suggested that a number of Hyde’s poems are also about this heartrending experience, particularly the experience of never being able to hold the dead child. [3] She finished the seminar with a reference to a claim in MacD. P. Jackson’s survey essay on New Zealand poetry in the Oxford History of New Zealand Literature that “. . . no New Zealand poet would have thought of writing a poem about being pregnant and losing the child,” a claim which seemed to ignore Hyde’s poems on that very theme. [4] In showing a critic’s blindness to the existence of certain subjects in literature this student was linking her example with the feminist argument that female writers and female experience had been suppressed by male critics. But Jackson’s claim could be debated in other ways. For instance he ignores the significance of radical attempts during the 1920s and 1930s to relate literature to the lives of ordinary people. This was an international trend which also touched New Zealand. Perhaps the interpretation we make of Hyde’s writing should not focus exclusively on gender but acknowledge the radical democratic spirit in her writing.

Even Patrick Sandbrook’s thesis, A Writer at Work, which uncovers subtle interconnections between Hyde’s unpublished letters and autobiographies and her novel The Godwits Fly, still uses an old-fashioned literary critical mode. Thus Robin Hyde is identified as a gifted individual struggling within a narrowminded society, rather than a writer whose choice of material, preoccupations and genre tendencies were shaped by her context, as much as she herself shaped these elements. I cite these examples not to criticise individual critics but to draw attention to the way readings have changed their emphases in recent years. Obviously other types of reading (including more heavily theorised and less personal types) are also current, but it is the tragic and heroic modes that have attracted most attention; and indeed without them it is likely that the Hyde revival would not have had so much impact. My point here, however, is the familiar tendency for revivals to oversimplify their topic by adopting an adversarial approach. What kind of reading can transcend the dialectic thus produced?

It is no longer necessary to argue for the importance of Hyde’s work, but one does need to look more closely at the writing in its original social and political context. This is, however, not a simple matter: a complex historical view is needed. We cannot turn to some neutral history to make a recontextualisation. The post-Second World War picture of the 1930s and 1940s as a time of cultural birth is a story that has been told not only by novelists and poets but also by historians, so that we also need to recover the period from their mythmaking. Nationalist historians, like feminist historians, are naturally driven by their particular values and priorities. For instance, historian Bill Oliver in The Oxford History of New Zealand celebrates this time of cultural birth when “a magazine, an orchestra and a small [literary] fund” came into being. [5] But even in his acknowledgements of the role of women in this enterprise he seems unconsciously grudging, as when he describes a group of women painters as “eminent among the more modest participants in the revolution of the 1940s” but as “cautious painters, attaining an authentic personal vision within a narrow compass.” And again, though he admits that they did transcend the limitations of being “beneficiaries of that colonial-genteel tradition that made it acceptable . . . for middle class girls to occupy themselves with paint,” he also stresses that they did not “break new ground” [6]  What Oliver’s comments lack is an interest in distinguishing between the traditional “amateur” and “hobbyist” status of women artists and their actual production. His narrative is so much concerned with national discovery that other subtle forms of innovation are overlooked.

Fortunately in the last five years the historical view has been enlarged. Other works by Robin Hyde have been republished and studies such as Rachel Barrowman’s A Popular Vision: The Arts and the Left in New Zealand 1930-1950 [7] and a range of essays on women in the 1930s have looked at issues such as unemployment and contraception, and allowed us to develop other angles on the period.

          To further our political reading let us start with a consideration of Hyde’s approaches in 1936-38 when she wrote her last two novels, The Godwits Fly (1938) and Nor the Years Condemn (1938). These both treat the post-war and depression periods—Godwits ends with the tramping feet of unemployed men, circa 1928, and Nor the Years Condemn finishes with the Labour election in 1935. Both are distinctly pleas for the underdog, the poverty-stricken, the one who has no expectations of life. This theme was not Hyde’s alone. What we think of as the most significant poems and stories of the 1930s speak to it too: for instance, Allen Curnow’s “House and Land,” Denis Glover’s “Magpies,” and Frank Sargeson’s “Piece of Yellow Soap.” Clearly there was a strong political streak in nationalist writing. Discovering one’s own country should not be thought of as a purely nationalist discovery but also as a complex political one. Hyde herself seemed to be in no doubt in 1937 that the best writing should comment on society. She argues for Katherine Mansfield as a sociological and political writer, too seldom appreciated as such: “New Zealand hasn’t achieved any writers whose writings have an exceptional political or sociological value—except Katherine Mansfield, and nobody ever seems to notice that aspect of her genius.”  Hyde saw her most importantly as making “a picture of the structure of society.” [8] She also reproved Denis Glover for a posturing gloominess that was, she thought, obligatory for the “strictly-modern school” and fostered from a romanticised idea of waiting for revolution (“the necessary economic uprising”) but which she implies has little relationship with real international tragedies, “the bloody duels in Spain, or in Abyssinia, [which] bear witness to the insecurity of the present.” [9]

Patrick Sandbrook has argued for the deliberate choices Hyde made as a writer. He also stresses her sense of “democracy” with her readers. I would want to go further and suggest that the method other last novels and poems—which includes stylistic innovation, experiments with montage, and the inclusion of documentary material—can be seen as belonging to a widely shared impulse to convey the new character of the time by breaking down boundaries between fiction and documentary. In this way one can argue that Hyde was in fact very like many of her Australian and American contemporaries who had a new conception of the novel, not so much as an expression of individual genius but as a text which captured history as a spotlight which flashes for a moment on an individual and an environment, a “record” of her time. Some local critics have described Hyde’s last novels as using two modes, the visionary (or Utopian) as well as the social realist, but again the wider international context of politically identified writing gives us a way of seeing Hyde’s Utopian monologues as part of the whole text—the novelist’s attempt to paste intellectual discourse into her collage of the period, an impulse typical of a new genre of radical writing. [10]  The monologues in Nor the Years Condemn, for example, can be seen as Hyde’s attempt to explore the current problems of the thinker and writer in a time of social unrest.

An Australian cultural critic, David Carter, in an essay titled “Documenting Society,” describes radical fiction from the 1930 to the 1950s as breaking down the distinctions between “fact” and fiction by opening up the novel to “a new social reality—at once individual and historical.” [11] Detailed descriptions of work and workplaces, broken narratives, extracts from personal journals or newspapers, radio dialogues and popular songs, and Utopian passages all occur in a novel typical of the time (he is describing Alan Marshall’s How Beautiful are Thy Feet). By looking at such writing as a collage, he argues, we are discovering not its naturalism so much as its modernity.

