Slap Happy Larry

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Tag: New Zealand (page 1 of 2)

New Zealand As Depicted In Fiction

How is your country generally depicted in fiction, by writers outside your country? New Zealand in fiction, not surprisingly, is the stock country for ‘a place really, really far away.’

Will grayson New Zealand

Now, I am not generally given over to excitement, but Neutral Milk Hotel sort of changed my life. They released this absolutely fantastic album called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in 1998 and haven’t been heard from since, purportedly because their lead singer lives in a cave in New Zealand.

– from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

In the English light-hearted drama Last Tango In Halifax, a relative who came from New Zealand to England had made a REALLY big effort to be at a wedding celebration, and therefore his very presence was amazing.

In Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (or Perfect Snogging, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on), the main character’s father is sent away to New Zealand to work, which is a plot device to keep him really far away.

Angus-Thongs-and-Perfect-Snogging-2008-Hollywood-Movie-Watch-Online

New Zealand sometimes even gets a mention in American fiction. Even in Breaking Bad! In this case, New Zealand is the stock country that ‘no one knows anything about’ and is the perfect place for Americans to go if they want a new start. Forget that in order for an American to enter New Zealand with intent to live you actually need a visa. (Works both ways!)

Jane Margolis: Do you know what this is? [refers to a bag full of money]
Jesse Pinkman: It’s a whole lot of cheddar.
Jane Margolis: This is freedom. This is saying, “I can go anywhere I want. I can be anybody.” What do you want to be? Where do you want to go? South America? Europe? Australia?
Jesse Pinkman: Is New Zealand part of Australia?
Jane Margolis: New Zealand is New Zealand.
Jesse Pinkman: Right on. New Zealand. That’s where they made “Lord of the Rings”. I say we just move there, yo. I mean, you can do your art. Right? Like, you can paint the local castles and shit. And I can be a bush pilot.

– from Breaking Bad, penultimate episode of season 2

Sometimes, though, ‘distance’ equals ‘stupidity’ or ‘naivety’. Which makes me wonder what Americans think New Zealand teens do with their time. Because New Zealanders are watching the same shows, listening to the same music, wearing the same fashions, more or less. I’m pretty sure Kiwis know more about American culture than the other way around.

Wit from Riverdale actress. Riverdale is an American TV show.

That’s because America has a long history of exporting its culture, while admitting very little in.

What is New Zealand really like?

Here’s an article from a European whose version of New Zealand — from books introduced by his Kiwi girlfriend– turned out to be quite different from the New Zealand he met when he eventually visited the country.

The Male Gaze In Children’s Literature

Meg Elison has written a McSweeneys post about The Gaze which strikes a chord.

IF WOMEN WROTE MEN THE WAY MEN WRITE WOMEN.

cat gaze

 

At The Guardian, Lindesay Irvine (incidentally, a man) responded to this spoof gender reversal with:

Anyone who’s ever had a brush with cultural studies will be familiar with Laura Mulvey’s influential theory of the male gaze in film and fine art and photography. But I’d never quite thought the male gaze could function equally well in fiction.

Yes, of course the male gaze functions equally well in fiction.

I’m sorry to say that this gaze is just as prevalent in children’s fiction.

After chuckling at Meg Elison’s piece I made a note to blog an example from kidlit. I wasn’t actively looking for it because I have plenty of other ideas for blog posts, but it took less than a week to stumble upon an example.

Here we encounter the male gaze by the time we’re halfway down the middle of the very first page of an upper middle grade/young adult novel.

One

“Haven’t you loaded that chainsaw on yet?” Lisbeth asked.

Craig Dawson paused with one hand on the helicopter cabin door. He breathed deeply.

“I’ve been checking to make sure its tank’s empty,” he said. “You never carry anything with petrol in it, if you’re in a chopper.”

“Is that right?” Lisbeth’s voice was as cool as always. “Thanks for the lecture.”

This time, Craig breathed deeply twice. He slide the chainsaw into the main locker inside the Mongoose’s cabin, snapped the safety clips over it, then pulled the storage net tight, holding it in place.

“OK,” he announced as he straightened up. “That’s the lot.”

Lisbeth had finished stacking the supermarket bags of milk, fruit and vegetables in the Mongoose’s small locker. Now she stood with perfectly clean hands on the hips of perfectly fitted jeans, watching Craig.

Cold Comfort by David Hill, 1996, published with the support of Creative New Zealand

It’s hard to imagine the character of Craig standing in perfectly fitted jeans (unless we’re reading specifically gay fiction marketed quite differently), and if you’re wondering about the narration of Lisbeth watching Craig, well, that’s it. I didn’t cut anything pertinent off by ending the quote there. The story goes back to Craig.