Nor the Years Condemn elides fact and fiction because the protagonist, Starkie, is based on a real person whom Hyde knew and interviewed. Likewise within the novel there is a brief mention of a young woman journalist who, it is implied, could be associated with the author of the novel. While the characters Bede Collins and Macnamara could possibly be associated with “real people” they can also be seen as the author’s way of formulating the relations between the intellectual and society. For instance, one could go through the narrative and find plenty of connections between Hyde and the character of Bede. Bede is an experienced woman in terms of relations with men but also a woman alone, and one who wants to minister to her country—as Hyde the journalist and novelist did. Bede is a nurse not squeamish of physical suffering and squalor—she, like Hyde, has been through some of the worst of experiences and can look at suffering open-eyed. There is an even more specific connection in that the protagonist in Hyde’s supposedly autobiographical account of drug addiction, A Night of Hell, is also called Bede. And Bede in both novel and essay lives in a tiny bach lighted at night only by candles. The connections between texts and life are myriad. Readers and critics are endlessly fascinated by them. [12] Yet questions remain about these representations that are not answered by recourse to “fact” or biography. Instead perhaps we should think about both autobiography and fiction as contemplations (necessary to the period) on the role of the female outsider or intellectual, and a consideration of the difficulty of being political and middle class. And perhaps middle class and poverty-stricken. The example below follows the character (Bede) rescuing a baby hedgehog:

She left the saucer outside, went in, and read the Communist Manifesto, with six prefaces by Engels. It convinced and depressed her. The Communists—Brigadier, vous avez raison: but what the devil were they going to do with people like herself, riddled with good intentions and emotions, like old ships riddled with rats? Oh, well: she supposed they might sink her for a breakwater somewhere, and anyhow, the individual was not proving so important. Certainly she liked the Communists much better than their opposite extreme. [13]

The passage ends with a return to Bede’s anxiety about the hedgehog. When she found its saucer empty “she regretted not having been able to keep the baby.” The placement of Bede’s monologue alongside the animal rescue (and the human resonances of “baby”) reinforces her predicament as having the problems of specifically a female thinker and intellectual: one who has the impulse to mother and comfort but who at the same time wants to see the world in larger perspective. I am suggesting, therefore, that a connection between a real and the fictional character should not be seen as simply hiding the “secret story” of the author but rather as opening up both character and author to history as positively as possible, so that both can be seen not as merely “representing subjectivity” but as “sites where social forces and ideologies play out their effects.” [14]

Another character from Nor the Years Condemn, Macnamara, could also be discussed in terms of the author’s biography. Like Hyde, Macnamara journeyed from one end of the country to the other. [15] And he could also be seen as based on one of, or a composite of, a new idealistic, questioning group of young men—thinkers, artists and politicians whom Hyde describes in an essay on New Zealand writers: “its [the depression’s] stimulating effect on the thought and culture of rebellious young minds, in a silent country which at last learned to be articulate, was probably worth all the hardship involved.” [16] She is probably thinking of figures such as John A. Lee, Joe Heinan, John Beaglehole, Eric McCormick—figures who seemed capable of putting into action the sense of spiritual and material urgency that the depression stirred up. (Even in 1936 they were starting to work on a centennial publication that would put New Zealand on the map as a cultural entity. They were the kind of thinkers who went on after the war to institutionalise the arts in magazines, funds, galleries, museums and education programmes. [17])

Yet again, rather than getting caught in the anecdotal, perhaps we should see the invention of Macnamara as a way of including a Utopian discourse in the book. Macnamara is looking for the right model for the future; his travel parallels Starkie’s, but Starkie has been programmed with outmoded ideas which means that his solutions always go awry. Macnamara ministers to others; he solves and salves moments of rancour. He rescues a “Homie” in a small-town pub and takes him back to the house that he lives in. The setting is the Ureweras, the township is Wairoa. This early settler’s house has the “right” relationship to the country in which it is built:  Macnamara is able to appreciate its history, which the “Homie” also glimpses for the first time. On the walls are maps of New Zealand, which allow the two men to familiarise themselves with the country, its landforms, its produce:

The flickering lamplight revealed a house of old steady dignity, which, despite its emptiness and its corridors fit for ghosts, pleased the Homie better than anything else he had seen since coming to New Zealand. Two big maps, one of the North Island, one of the South, with little Stewart Island tacked on down under, showed up on one of the bare walls, which was of unpainted, unvarnished wood, the solid and honest tree. The roof was very high, and the stove, which Macnamara lighted to make coffee, as rusty as it was immense. In the corner stood a harmonium. [18]

Macnamara advises the settler to also familiarise himself with methods of farming and to gradually make a decision on his own land purchase: “You see the maps? In your spare time I’d like you to study them back, front and round the corner. They’ve got products marked in, and a good many other things.” [19]< Macnamara is an image of the astute, informed, compassionate citizen whose forward thinking will overcome the problems associated with the returned soldiers (from the First World War) and the depression. How he lives combines the right mix of nonmaterialistic elegance and consciousness of history that should become a model for the nation, just as his generous handling of the blokes in the pub should become a model for the relations between people. His gentle gesture of covering Starkie with a coat later in the story, when Starkie is reduced to a night in a “shelter,” also recalls Hyde’s picture of John, the father in The Godwits Fly—a similarly socially committed character, who tiptoes in at night to cover his daughter with his overcoat.

Yet Macnamara’s portrayal is not only an obviously nationalist construction, it is also an internationalist one. The question of how a writer should contribute to a society (and a world) felt to be in crisis was an international one. This question was also important to other local writers. In her section of the introduction to Nor the Years Condemn, “Hyde’s Masquerade,” Linda Hardy says of Hyde’s approach: “Unlike Mulgan, or the early Sargeson, Hyde is not merely content to imply the limitation of the gruff pragmatic masculine voice. Instead she makes these other voices [of Bede Collins and Macnamara] carry the metaphors of Utopian desire.” [20] The comment is convincing, yet it is important to stress what Hardy is assuming here: that all three of these writers were working in different ways on the same problem of how the bourgeois intellectual can relate to society—how he or she can engage a receptive audience for their work, how to be loyal to the working class, and also how to promote and lead changes in society. Critics have spent so much time debating nationalism in literature that they have not noted all the ways in which it connects up with international trends and debates—such as the debate about the future, or not, of socialism, or the practice of new kinds of social organisation. Rachel Barrowman’s book has been a welcome exception. [21]

David Carter is an Australian working in the area of cultural studies, whereas Nick Perry is a New Zealand sociologist whose book, The Dominion of Signs, brings together essays on popular culture and literature; both are interested in innovations in writing styles in the 1930s and 1940s. They explain these in terms of language and literary conventions being outstripped by societal change and conventional meanings being destabilised, but they articulate this very differently. [22] David Carter puts his stress on the international changes: “Too many writers the historical sequence of depression, fascism and war meant a profound disturbance in their sense of social relations. Society becomes not just an arena for the play of individual motives but of momentous historical forces, of class divisions and ‘mass villains, mass victims . . . an awakened mass consciousness’”(Carter takes these last phrases from M. Barnard Eldershaw’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow.)