Importantly, the commentary on the teenage girl’s hips comes from an unseen third person narrator. That narrator is unambiguously male. The author chooses to pull in more closely to Craig’s head than to Lisbeth and there are writerly reasons for that; the reader’s sympathies are supposed to lie with Craig, not with Lisbeth. In short, this tendency to sexualise the female body rather than the male body is partly to do with how many more books are written about boys and men. (In kidlit, across the board, it’s about 3 male characters to every 1 female.)

David Hill’s work has  been widely read (and taught) in New Zealand schools (I’ve had to teach his work myself, in a girls’ high school) and, like a couple of other big name educational authors from my home country (William Taylor is another), this is typical of the sort of narration that gets purchased by schools as class sets. It’s written from a blokey point of view with sympathies directed at the put-upon male character whose opponent is the annoying but sexually alluring female character. These characterisations are thought to engage those hard-to-reach reluctant boy readers.

(Fortunately in New Zealand reading lists have become a bit more diverse since the 1990s. This has happened in part because teachers have started to acknowledge that it’s not just boys who are failing to take up with fiction these days.)

However, when it comes to the male gaze, there’s more to it.  Continue reading

Picturebook Study: The Day Patch Stood Guard by Elizabeth Laird and Colin Reeder (1990)

The Day Patch Stood Guard

Notice anything a bit different about the cover? The usual convention is to credit the writer first and the illustrator second. Here the convention is reversed. In fact, it’s not only reversed, but depicted in such a way that the illustrations are the main story and the writing came after. I am not making any value judgment here. Instead, I’m reminded of all those times we are told who wrote the story, and then the illustrator is tacked on afterwards, perhaps with ‘illustrated by X’, to suggest that the illustrations are tacked onto the story.

In a picture book, of course, both text and pictures interact to create the story (except in wordless picture books, that is).

WHAT’S WITH THE OTTER?

This is a strange book, written by a New Zealander but once again featuring an otter.

I have since learned that there have been rumours of actual otter-like creatures spotted in the South Island of New Zealand for over 200 years. But honestly this is a big-foot sighting because you’d think scientists would’ve found the critters by now, wouldn’t you? New Zealand isn’t all that big.

As far as storytelling goes, I am a bit flummoxed about the meaning of the otter, who makes a brief and inexplicable appearance at the end.

MEN AND THEIR DOGS

This is a dog and a man story at its heart, and because there are many such stories in the world it was cheering to learn that Patch is a female dog, at least. (Usually it’s a white boy with a male dog, though boy-bitch pairings aren’t completely unheard of. Sometimes the male dog dies and is replaced by a female dog.) On the downside, this an example of the female maturity principle I have a huge problem with, and the farmer does refer to his female dog in diminutive terms, “the best little guard dog” one could hope to have; would a man have referred to a male dog in this way? Would a male dog have been quite so self-sacrificing? Self-sacrificing female characters can be traced all the way back to Beauty and the Beast and beyond, and are still very much seen in children’s stories today, held up as a model of feminine virtue.

BORDER COLLIE CHARACTERS

This is ultimately a story for lovers of Border collies, and I definitely fall into that category. Border collie characters in books tend to be even more intelligent and intuitive than real-life Border collies and Patch is no exception. She understands the command to ‘guard’, considers the tractor a live-being and also understands when the tractor is fixed. Uncharacteristically for a socialised Border collie, though, she growls at Walter the mechanic.

Let’s take a closer look at the storyworld and the structure of the plot.

STORYWORLD

I don’t know where the illustrator comes from — is this an American/British illustrator or is he from New Zealand? The truth is, it’s impossible to tell definitively from the illustrations, as this is a fairly generic ‘storybook’ farm. The names of the places on the aerial map make me think this is an English countryside. Also, the geese. Geese seem to be more populous in English farmyard storybooks.

The Day Patch Stood Guard opening

STORY STRUCTURE

WEAKNESS/NEED

As in many animal + human stories for children, it’s not all that easy to separate the human character from the animal one, and in the end it’s easiest to consider them one and the same. Or more typically, the human character is the one who undergoes the character change by having the self-revelation, but the bulk of the story is told from the point of view of the animal.

Stan’s weakness: He is a bit of a loose cannon. He gets up late and has neglected his morning jobs. We’ll soon find out that his muddle-headedness makes him leave his handbrake off.

DESIRE

Stan wants to get his farming jobs done: milking, feeding pigs, collecting eggs and all those other storybook farm activities which probably have little to do with actual farming these days (and have more in common with hobby farming).

OPPONENT

The tractor is given a name: Duncan. There’s a good reason for this. Although Stan doesn’t mean to, he stupidly rolls down an incline and crashes into a tree. The personification of the tractor absolves Stan a bit.

PLAN

Stan plans to mend the bridge. He loads the tractor trailer up with planks of wood and sets off with Patch.

This plan goes awry when the tractor crashes into the tree.

BATTLE

The battle takes place overnight, when poor, loyal Patch is left to stand guard over the trailer and is locked inside the work shed.

SELF-REVELATION

But the self-revelation is had by Stan, who realises what a good little guard dog he’s got, after getting so immersed in the problem of the tractor that he forgot to tell her she didn’t need to guard the tractor overnight.

The self-revelation seems to be symbolised by the otter swimming past. Stan is reconnected to the animal world after a day of being immersed in his mechanical, human one.

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

The point of view then expands to include all of the farmyard animals who are ‘glad to see the little red tractor safe home again’.

Picturebook Study: Black Dog by Pamela Allen (1991)

This picturebook from Pamela Allen is about a girl who actually neglects her dog, but learns not to by the end.

This picturebook from Pamela Allen is about a girl who actually neglects her dog, but learns not to by the end.

A few weeks ago I took a close look at the much more recent picturebook with a similar name, Blackdog by Levi Pinfold. In that, I interpret the black dog as agoraphobia or a similar mental illness that descends in winter.

Here is another book with a black dog, a winter setting and a mental illness metaphor, this time from 1991.

For a history of the symbolism of depression and black dogs, see here. (tl;dr: Winston Churchill made it well-known, but the symbolism goes back to medieval times.)

STORY STRUCTURE

If you’re ever wondering who the main character of a story is ask the following question: Who undergoes the greatest character change?

After thinking carefully about who is the hero of this book — Christina or the Black Dog — I’ve come to the conclusion that the girl and the dog are two halves of the same character.

WEAKNESS/NEED

The first three pages of the story, written in the iterative, explain how happy Christina and the dog are playing together during spring, summer and autumn.

Christina black dog happy_600x509

Black Dog Pamela Allen seasons01Black Dog Pamela Allen seasons02_600x620

Then we have a switch to the singular: One cold day in winter the wind blew and the trees shivered.

The personification of the trees (‘shivering’), and the image of the girl and her dog walking into the forest, shows how much the girl is part of the landscape. Christina is the winter.

Wind symbolises change. Also, the wind is blowing towards the house, which makes the trees lean in to retrieve her.

One cold day_600x553

DESIRE

It was then Christina first thought how hungry the birds must be now the worms were deep in the ground and there were no seeds to be found.

So she goes to the cupboard and breaks a small piece of bread and scatters the crumbs on the ground, in an image that will immediately put the reader in mind of a scene out of Hansel and Gretel. The forest in Hansel and Gretel is the ultimate ur-Forest — whenever a child character enters a forest we know that danger lurks.

See: Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti

Food In Children’s Literature

Christina wants to keep feeding the birds through winter.

Using a trick from classic fairytales, Pamela Allen sticks to the rule of threes: first one little bird comes to eat the crumbs; next two little birds, then a magnificent big blue bird.

OPPONENT

Who is the opponent in this story? It’s a bit tricky to work out, but not if we start from the idea that in children’s books featuring animals, the animal and child character very often meld into one.

You could argue it’s the blue bird, who probably doesn’t even exist. This figment of Christina’s imagination causes her to obsess, and neglect her dog (and herself).

Christina is Black Dog’s opponent because she is supposed to be taking care of him.

Christina is her own worst enemy.

Depression, obsession and false hope is the overall opponent here.

Blue bird dream_600x1062

PLAN

After getting thinner and thinner from neglect, it is black dog who hatches the plan.

He will climb the tree and pretend to be a bird.

As is usual in children’s books in which the animal hatches the plan, we don’t actually see the plan until it’s carried out. But we do see him lying on the ground with his eyes looking up as if he’s thinking about something.

BATTLE

The ‘set piece’ of the book is when Black Dog leaps from high in the tree.

Black Dog flying_600x421

SELF-REVELATION

But it is Christina who has the revelation. We see her pick him up carefully, gently, and carry him inside and lay him on her bed. She cuddles him and tells him she loves him.

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

We don’t see Christina’s emergence from depression, but we do see that she has now realised she must pay attention to her dog.

In other words, she must take care of herself during this dark time.

 

The American School System: A guide for those from Down Under

Down Under, we grow up reading American books and watching American TV, so the following words are familiar even if we don’t use them ourselves. That said, our language and culture is borrowing more and more from North America. High schools often have faculties now instead of departments, and I’ve heard teenagers start to say ‘math class’ instead of ‘maths class’. New high schools are calling themselves colleges.

The following terms refer to Americans in  high school AND in university.

year 1: Freshman
year 2: Sophomore
year 3: Junior
year 4: Senior

We call Freshmen ‘first years’. At university in New Zealand, a ‘freshman’ is often required to do an ‘intermediate year’, which is the first year of a university course. It’s relatively easy to get into university there, in fact you don’t even have to pass a thing at high school – you can simply wait until you turn 25. But if you want to do a rigorous course such as medicine, you’ll have to do an intermediate year of health science, from which only the top students are accepted for further study.