This notion of crisis was itself symptomatic of a crisis in liberal humanism whose traditional terms seemed inadequate to comprehend such massive social change. Mass social forms and ideologies seemed to threaten human nature as a source of value and continuity. For a number of writers this ideological crisis produced a serious involvement with communism . . . or with socialist and populist ideas, often in nationalism. [23]

          Carter’s point is that “in order to engage with this new social reality—at once individual and historical—works of fiction are forced into formal experiment. [24] Nick Perry, on the other hand, attributes the fracture in meaning mostly to cultural dislocation caused by displacement. The social dilemma of the provincial was the problem of sounding too smart and patronising for New Zealand audiences or too “down home” for English ones. Bill Pearson described it as an uneasy choice between sycophancy (writing in a “nervous tie-straightening” way for the English market) or overconfidence (“attitudinising” in “bad habits” picked up from local “journalism”). [25] Perry sees Sargeson as an example of a writer who found a solution to the problem:

His early writing offered a model solution to the social dilemma of a provincial intelligentsia. Here was a frugal, austere prose, responsive to the idioms of ordinary New Zealand speech, in which the locals might recognise themselves. And yet for the bookish it was manifestly literature rather than reportage; it was made not recorded. Accomplishing such apparent simplicity depended upon technical sophistication; for literary insiders such stories worked through resonance, through indirection, through a predisposition to read against the text. . . . He offered a celebration of the local and the ordinary couched in a technically demanding form. [26]

A particularly useful aspect of Perry’s work is his interest in showing how Sargeson’s formal idiosyncrasies once made sense to a particular reading community. I am trying to do something similar for Hyde. However, the nationalist reading community Perry describes went on to dominate our high culture. Hyde’s internationalism and interest in gender politics came (for a time) to seem passé. But even with the help of feminism it is not easy for us to return to being the kind of reading community that made sense of Hyde—the mood of the period after the 1935 labour election was eclipsed by war, and then by postwar nationalism, the post-war baby boom, and the 1950s cult of the family, not to mention the consolidation of nationalism in the arts.

David Carter’s internationalist approach (which he uses to re-evaluate the significance of certain overlooked Australian prose writers of the thirties and forties) is more useful in some respects than a nationalist approach to explain Hyde’s style.  Robin Hyde’s poetic, or at least her discussions of what she sought to do in her writing, is better understood in terms of wanting strategically to elide the division between documentary (including autobiography) and fiction in order to make a record of her time in which the concept of the individual, and humanism, were no longer sufficient. Of her autobiography (which became the draft for The Godwits Fly) she wrote that it “. . . is not a novel but a sort of sliding picture of the days ...I know indeed that it is not clever, it was not intended to be so: but it is utterly sincere and true, not just my halting truth but the truth of all the faces, tormented and inarticulate and quelled by life, that slid past.” [27] History as history of the individual is too selfish. Given the mass of experience and suffering in the world all the writer can do is to get the truth of the detail. Later, perhaps, it can be seen in context:

Now I think if I could get exactly the special sort of water that flows under the Days Bay wharf, everything would be quite clear and complete, and there would be no need to write, because somehow it is I, and I am it. It was a water colourless at the edges, too protected for foam, except when on very grey days it was a burnished steel mirror for the skies — [28]

Instead of seeing this passage as an attempt to capture essences, or as telling us about the psychology of a gifted writer, I think one can argue that it is one way of expressing the radical impulse of the period, to find a way to record the precise shape and texture of life as she knew it, particularly life lived differently than ever before. This is not to forget that collage and imagist methods were also used by writers central to the nationalist tradition (such as A. R. D. Fairburn in “Dominion”). But Hyde’s particular use is best understood by relating her to overseas writers with a strongly political—or what at the time was sometimes described as journalistic—emphasis. John Dos Passos, whose trilogy USA was published between 1930 and 1937, was also obsessed with the idea of capturing the present through documentary details. Dos Passos described his work as creating characters whom he then put down in “a snarl of human events” [29] and his own writing impulse as a compulsion to see detail in a larger perspective:

I found myself under a sort of compulsion to try and relate the lives of people I knew to the panorama of history. The method was experimental. As I worked I used occasionally to reassure myself with the thought that at least some of the characters and scenes and feelings I put down might prove useful for the record. [30]


Dos Passos and Hyde both wanted a new way of showing an individual living in the world, and at the same time of questioning the boundaries of self and world. They were interested, not so much in subjectivity for its own sake, but in sites where social ideologies and forces were busy playing out their effects. In the service of this I have already suggested Hyde blurs documentary, journalism and fiction so that her novels and poems spill out undefinably into the tide of “history.”

There are also specific techniques that Hyde uses that are illuminated by comparison with the strategies of John Dos Passos. (The comparison is illuminating without implying a direct influence—since such techniques were “in the air” in the period.) Both favour what one might consider a pictorial or tableau method by moving from a close-up to a “wide-angle” view. In USA this technique is drawn attention to in a section entitled “The Camera’s Eye.” In The Godwits Fly such changes of perspective occur from moment to moment:

Then, Augusta said, “Man, woman and child; man woman and child.” She said it standing in the silent street, with the four-leaved clovers pinned to her fuzzy astrakhan stole, and the old houses dazed with peace and the coming of sunset, behind their hedges of bright plumbago and the tumult of hydrangeas. [31]

In another example, the fragment of a conversation between daughter, husband, and wife is juxtaposed with a distant perspective, making clear that there are other stories to be told and different ways of looking at the world:

John got the parts of a History of Mankind, which ran in small print and coloured plates through a weekly magazine. Carl Withers sold them to him for sixpence, and bought them back for a penny. Some of them upset him dreadfully. He came rushing in and slammed the door, his hair standing up on end, his thin face flaming:

“Look at that. That’s your capitalist system. That’s what they do to men. Look at that, I tell you.”

Augusta looked. “It happened two thousand nine hundred years ago,” she said tonelessly.

“They’re all the same. Capitalists—murderers. Look, Eliza, that’s what your mother wants me to put into parliament. That’s what she votes for herself.”

“Must you defile the eyes of your own children?”

“Let them see what the world is. Look, Eliza!”

Eliza looks, and sees a picture of some slaves flayed alive by an Emperor. They lie huddled, not unlike the raw pink rabbits that have to be soaked overnight in the sink before they can be stewed. The Emperor stands over them with his whip, looking rather like Daddy in a temper.

“Yes, Daddy.”

John fires off his parting shot.

“That’s your Imperialism. That’s your God for you.” Augusta, hard tears forcing themselves between her eyelids, continues to pare very thin rings from the potatoes.