In New Zealand they are called second years (university), or year tens (high school).

Sometimes Americans might say “I’m a junior” and will have to clarify if that’s high school (age 17) or college (age 21ish).

PAYING FOR UNIVERSITY IN AMERICA

  • Prices vary between states but it looks to be around $10,000 tuition per year. Plus you need $10,000 (give or take) per year for room, board, fees, books.
  • An out of state school public could be $20,000 a year and up.
  • There is no free option at this time unless you apply for and receive a scholarship or grant.
  • Also, there are government sponsored loans that are easy to get for young first time college students to help offset the costs. They have to be paid back monthly for many years after you graduate, which is the same in New Zealand and in Australia. In NZ it’s called the student loan scheme, and in Australia it is shortened to HECS.
  • All American students can fill out the FAFSA https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FAFSA which helps the govt decide how much money kids can get for college.
  • Low income Americans can get  the expensive application fees waived for colleges but that’s about $100 each and doesn’t cover much in the scheme of things.
  • There are also waivers available for the tests to get into college (SATs and ACTs). There are also waivers for low income high school students down under, so they can sit their tests even if their parent(s) can’t pay for it.
  • You’ve probably heard Americans talk quite a lot about SATs. Here’s a confusing thing for us: elementary school SATs are different.
  • You can actually sit for your SATs in many places around the world — they’re held six times per year.
  • SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test. It is administered by the College Board in the USA, and is a measure of the critical thinking skills needed for academic success. The SAT assesses how well you analyse and solve problems. (Some would argue that it tests how well you have already been educated, and how savvy you are at taking tests.)
  • It is made up of three parts: Critical reading/Math/Writing
  • Here’s a site that tells American college graduates where they might get into college based on their SATs and ACT scores.
  • What’s a good SAT score? If you want to get into one of the best schools it seems you need about 1500 or above.
  • But you also need to show that you’re a well-rounded person, and you should be into sports/arts/charity work.

OTHER AMERICAN TERMINOLOGY

BLEACHERS – For the longest time I thought this was something you’d find in a janitor’s closet. Then I read about some kids kissing behind the bleachers, and I realised the handle of a mop would hardly provide cover, so I took the time to look it up. Turns out they refer to those tiered seats you get on playing fields and lining gymnasiums. I have no idea what we call them, but I’ve never heard anyone talk about ‘bleachers’. Perhaps we call them ‘forms’. They’re not standard equipment, in any case.

pic by Garrett Coyte

JANITOR – But we don’t say ‘janitor’ either. That would sound distinctively American. We just say ‘cleaner’.

GRADUATE – In New Zealand you don’t ‘graduate’ high school. You just get your qualifications (or not) and finish up. You graduate from university.

CAFETERIA – New Zealand and Australian schools don’t tend to have those huge dining hall set-ups. We had to eat a packed lunch outside. If the weather was terrible we were (reluctantly) allowed to eat inside our home classroom, but in year ten, several drop-ins broke windows, so we were all locked out no matter the weather. I have memories of sitting inside a cleaner’s closet with two friends because it was snowing outside. (There were no bleachers in there.)

If students want to buy lunch (which is usually a meat pie because salad rolls are for pansies) they go to the ‘canteen’ or the ‘tuck shop’, but there’s no place to sit down and eat lunch at a civilised table, unless you go to an expensive private school. Even then, such privileges are often reserved for seniors.

‘SIGNING UP’ FOR CLASSES – This sounds more like something you’d do as a university student, but American books tell me that high school students ‘sign up’ for their classes at the start of an academic year. Senior high school students here do have a day in which you have to go in at the beginning of the year and show the timetabling teacher the marks you got, to prove you indeed still want to do the same subjects you’d picked before summer.

Down Under, there is a core of compulsory classes (English, maths, science) and even in senior high school, you have to select your subjects the year before, in the hope you’ll pass your end of year exams and get into them. Therefore, ‘signing up’ for a class is more a matter of visiting your subject teachers on the first day back and letting them know haven’t changed your mind about your subject choices over the summer holidays – or if you haven’t passed your NCEA courses, you’ll be having a sit down with a careers teacher to discuss your options. ‘Signing up’ sounds like there’s way more freedom than there actually is, because even with elective subjects, you’ve still got to choose something. (Maybe that’s the deception.)

CHEERLEADERS – I don’t know of any local high schools with a cheerleading team, and while I appreciate the strength and agility required, to me it is on a par with pole dancing. That said, there is a local gymnastics teacher who offers classes in cheerleading to little girls. (I suppose little boys could join in too, though I doubt it’s full of male participants.) Since pole dancing seems to have taken off lately, it wouldn’t surprise me if cheerleading took off in high schools here in the next generation. We do have cheerleading teams for regional and national rugby games, so the concept is here.

pic by arbron

HOMECOMING QUEEN – I’m so glad we don’t have this tradition. Really. It sounds just awful. We do have end of school celebrations.

PROM –  Some of our schools call them ‘balls’. Others call them ‘formals’. But I’ve not heard proms. What is it short for? There is usually an ‘after party’, which is shut down if the teachers get wind of it, then it moves somewhere else. Traditional high schools still teach their students ballroom dancing beforehand, and retain the ‘invite a partner’ thing, but more and more liberal high schools are deconstructing the idea of ‘partners’, and instead encourage their students to just turn up and have a good time when they get there. This is to avert the need for major stress for students who can’t find a partner, and avoids discrimination of non-heterosexual students, who are still banned from bringing their partners to the school ball at some schools, both state and religious.

In Australia, there is ‘schoolies’ week – an huge week-long party which started at Broadbeach. But not everyone is interested in attending that. It receives a lot of media attention every year because bad things happen there too. A lot of Australians have very fond memories of schoolies. In New Zealand, there isn’t a huge organised thing like that, but lots of students get together with friends and stay for a week in someone’s family bach (holiday home) or take a car trip around New Zealand before spending the rest of summer stacking shelves at a supermarket.

pic by Capt Piper

DRIVER ED – Are not usually run through a school in the way they are in America. Until recently, we got taught by our dads. But licences have gotten a little harder to pass, and have now turned into a formal industry. It’s hard to pass the tests unless you get taught by a qualified instructor. So more and more high schools now are taking the American model, and hiring driving instructors through the school. Unlike what I saw in Mr Holland’s Opus, these instructors are not their regular teachers, but contractors who specialise in driving instruction. In a film such as Mr Holland’s Opus we see that some high school teachers earn money over summer by teaching driving lessons. This is because America doesn’t pay their teachers well enough to sustain them over the entire year. Down here, driving instruction is a separate industry, though recently a lot of high schools are providing a driving program through the schools. Some even have their own designated car.

YEAR BOOKS – Most high schools seem to produce year books here, which are either put together by a teacher or by a group of students. Either way, I’ve not ever seen a ‘Student most likely to…’ situation. That sounds rather unkind to me. That’s not to say year books are not unkind, especially if the students collating photos have malevolent intention. Mind you, this is no worse than what goes on online, where ‘friends’ can tag you in the most heinous positions, and then share those photos with the world. I wonder if year books are on their way out everywhere. An online forum would be a less expensive way to share photos and memories of school. Mind you, its very fluidity is also its downfall.

 

Picturebook Study: Slinky Malinki by Lynley Dodd

Slinky Malinki cover

A BRIEF HISTORY OF CATS IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

Sometimes it is difficult not to resent their apparent success, and they are good or evil according to their creator’s feelings. […] Perhaps Kipling was right, and cats are neither for nor against us, but both or neither, as they wish or feel*. As characters they have great possibilities and depths that few writers, with the possible exception of Paul Gallico, have made use of. Their long history of connection with witchcraft has suggested tales of magic cats such as Barbara Sleigh’s Carbonel, 1955, or, in a more down to earth setting, Rosemary Weir’s Pyewacket, 1967; and their urbanised versatility (dog stories are more usually about country life) is categorised unforgettably in T.S. Eliot.

— Margaret Blount, Animal Land

* When creating the character of Slinky Malinki Lynley Dodd absolutely makes use of this historical duplicitousness: Slinky is one thing during the day, another thing altogether come nightfall. The werecat, in other words.

Continue reading

An Affair Of The Heart by Frank Sargeson

“An Affair Of The Heart” is one of New Zealand author Frank Sargeson’s best-known short stories.

The Stories of Frank Sargeson contains An Affair Of The Heart

Was Sargeson essentially misogynist? Frankly, I think not as there are positive women characters in some of his stories – including the wrenchingly sad one in An Affair of the Heart. But women-as-controlling-bitches is one recurrent motif.

Review by Nicholas Reid, with introduction by Janet Wilson

I’m lucky coming from New Zealand in that there is a pretty good gender balance when it comes to reading ‘The Local Canon’. Along with Sargeson (and Shakespeare) we read a lot of Patricia Grace, Fiona Kidman, Janet Frame, Keri Hulme and Katherine Mansfield. But as Reid points out, students of New Zealand English may well come away feeling a bit icky about Sargeson’s mid-century attitudes towards women. Whatever you conclude about Frank’s corpus, this short story is one of the most positive in its view of femininity. For this reason, I recommend it.

WHAT HAPPENS IN “AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART”

The narrator is a grown man who has ‘not been what people call a success in life’. He looks back on the days when he would go with his mother and brother to the bach (holiday house) at the beach. There was an old woman, Mrs Crawley, who lived there all year round with her daughters and son, Joe, who she favoured. Once, the narrator’s mother sent them some Christmas cake. It was revealed later that the girls hadn’t received any of it. Joe had eaten it all.