Two people, solitaries, dreamers, winning out of their first environment, find a dog chain twisting their ankles together. Still they fight for their escape; one lonely, shy, suffering under a sense of social injustice, for escape into the steaming companionship, the labouring but powerful flanks of mankind: the other fights for what blood and tradition have taught her, fields of bluebells ringing all on the one exquisitely lengthened note, courage, craftsmanship, the order which for her has existed only in a dream, so that she cannot know if its grey stone pile be crumbling today. They are young when it begins; their words, like their veins, are hot and full of passion. They share a double bed, and have children. One day an ageing man looks round and finds himself wrestling with an ageing woman, her face seamed with tears. [32]

The suggestion that this juxtaposition of immediate and broad perspectives (in time and space) helps to describe an inexplicable urban world, and a world in crisis, is reinforced by the fact that the characters are engaged in their own kind of struggle to understand their place in history: their attempts at perspective open their minds to other lives and other stories, to the whole social field so complex and difficult to sum up in abstraction.

John’s book shows him that wage slavery is simply a continuation of an older history of exploitation and tyranny, while Eliza has a flash of perception about John because the picture of the emperor looks like “Daddy in a temper,” putting the children presumably in the place of those “raw pink rabbits.” The father sees class tyranny, the daughter, tyranny of father over children, and possibly one sex over the other. The image of pink rabbits soaking overnight also reminds Eliza of Augusta’s attempt to nourish their family in times of poverty. The final “Two people, solitaries, dreamers” is a kind of time-lapse narrative seen by the older woman narrator (implied, though not present, the older Eliza). The two figures fight over their ideological positions in a dialogue similar to that Hyde uses in her long poem “Husband and Wife” which was written in 1936. The passage brilliantly juxtaposes these different perspectives, these different social truths.

In a scene from his play The Garbage Man (1926), Dos Passos uses a similar extreme long shot to show an individual being caught in meaningless constraints. Because these lines belong to an absurd character, “the Telescope Man\ who sells ten cent squints at the moon” on Union Square, it is suggested that the world is continually being reframed in new metaphors, whether grandiose or trivial:

Every day they’re tied tighter in ticker ribbon till they can’t move, till they don’t have time to look at the moon. . . . And time slips through among the garbage cans in the canyon streets. Time is a great snake through gray streets, wearing away angles of stone cornices, wearing ornaments off marblefaced sepulchres. . . . Time is a grey ash dropping from the souls of fat men in swivel chairs. . . . Time has his undertaking establishment on every block. [33]

This freedom to shift point of view (reminiscent of the film medium) is very characteristic of Dos Passos. Hyde, too, used this method of juxtaposition of views to suggest different relationships of power. The passage below from The Godwits Fly uses this method ironically to make what today we would call a postcolonial commentary on various narratives of nation.

Mr Bellew, the headmaster of their school, loved trees, and tried to fight the emptiness of the raw clay around his brick building by getting the children to dig their own little garden-plots, where they could grow anything from potatoes to sweetpeas. Gradually he weaned them to trees and shrubs, and gave them long lectures about the duty of preserving their heritage of native bush—which they never saw, as it lay miles away over the hills. His favourite day in the year was Arbor Day, when he always managed to conjure up a Member of Parliament, like a whiskery watch-chained rabbit out of Mr Bellew’s top hat. The Parliamentarian, having cleared his throat and rasped away at the children for twenty minutes, would scratch the ground with a trowel until the hole was deep enough for a sad-coloured, skinny little native tree to be planted. It didn’t matter if he stuck it in lop-sided, because Mr Bellew would make the big boys replant it when he had gone.ousers bending over: then the Parliamentarian came up to blow, and the Top Girls, Standard Six, of whom Carly was smallest and shyest, trebled:

“Bird of my native land, beautiful stranger,

Perched in the kauri tree, free from all danger.”

Bird-of-my-native-land was supposed to be the tui, but none of the children had ever seen one, or a kauri tree either. Sparrows hopped everywhere, living as the Lord provided, on spilled crumbs and dust and chaff leaking from the nose-bags of patient old reddy-brown horses, who stood stamping and shuffling their feet. And there were thrushes, if you had a coprosma hedge with fat little orange berries to tempt them. The Hannays had, and used the berries for sovereigns when they played Shops. [34]

The struggle to make sense of lives (“normal life in the twentieth century is a blasphemous and obscene travesty of what was meant for humans,” she wrote to a friend, John Schroder) [35] is evident in other narrative strategies in these late novels. Different perspectives are multiplied by the pasting in of types of people, types of behaviour and types of conversation. For instance in The Godwits Fly:

A special Day’s Bay voice, hard and authoritative like a chunk of brown wood, shouts from the lower deck, “Stand away from that rope. Stand clear, now, stand clear of that ro-o-ope.” [36]

Another feature of this narrative style is the excess of detail. Many descriptions do not advance the narrative, but document the physical and social environment:

The men’s dressing-shed is much bigger than the women’s, and of stone, not tin. Under the women’s roof, the room divides into wet-floored sandy cubicles, in most of which there are cobwebs. [37]

Dancing on a whale washed up at Lyall Bay. Hundreds of children were taken to see it and they danced up and down. Underfoot was nothing but slippery black, gashed with the yellow clay from their boots. “Now I am dancing on a whale.” [38]

Auckland is further ahead with the Copper Trail, than Wellington, and that is a disgrace for Wellington. The Copper Trail a huge snake of pennies, has to cover the whole length of the North Island. Then it will be spent on comforts for the wounded soldiers and sailors. The children do not realise that its length will only be measured on the map; they see actual pennies laid end to end, shining through bush and ti-tree, over stubborn hills, and Wellington’s disgrace sticks in their throat. [39]

Within the novel there are some explicit references to memories as filmic shots:

A last shot, the old picture show everyone called the Fleahouse. Simone was sitting near the front, her short-sighted eyes peering up at some film negroes.

And this ‘shot’ is placed alongside the narrator’s real-time picture of her friend:

At the top of the Gardens, the quiet manuka place where sunlight stroked the seamed old face of the world, she was so much more Simone: a girl in a green and golden shellcase, deciding that women are inevitably licked, and that somehow, magically, she wouldn’t be.

and also alongside the glance of some passing schoolchildren:

Their faces, upturned, saw also the grown-ups, the two fantastically dressed creatures with silk stockings and hats, lying side by side in the brown grass. [40]

Typical advertisements of the period are also reproduced, pasted in:

Do you know that serious diseases can result from this simple neglect? Communicate Dr Smith, Box 19937. Men—do you want women to look at you in the street? In ten days I increased my chest measurement. . . . [41]

The excess in these details draws attention to itself as more than is strictly necessary to advance the narrative, and also suggests that the narrative is not clearly separate from the “real” world outside the novel. Conceptually it challenges any idea of fiction as a single perspective; it hints to the reader that fiction can choose the events it foregrounds or backgrounds. The effect is to suggest that this author has selected details with an awareness of the difficulty of interpreting the world. Overconfidence (even of the importance of the individual) would be dangerous when so much of life has been altered by war and depression, and now the possibility of more war. Another passage describes the contemporary relations between men and women as epitomised in the scene at a cafe, Gamble and Creeds, on a wet working day where “everyone ate hurriedly in a good smell of coffee and a bad one of stinking rubber-lined mackintoshes.” Once again it emphasises the juxtaposition of different perspectives:

Choleric little faces, they had; queer, bonded race, so helpless and yet so powerful. Women, a minority, sat alone, reading books propped up against the drip-nosed nickel teapots. It was interesting to watch them come in. They always looked about for a table where there was nobody, crossed the whole length of the room to find one - as if a ghost occupied the seat opposite. They were all business girls. Many kept sentimental trysts with themselves, pinning bunches of daphne or heavy-fragrant brown boronia on their costumes. The men fraternized, talking shop. Flying particles of it came over—stock exchange, politics, smut, all on a harder, crisper plane than the feminine talk though you could spot a goodly percentage of bores. It wasn’t that the men weren’t ignorant, but they had the courage of their gutturals. It was evident at once that they had a life apart from the women. The women—they had the toy boxes called their homes, the rag dolls called their babies; or the business ones had a room (“the flat”), with a pink lampshade. . . . The value of men to women was plain in everything they did; even among these close-faced women, who watched unobtrusively as a cat watches. The value of women to men was debatable. If women weren’t there, Eliza had a feeling the men would continue to talk shop for about ten years before they noticed anything. Then presumably they would want some fresh tea . . . or to reproduce their kind. Unless they had killed one another off in their wars....

Eliza wanted none of it. Only the rafters of the pinewoods over her head, and Timothy, his sandshoes slipping on the warm russet needles, his eyes full of little prickles of light. [42]

This emphasis on the gap between men’s and women’s lives is again part of the flavour of the period. The picture of men’s contempt for women and general lack of interest only interrupted by the occasional compulsion to sex for intimacy or comfort is similar to the picture drawn in Nor the Years Condemn’.

It was no good: bright light, thick dark, the gulf between men and women existed and widened, and after their first shiverings they got used to it, and decided they hated one another. The girls said they were content with their jobs, and took expensive beauty treatments. The men lounged together, telling stories, pretending a vague homosexual philosophy, toying with an equally vague day of love and wrath, when, banded together, chesty but very forgiving once they had satisfied their dignity, they would put the women back in their place. And the faces of both would have been exceedingly funny, if their mouths had not become so drawn, especially the mouths of the girls. For the girls were more untrained, and consequently more easily bewildered. [43]

A schism between the sexes is also evoked in other writing of the period, for example Frank Sargeson’s marriage portraits, and particularly his portrait of Bill in “That Summer.” Bill, like Starkie, feels an obligation to be married; both men think that is what women want—so they had better want it, too. Their actual feelings are momentary, fleeting. In the above passage Eliza, the young woman writer, is keen to disassociate herself from this kind of stand-off between the sexes. She focuses particularly on the pathetic aspect of the women, their need for men who don’t need them, their sentimental trysts with themselves. These are humiliating role models. Hyde illustrates her own very different take on what should be the relations between men and women in a number of ways—by showing that a woman such as Eliza can be different, can enjoy talking shop, can have a career, can enjoy camaraderie and adventure, can want sex not marriage, and, in interesting contrast to later feminism, can want a baby not an abortion.

far I have suggested that the mixture of perspectivism and collage of “facts,” political rhetoric and Utopian images found in Hyde’s last novels (and one could argue last poems as well) is best understood politically as well as “sociologically.” As David Carter suggests:

The forms of documentary developed in the 1930s were not simply modes of recording contemporary experience. Style and subject-matter were politically motivated as writers attempted to represent forcefully, in literary discourse, facts and attitudes which they believed literature had conventionally excluded or falsified. [44]


To understand Hyde’s engagements with the concerns of the thirties, in her autobiography and her last novels and poems, one has to be thinking about her negotiation not only of the role of the intellectual in a changing world, but also her negotiation on behalf of those like herself: she was equally a woman, a journalist and an unmarried mother. It is for this reason that Hyde’s last novels, one with a female protagonist and the other with a male, include juxtapositions of male and female perspectives, expectations and misunderstandings; in short, men’s and women’s ideas about each other and sexual difference. Thus the New Zealand crisis mentality which despaired about relationships between men and women […] [and] feared race demise (both Maori and European) could be seen as very much part of an international moment and not simply as the inheritance of a misogynist pioneer society. It is the contention of Mary Louise Roberts (in her Civilisation Without Sexes: Reconstructing Gender in Postwar France) that at this period “thinking about women (and thus about sexual difference) was a way of thinking about the war and the new social and economic realities that had ensued.” [45] Roberts is suggesting that very often the discourse produced by “thinking about women” was in contradiction with what was actually happening in the social and economic sphere. I would see Hyde as both recording some contradictory aspects of this “thinking about women” and also as participating in it, bound up necessarily with what were the contemporary ways of thinking about the future. Hyde offers a “gem” of popular discourse about women in Nor the Years Condemn, when a man blames women for unemployment:

What did the women want, taking our jobs in the first place? That’s what started the slump, didn’t it? If the girls were made to go back home, where they belong, half the men wouldn’t be out of a job, so the girls could get married, and she needn’t have taken that lysol. It was the suffragettes started it. [46]

This conversation takes place during a relief squad’s discovery of the body of a young woman. Another man suggests the dead woman has probably taken the lysol because she lost her job. He points out to his comrades that there is “no relief work for women” (nor was there an unemployment benefit for them, though working women of course paid taxes). The same man speculates: “. . . then some josser with a necktie tells ‘em he’s got a job waiting if they give him a treat first, and after that they wake up and find there’s a kid on the way and no job either, so there’s everything against them. Plenty more taking the long jump before the slump’s over.” [47]


It was [the] contradiction[s] in society’s own view (or construction) of itself that caused individual men, women, and children to search to articulate their experience, which often involved suffering. If in the larger perspective it was hard to believe in humanism and values based on the individual because the scale of war and fascism dwarfed them, then this contradiction in the family and in society was the “close-up” reason for doubt. This could be seen as a determining factor in the hostility to official and conventional discourse that we find in “the New Zealand school” (Glover, Curnow, Fairburn, etc), in the editorial approach of Tomorrow magazine and in John A. Lee’s novels. In Hyde’s work we see a similar hostility manifested towards the directiveness of the radio—“the big radio voice”—Rotary members, ANZAC puffery, picturesque versions of New Zealand life and the complacency of those who accepted conventional rhetoric. [48]  Clearly the cultural innovations of the period were fuelled by strong social motives, not by narrowly personal or aesthetic ambitions.