‘An Affair of the Heart’ is a story of two linked sections. The first half finishes with ‘It certainly made us a bit sorry to think that we wouldn’t be seeing the Crawleys that summer, but I don’t think we lost much sleep over it. I remember we talked about sending a letter. But it never got beyond talk.’

The second half begins: ‘What I’m going to tell you about happened last Christmas.’

In the first section, the narrator makes references to the fact that it was a long time ago and that circumstances are different now. ‘It was all very interesting and romantic to me and my brother.’

At the end of the first section is a small intermediary piece which bridges the large time gap between childhood and the present. ‘Anyhow, the next thing was our family left off going to the boy. My brother and I were old enough to go away camping somewhere with our cobbers…’

The second section is full of nostalgic references: ‘The bach was much the same…’ The second part is written in much more recent times, when the narrator visits the beach. He calls in on Mrs Crawley. She says she is waiting for Joe. There are much luxurious Christmas items laid out for his arrival. To satisfy the narrator’s curiosity, the narrator asks the bus-driver what sort of person Joe is. The bus-driver reveals that Joe has recently stopped coming altogether and that only one daughter bothers to keep in touch with Mrs Crawley by writing.

LEVELS

There are two levels in most of Sargeson’s work:

1. Social – this has endeared him greatly to leftist reformers

2. Existential – concerned with people more than ideas. His view is sourly compassionate. At times he probes more deeply than he perhaps realises. An Affair of the Heart leaves no room for anger or judgment. Mrs Crawley’s love for her son, though it eventually destroys her sanity, carries its own terrible justification. Truly hers is an affair of the heart.

CHARACTERS IN “AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART”

Sargeson uses  male narrators of limited education, simple vocabylary and sentence structure and is often retrospective, with the narrator looking back to events and people of his youth.

are introspective and capable of considerable compassion

His tolerance extends to all lost men, cranks and sexual perverts. It is the self righteous whom Sargeson most condemns. He is on the side of the ‘down and outer’. In subtle ways he criticises society and its hypocrisy and narrowness.

Essentially lonely men; not men without emotions but men who suffer from a sort of impediment of feeling or who cannot establish a relation where their emotions can be adequately expressed. Incapable of being articulate about a feeling unless it is one which has a gregarious discharge; anger for example, or laughter. The softer feelings they must always keep to themselves, or express obliquely through action.

formed in the hostile environment of the industrial working-class or the subsistence farm.

Frank Sargeson is New Zealand’s first NATIONAL writer. In Katherine Mansfield’s work, for instance, we are not conscious of anything New Zealandish.

LANGUAGE IN “AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART”

  • Sargeson has found the perfect language to express each character’s feelings. Is not British nor American English. It is easy, subtle and free of mannerism.
  • The special quality of the language lies not only in the bold colloquial tropes or the occasional local usage but informs every intonation and every element of the spoken idiom.
  1. sea-eggs – sea urchins, kina in Maori
  2. kumaras – red-skinned sweet potato, with an English plural suffix
  3. pipis – cockles
  4. tea-tree bush – a shrub or small tree native to New Zealand and southeast Australia (Melaleuca lanceolata)
  • The language spoken by Sargeson’s characters is not the only language spoken in New Zealand, and these are not the only characters.
  • The sentence structure must be no more elaborate than his characters’ and no more subtle.
  • The spoken language is Sargeson’s chief instrument; if he were interested in characters of another kind, his method would have to be modified.
  • The stories are told in first person, from the point of view of semi-articulate characters.  This technique illustrates how Sargeson’s method enables him to give us simultaneously:
  1. the development of the story
  2. evocation/description of its setting
  3. information about characters only indirectly portrayed
  4. emotional reactions of the narrating character to the whole
  • He uses punctuation not to reinforce the logical and syntactical divisions of the thought but to mark the places where in fact the narrating voice could have paused.

DRAMATIC IRONY IN “AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART”

The reader realises more than the narrator does because the reader is given clues. Sargeson is a fan of this technique, which can actually make him seem a bit pompous, but as Reid points out, Sargeson was a gay man in the era of antigayness, so he had no choice but to write with smoke and mirrors:

Much depends on Sargeson, the middle-class writer, knowing and perceiving more than the various working-class or hobo characters he invents to tell his tales. This technique is pushed as far as it can go in the longest story (really a novella), That Summer, where, by story’s end, we really have to believe that the invented narrator has been extraordinarily thick, and has not seen what’s under his nose. Such a relief to meet a story where the irony is more self-referential and, as a result, more self-critical, such as the masterly Gods Live in Woods.

Nicholas Reid

RELATED

Frank Sargeson was friend and mentor to Janet Frame.

The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield for NCEA 1.4

Katherine Mansfield finished “The Garden Party” on her 32nd birthday in 1921. She took a month to recover from her previous story, “At the Bay” before embarking upon this one. She felt that The Garden Party was better than “At The Bay”, ‘but that is not good enough, either…’ It is apparently based upon an actual incident.

WHAT HAPPENS IN “THE GARDEN PARTY”

Mrs Sheridan holds a party, which she leaves to her teenage children to organise. This will mark their entry into the world. However, the story is not about the party itself but rather the lead-up and the aftermath, when the upper class Sheridan family learns that a man has been killed down below. Laura thinks to offer solace by taking his bereaved wife some of the leftovers. She goes to the house down below and is overcome with a feeling of hopelessness, inappropriateness and perhaps some greater understanding of the nature of life and death.

The Garden Party is much more a story than the other shorts involving the Burnell family. Here, events are used to carry the meaning; Prelude and At the Bay are more explorations of milieu (storyworld), where a series of keen observations about seemingly insignificant details add up to form a lasting impression and offer a deeper message.

SETTING OF “THE GARDEN PARTY”

KM presents this deeper message by building an atmosphere of fun and frivolity before presenting the characters with an awful situation. The ostentatious nature of the party is emphasised with our attention drawn to the comfortable circumstances of The Sheridans: large house, tennis court, spacious garden, hilltop view, lily lawn, green baize door.

When close reading a story for setting, pay attention to altitude. Where altitude is mentioned, it’s probably symbolic.

The house KM imagines is her bigger childhood house in Thorndon, Wellington, at 75 Tinakori Road. The Beauchamp family moved back to town when Kathleen was 9 and a half.

Also within this setting, we see a comparison between the Sheridans and the underlings – we see them interact with each other and the different reactions of the family to their social inferiors.

THEMES OF “THE GARDEN PARTY”

Most stories have several themes.

Remember: A theme is always a full sentence! ‘Party’ cannot be a theme, for instance. ‘Party’ is ‘subject matter’. When you write themes as a sentence they often sound simple or trite, but that’s okay. The stories themselves are much more subtle.

Growing up involves some uncomfortable truths.

The party is the children’s first time to prove their new-found maturity. Their mother is ‘determined to leave everything to the children this year’. Laura is torn between her own feelings and the dominance of her mother, who never really does relinquish control of the party, ordering masses of lilies on a whim.

Laura does not reject the life she is a part of; rather, she has understood something about it — she reaches a more serious maturity than her mother and older sisters have reached.

People are able to insulate themselves somewhat from class distinctions.

Criticism of the social values of bourgeois society is the most obvious, basic theme, with the upper-class Sheridan family living at the top of the hill and the lower-class in their ‘poky little holes’, ‘little cottages just below’. KM herself must have been keenly aware of class distinctions as she was the daughter of a self-made man, living in upper-class New Zealand society. This theme is also important in The Doll’s House.

The upper-class is symbolised by sheer extravagance. The sandwiches each have flags (fifteen kinds). There is a hired band, cream puffs and masses of canna lilies. Each member of the family has power over the cook, the maids and the men putting up the marquee.

[In my own illustrated short story Midnight Feast, this is also a theme. Growing up in New Zealand, I have been heavily influenced by Katherine Mansfield!]

Scene from Midnight Feast showing class distinction

Scene from Midnight Feast showing class distinction

CHARACTERS OF “THE GARDEN PARTY”

The family is no longer the Burnells but The Sheridans, who reflected KM’s family during her own teenage years. Unlike the Burnells, the family does not live within its own microcosm of the world but is fully participant in the wider social world of town.

Laura

The name Laura is a Latin baby name. In Latin the meaning of the name Laura is: Laurel tree or sweet bay tree (symbols of honour and victory).

This is Laura’s story. Main characters are linked inextricably to the setting, and perhaps KM chose a ‘plant’ name for Laura for that reason?

Although there are some general, impersonal passages and several scenes without her, we see this storyworld through Laura’s eyes. We observe others how she sees them, especially their response to her own behaviour.

At the beginning of the story, Laura is still a child. She doesn’t fully understand what is happening; her reaction to the workman’s death is a mixture of instinct, upbringing and egotism. She sees the workman’s death in an emotional way, torn between her own instinctive feelings and the powerful dominance of her mother and older sisters. She finally reaches her own personal understanding of life, which is left ambiguous in the final sentence. She does not reject the social life of the upper-class but comes to her own serious kind of maturity.

Being still a child, and not fully aware of the power of class distinctions and her own place within the social structure, Laura acts as a bridge between the upper and lower classes. She decides ‘it’s all the fault… of these absurd class distinctions’. Unlike Mrs Sheridan, she sees the workmen as individual people, indeed, as attractive ones.