          Robin Hyde’s poem “Husband and Wife” is a case in point.  This long poem is a dialogue between “HE” and “SHE” that suggests an ongoing or long-term debate. It appears to borrow its form from the dialogue poems of Robert Frost, and was written in 1936, published in The Caxton Miscellany in 1937 and collected in Houses by the Sea in 1952. It is a poem little commented on, and never anthologised, perhaps because it is so involved with debates of the period and needs contextual explanation. In May 1936 Hyde was writing to John A. Lee on the subject of political commitment in writing and writing style. In response to Lee’s suggestion that she use themes that have “the hot news value of 1936” and write about local struggles of working lives (the “axe in the woods and the crane on the wharf”) she demurred that she found it hard to write of “the vanquished” in her poetry, and then went on to describe her own experience of living in Redfern, Sydney in 1926 (when pregnant with her son, Robin):

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a line about the slums, which for some obscure reason I am never able to forget:

“Children and cherry trees are always ailing . . .”

I’ve seen that place, with the jamtins and the tomcats in the back yard: moreover lived in it—in Redfern, in Sydney—But there was always some pull away from people—to books, to enormous old trees, to staring at clouds and admiring wild duck and brown youngsters as tidy as horses, to being alone. I don’t think it’s snobbishness. More likely, sort of diffidence—and continual over-stressing of the importance of individuals who never mattered a tinker’s damn—[symbol “therefore”] all I have done is been a lonely sort of apparition (as far as poetry is concerned), with no sense of community in it—But I feel a sense of community sometimes, only not as you’d approve it: more as if the old derelicts with their shabby stories untold, and the children drinking like sparrows at a bubble-fountain and the dead also, tucked away in Grafton cemetery, belonged to me — [49]

In her next letter she speaks of the conflict between desiring (or needing) social change and the possibility of making a comfortable niche for oneself in society: “enduring all the aches of this rotten system” and yet being socially in tune with if. She goes on to ascribe love for the old prosperous pleasurable life as a “gentle sort of mist” that “can soften rough edges” and acknowledges that “women do love like that, a good deal.” There is an internal conflict indicated in her letters as if she feels the era when life can be understood in terms of the individual is over (and needs to be for the sake of the future) but she does not want that to be so. (Yet, there is also an interesting ambivalence in her attitude to Lee’s mentoring.) In the poem, as in the letters, this conflict is enacted in a gendered political discussion about the importance of the individual versus society. The husband and wife’s exchange can be understood as “a domestic,” one of those rows that comes from irritation with the familiar responses of a spouse to familiar stresses, the sort of argument that could potentially lead to physical violence. Their debate is about how best to respond to their own predicament. It is implied that their situation involves financial, emotional, and personal entrapment. Their row is an outcry about that oppression. How to live? “HE” is a political intellectual who feels it his duty to think constantly about the political problems, and suffering of the day. “SHE” sympathises with his politics but also wants some personal happiness. The possible choices are complicated by jealousy and tenderness. When his wife goes out walking, the husband is jealous of what he sees as her escape into nature. But is his conception of thinking and feeling for “man” necessarily more “real”? He wants to be made to feel alive by pain. She wants the healing of a leaf. Where is the right course? Where is reality? And how to distinguish it from didactic or melodramatic versions of “Reality” (with a capital “R”)?

The poem opens:

HE:  “You’ve been with spring. Your eyes are full of it.”
SHE: “Hush and lie still. I’ll be with you as soon
As I’ve got off my coat and combed my hair.”

He mocks her carefree manner:

But I tell you, she’s the paramour of spring
She’s got that lying quiet around her mouth,
She comes here, and her fingers crackle green.
I lie abed, while slowly she unsheathes
The body that was mated with a wind,
And scent of spring stuff forces through the keyhole,
She comes in reeking bracken, rank with gorse.
If I peered over her shoulder in the mirror
I wouldn’t see a woman, but a tree

The wife responds by reminding him that she has the power to heal his anxiety:

If I let down my hair, it hides your face,
Covers my shoulders and the piece of world
That’s gone dark blue between the slats of blinds.
Now we lie in the woods, John, lie in darkness.
Why do we wrestle, hurt each other so?
I only crossed the road.

But he will not give up his jealous rant. He wouldn’t, he says, “thwart her slight vagrant liberties” if it wasn’t that she had that “cursed trick . . . of sinking/ Into the last look of a far-stretched landscape”:

Printing your gaze on rocks that won’t forget you—
I hear them leaping down the quarry-face
Rattling clean and blue, now while we’re lying
My face on yours. I see the yellow cliffs
Clear in the sun, where moonlight ought to be.
I’ve heard the green wheat sighing while you sleep
Out of your bones. Don’t tell me you’re no leman;
One night no doubt you’ll come home caught with child,
Still with that borrowed radiance in your eyes,
Because a cloud rode silver on a hilltop.
If that’s not treachery, tell me what?

When it becomes clear he is accusing her of committing a kind of symbolic adultery with nature, and being disloyal to a socialist struggle, she protests:

SHE: But John,
lf you didn’t make me cry, you’d make me laugh
Because we lie and hurt each other so
Listen: we needed milk. Surely that’s human?
One pint of milk. I ran across to get it.
And then it’s true, I’d been indoors all day,
The house was like an oven —’

He responds:

That’s how we live.
That’s how the poor live, if they’ve any honour,
Sweating and sick and faithful, in an oven.

She understands his argument but defends herself: “I didn’t look/ at the old gardens, I know how you dislike them, And I shut my ears to the rosepipes sprinkling rain.” For him, to admire the houses and gardens of “the comfortable ones” is to be co-opted, “safely as a rat in cheese,” by the status quo - and therefore unable to protest or change things:

I tell you, when a Red thinks for himself
Thinks of a higher screw, a softer bed,
A whiter breast, a roof that doesn’t leak,
They’ve got him safely as a rat in cheese.
But when he thinks for men, he’s dangerous.

Yet throughout the dialogue, as the husband curses his wife’s “treachery,” her disappearance into another “softer” world, he describes that world so carefully that one is reminded of R. A. K. Mason’s “Footnote to John ii, 4” in which the son describes, gradually, tenderly, the rotten overprotective way in which his mother used to tuck him up at night. If “Footnote to John ii, 4” is about a struggle to be able to accept love, so is “Husband and Wife.” There is jealousy and pain as well as a sense of failure here: this is male authority without any power except to command suffering and to suffer—because suffering is the only dignified course. She acknowledges the predicament; though perhaps in a way that might irritate him: “God meant us to be very baffled now.” And she also understands his tenderness when she uses his description in the last lines of their dialogue: “You say my hair/ is osier leaves. See how its shadow spreads/ Across the farthest star, and covers us.”

Amongst left-wing intellectuals of the period the exchange would have been a familiar one about political commitment versus faith in natural beauty, art, love or aesthetics. In the letter to John A. Lee, Hyde suggests that this is as an argument she frequently has with herself. She describes a “pull” away from needy people “to books” or “enormous old trees.” [50] It is a pull that she feels guilty about as escapism, “a continual over-stressing of the importance of individuals who never mattered a tinker’s damn”—but at the same time she sees it as “a gentle sort of mist” that can “soften rough edges.” The poem dramatises this interior dialogue as a debate between a man and a woman. It shows the relations between the sexes under strain even amongst political allies. Perhaps, using Mary Louise Roberts’ model, it suggests that an examination of what are thought of as women’s tastes or sensibilities is a way of thinking about the future—that because we cannot know the future, we come to it, at any one time, via our obsessions. Hyde’s poem tackles the future in a dialogue about how men and women should behave. The dialogue takes place between two characters carefully placed in a material and social context. We as readers measure what they say against their circumstances. For instance, the man’s work takes him outside the house. Is the wife, then, meant to live all day not only physically inside the ‘hot little house’ but also mentally burning with anger for other oppressed people? The wilderness is just across the road, it is somewhere to go when you get some milk. It’s an escape more effective for her than the contemptuous victory he imagines: “One day fat fools will call this cottage charming/ And hold an auction for our chamber pot.”

Most critics have played down Robin Hyde’s socialism. Sandbrook argues that she championed D’Arcy Cresswell’s idea of “a spiritual renaissance” as opposed to “a firmer and juster materialism.” [51]Other critics have contrasted her description of her involvement in the protest march that turned into riots in the main streets of Auckland in 1932 (“I being more than a little pro-Bolshie was with the crowd in Karangahape Road”) with her sceptical remark in her autobiography that she rejects “the dictatorship of the commissariat in favour of Shelley’s ‘Masque of Anarchy’.” [52] These critics of course have an accepted tradition of thinking on their side—political commitment equals didacticism, equals poor writing. On the other hand, one can see these different positions dramatised in Hyde’s later work (in this poem and in the novels) as ongoing dialogues in which the possibility of a just movement against injustice is complicated—but not necessarily abandoned—by showing characters and their gender positions. Her radicalism can also be observed in her impulse to “get the bigger picture,” to document all discourses of her period. And she documents the arguments marshalled by men and women against each other, not to say simply that ideologies are wrong, but that human beings reach for them as a response to social pressures and injustices.

Hyde’s collage or montage technique puts her alongside other radical writers in an international context. [53] If one must look explicitly at intentions here, there is corroborating evidence of Hyde valuing multiplicity and dialogue in her comment about the popularity of Social Credit being a manifestation of New Zealand “awakening to internationalism” in response to the Depression: “A sudden access of thought on the world’s tangled problems must necessarily lead to mistakes, fallacies, petty Waterloos. . . but it should lead further.” [54] Hyde’s interest in different voices and ideas is an interest in multiplicities of opinion as broadly representing the world, documented in order to understand it better. Hyde was herself involved in various political groups, including Douglas Social Credit, and interested in the ideas and activities of friends who were communists. [55]

This may be a more powerful way of reading this later work than a purely feminist account. For instance I do not, as Michele Leggott does, see the wife’s words at the end of the “Husband and Wife” as a solution, but rather as part of the ongoing debate. [56] In Dragon Rampant Hyde comments: “Anyhow I have small use for the female principle segregated from life. It could help and it won’t; it knows nothing, except to be pitiable and bear children. For the rest it is all talk.” [57] “Husband and Wife” puts both sides of the bafflement—the (self-denied) male desire for tenderness and the (denied) frustration inherent in the female immersion in nature. His insistence on brutal reality, and hers on healing nature, add up to a painful conundrum of failed communication.

Instead of seeing Hyde as a writer in a female tradition which aroused the ire of her male contemporary writers (a narrowly literary historical interpretation), one can alternatively see her work as an attempt to explore the complexities of the period by addressing the relations between men and women in a new way. For the women, the negotiation of relationships with likeminded men was a way of formulating a new version of what it could mean to be female, and a possible new future. But as the poem “Husband and Wife” shows, this was by no means easy. Hyde’s need to make a living as a writer (having no independent income) may have contributed to her keeping closely in touch with all aspects of the pre-war period, since she was necessarily writing for newspapers and mass-circulation periodicals and knew her audience. Her particular ideal of female autonomy comes out of her time—the idea of a woman with a baby and a job. This is an ideal that fell into disrepute and disappeared in the 1950s and 1960s. Perhaps the Domestic Purposes Benefit, which was introduced in the early 1970s, fits in with Hyde’s hopes for the future, but now at the end of the century, when that benefit is a subsistence income only and when politicians see social freedom as the opportunity to participate in the market economy, we can see Hyde’s picture of society as significant again. We should also see Hyde’s 1930s type of feminism as socialist and concerned with formulating ways of thinking about working-class women, Maori women, and the material situation of individuals, unlike much second-wave feminism, which has been middle-class and has focused on psychology and psychoanalysis.


1.      John Dos Passos, quoted in Linda W. Wagner, Dos Passos, Artist as American (Austin, U of Texas P, 1979) 30.

2.      Ruth Park, A fence Around the Cuckoo (Ringwood, Vic: Viking, 1992) 224. Park left New Zealand in the late 1930s to live in Australia where she had a successful career as a novelist, a happy marriage and five children.

3.     This student seminar thus drew on material very similar to that used by Michele Leggott in the compilation of her poem sequence “Blue Irises.” See particularly “Poem 16,” beginning “Coming home like a derelict Egyptian, changing/worlds, a baby delivered in a jacaranda mist just/ like mine...” from DIA (Auckland: Auckland UP, 1994) 25. The poems on her seminar handout were “Running Water” (1927), “In Memory” (1927), “Ghosts” (1929), “Division” (1929), and from the thirties: “Jacaranda” (1935), “Hillside” (l935), “Absalom” (1936-7), and “Isabel’s Baby” (1937).

4.       MacD. P. Jackson, “Poetry,” in The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature, ed. Terry Sturm (Auckland: OUP, 1998) 340. I would see this oversight as to do with what I have shown to be the original orthodoxy on Hyde, which meant that Jackson was not prompted to reassess Hyde’s lesser known poems when planning his survey.

5.         W.H. Oliver, “The Awakening Imagination, 1940-1980,” in The Oxford History of New Zealand, ed. Geoffrey W. Rice, 2nd edn (Auckland: OUP, 1992) 541.

6.         Oliver, 549.

7.      Rachel Barrowman, A Popular Vision: The Arts and the Left in New Zealand 1930-1950, (Wellington: VUP, 1991). See also Women in History: Essays on European Women in New Zealand, ed. Barbara Brookes, Charlotte Macdonald and Margaret Tennant (Wellington: Allen and Unwin/Port Nicholson Press, 1986) and Women in History 2: Essays on Women in New Zealand, ed. Barbara Brookes, Charlotte Macdonald and Margaret Tennant (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 1992). Keith Rankin’s “Labour Supply in New Zealand and Australia: 1919-1939” (unpublished MA thesis; Victoria University, 1990), looks at the effects of the Great Depression on the supply of female labour and suggests (amongst other things) that the depression of the thirties and not the Second World War changed the pattern of female employment (see 189-195).

8.      Robin Hyde, “The New Zealand Woman in Letters,” The Working Woman (April, 1936) Rpt. in Disputed Ground: Robin Hyde, Journalist, ed. Gillian Boddy and Jacqueline Matthews (Wellington: Victoria UP, 1991) 190.

9.      Robin Hyde, “Rhythm and Reality, Young New Zealanders’ Verse,” New Zealand Observer (26 October 1936). Rpt. in Disputed Ground, 211-12.

10.  For discussions that tend to separate the social realist and visionary see Phillida Bunkle, Linda Hardy, Jacqueline Matthews, introduction, Nor the Years Condemn (Auckland: New Women’s Press, 1986) xvii-xxvi on that novel, and Eric McCormick {New Zealand Literature: A Survey) on Godwits Fly versus Wednesdays Children (128).

11.  David Carter, “Documenting and Criticising Society,” The Penguin New Literary History of Australia, ed. Laurie Hergenhan (Ringwood,Vic: Penguin, 1988) 371.

12.  See, for example, Patrick Sandbrook’s chapter “The Uses of Art,” 28-78 and Michele Leggott, Introduction, The Book of Nadath: (Auckland: AUP, 1999).

13.  Hyde, Nor the Years, 251.

14.  Hyde, Godwits, 374.

15.  In 1936, the year she began The Godwits Fly and the year of the first Starkie novel, Passport to Hell, Hyde made just such a pilgrimage “in search of her own country.” See Gloria Rawlinson, Introduction, Houses by the Sea (Christchurch: Caxton, 1952) 17.

16.  Hyde, “The Singers of Loneliness,” T’ien Hsia Monthly (August 1938). Rpt. in Disputed Ground, 347-358.

17.  See W.H. Oliver, “The Awakening Imagination, 1940-1980,” The Oxford History of New Zealand, 539-541.

18.  Hyde, Nor the Years, 163.

19.   Hyde, Nor the Years, 165.

20.   Linda Hardy, Introduction, Nor the Years Condemn, xxv. Hardy’s authorship of this section of the multi-authored introduction is not indicated in the essay but I know of it as I was an editorial adviser for New Women’s Press at the time it was published.

21.   Barrowman makes many comments on how writing that could be understood as internationalist is made to look nationalist. See for example her comments on the “production” of Frank Sargeson (154).

22.   See Nick Perry, “Flying by Nets,” chapter 7 in Dominion of Signs: Television, Advertising and other New Zealand Fictions (Auckland: Auckland UP, 1994) and David Carter “Documenting and Criticising Society,” 370-389.

23.  Carter, 370-3 71.

24.   Carter, 371.

25.   W.H. Pearson, Introduction, Frank Sargeson Collected Stories 1936-1963 (Auckland: Blackwood and Janet Paul, 1964) 9.

26.   Perry, 117.

27.   Hyde, letter to John Schroder, August 1934, quoted in Patrick Sandbrook “Robin Hyde: A Writer at Work,” PhD thesis, Massey University, 1986, 93.

28.   Robin Hyde, note dated July 22nd [1936], quoted in Gloria Rawlinson, Introduction, The Godwits Fly (Auckland: Auckland UP/Oxford UP, 1980) xv.

29.   John Dos Passos, quoted in Linda W. Wagner, Dos Passos, Artist as American 48.

30.  John Dos Passos, quoted in Wagner, 30.

31 Hyde, Godwits Fly, 119.

32 Hyde, Godwits Fly, 47.

33. John Dos Passos, The Garbage Man (1926) quoted in John H. Wren, John Dos Passos, Twayne’s US Authors Series (New Haven: College UP, 1961) 134-135.

34 Hyde, Godwits Fly, 31 -32.

35.  Robin Hyde, letter to John Schroder, 12 Dec. 1933 (Letter 71) quoted in Sandbrook, 53.

36.   Hyde, Godwits, 113.

37 Hyde, Godwits, 117.

38. Hyde, Godwits, 53.

39 Hyde, Godwits, 69.

40.   Hyde, Godwits, 137-38

41 Hyde, Godwits, 139.

42.   Hyde, Godwits, 140-41.

43 Robin Hyde, Nor the Years Condemn, 119.

44.  Carter, 371.

45.   Ann Jefferson, “To Think about Women,” rev. of Civilisation without Sexes: Reconstructing Gender in Postwar France, Mary Louise Roberts (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994) in Times Literary Supplement (Jan 6 1995): 26.

46 Hyde, Nor the Years, 270.

47 Hyde, Nor the Years, 269-270.

48 A recent exception is Michele Leggott’s feminist reading, “Opening the Archive: Robin Hyde, Eileen Duggan and the Persistence of Record,” in Opening the Book: New Essays on New Zealand Writing, ed. Mark Williams and Michele Leggott (Auckland: AUP, 1995) 273-274.

49.  Hyde, letter to John A. Lee, March 10 1936. (Transcribed by Lisa Docherty) Auckland Public Library, Letter 3. A version is also in Brigid Shadbolt, “Commonplaces: the Letters of Robin Hyde and John A Lee 1935-1939,” MA thesis, University of Auckland, 1995, 19-21.

50.   Hyde, letter 16 March 1936, Shadbolt, 23.

51.   Patrick Sandbrook, 39.

52.   Robin Hyde A Home in this World, (Auckland: Longman Paul, 1984) 12; also quoted in introduction to Nor the Years Condemn, xxiii.

53.   In saying this I am querying the established designation of Hyde as liberal humanist and as a sentimental individual struggling to represent the world as she felt it, and also the perception of her as being old-fashioned and anti-avant garde. Seen in a less positivist historical perspective her correspondence with John A. Lee, for instance, can be understood as an opportunity for her to contemplate a development of a style sufficient to her socialism, and his incitements to her to create “themes for poetry that have the hot news value of 1936” as useful rather than hackneyed (Letter 7 March 1936, Shadbolt, 17). Another relevant angle may be Fredric Jameson’s contention about Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht and this period: “... Brecht and Benjamin had not yet begun to feel the full force and constriction of that stark alternative between a mass audience or media culture, and a minority elite modernism in which our thinking about aesthetics today is inevitably locked.” Afterword, Aesthetics and Politics, Verso (London: New Left Books, 1977) 207.

54.  Sandbrook, 62.

55   Sandbrook, 43 and 54.

56 Michele Leggott, “Opening the Archive: Robin Hyde, Eileen Duggan and the Persistence of Record,” 273-274.

57.  Robin Hyde, Dragon Rampant (Auckland: New Women’s Press, 1984) 76.

Bio: Mary Paul is a lecturer at Massey University. She is the author of Her Side of the Story: Readings of mander, Mansfield & Hyde (U. of Otago P, 1999). She has edited New Women's Fiction (New Women's Press, 1989) with Marion Rae and The New Poets: Initiatives in New Zealand Poetry (Allen & Unwin, 1987) with Murray Edmond.


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