When the carter dies, again, Laura sees him as another human, with the frivolity of their party exposed. But after she has her eyes opened to the true class distinctions, she is able to take her mother’s lead and return to the safety of the grand house on the hill. Just because she now knows the truth doesn’t mean she is going to do much about the income disparity.

Mrs Sheridan

Mrs Sheridan is comfortable with her social status and at ease with ordering others about. We see this clearly in her attitude towards the cook. She is teaching her children to see the world from her own elevated by short-sighted perspective. Mrs Sheridan doesn’t want her children to be socially aware. We see this when she tries to divert Laura’s attention with the talk of the new hat. 

Mrs Sheridan is in charge of all the food, and might be compared to some kind of goddess of fertility.

Meg

Meg ‘could not possibly go and supervise the men’.

Jose

Jose, too, has absorbed the attitudes of her mother re class distinctions.

Laurie

Laura and Laurie are similar in their outlook on life, symbolised by their similar names. It is only natural that Laurie understands Laura’s reaction to the grieving family without Laura needing to put her feelings into words because Laurie is the only other person in this world who could possibly understand her inner conflict. 

SYMBOLISM IN “THE GARDEN PARTY”

Laura’s Hat

By placing the hat upon Laura’s head, Mrs Sheridan claims her to the upper-class – superiority and indifference. Compare the passing of the hat to the passing of a crown (or similar talisman: sword, coat, cloak, cape, teacher’s pen etc.) in many other kinds of stories — generally flipped, in that a downtrodden, underprivileged character eventually earns a crown. That’s how most traditional stories go. Here, Laura doesn’t have to do much to get it, and when she does get it, she seems to realise that she hasn’t really earned it. 

‘Forgive my hat.’

Nor is she entirely comfortable in her class. Nevertheless, she does wear the hat, just as she takes part in her upper class, privileged lifestyle.

Birds and Flight

Mansfield uses the metaphor of birds and flight as a strategy to show how the Sheridans insulate themselves from the lower classes. Jose is a “butterfly”. Mrs. Sheridan’s voice “floats” and Laura must “skim over the lawn, up the path, up the steps” to reach her. They are all perched high on an aerie up a “steep rise” from the cottages below. But Laura is a fledgling. Her mother steps back and encourages her to flit around in her preparations for the party, but Laura’s wings aren’t quite experienced enough–she “flung her arms over her head, took a deep breath, stretched and let them fall,” then sighed, so that even a workman “smiled down at her.”

How To Read Literature Like A Professor, Thomas C. Foster

That’s why Laura describes her fellow party-goers as ‘birds’.

This bird symbol running right through the story also explains the significance of the man down below whose house front is studded all over with minute bird cages. Those cages are a threat to the upper-class people on the hill.

In children’s fantasy, the flight is often literal flying.

The Garden As (Apparent) Utopia

Those with Biblical knowledge may see the perfect weather and beautiful garden described in the first paragraph as the Garden of Eden. Failing that, KM has at least set up the garden as a kind of utopia. (For more on utopias, specifically in children’s literature, see here.)

Whenever you come across a utopia such as this in literature, ask yourself who’s in charge. This is, as John Truby would tell you in his book Anatomy of Story, an ‘apparent utopia’. In a genuine utopia there is a community, and everyone in that community is able to grow in their own way, supported by others. But the world of The Garden Party is not like that at all, and Laura has realised it by the story’s end:

This world appears to be perfect, but the perfection is only skin deep. Below the surface, the world is actually corrupt, rotten, and enslaving. Everyone is desperate to put on a good face to hide a psychological or moral disaster. The suburbs are often an apparent utopia, with their manicured lawns and friendly neighbours, but in stories there is usually something terrible going on in the suburbs.

— John Truby

There are a number of different words you might use when describing something like utopia:

Nostalgic — can have a negative connotation, meaning a kind of ‘homesickness’, where nothing can ever be as good as you think it was (and it never was that great anyway).

Topophilia — this is a term coined by Gaston Bachilard in his book The Poetics of Space. It means simply ‘love for a place’, free of the negative connotations associated with ‘nostalgia’.

Arcadian — Another word for Utopian. Arcadia is the name of a Greek province. Utopia also comes from Greek and literally means ‘nowhere/not a place’, though this might be a somewhat simplified etymology. But in some ways, Arcadia and Utopia are opposites — Arcadia is thought of as a garden full of good fruits for humans to enjoy whereas Utopia can be considered a place which has been shaped by humans, in which the environment is as much a construction as the society itself. Utopia in its purest form is a spaceship in a futuristic science fiction story.

Pastoral — when referring to land, it means land for raising cattle or sheep. But when referring to literature, pastoral means ‘portraying an idealized version of country life. But if you look for ‘pastoral books’ you’ll probably find books relating to the Christian church. The Wind In The Willows is pastoral, though also treated as nostalgic and Arcadian, depending on the critic.

Prelapsarian — characteristic of the time before the Fall of Man; innocent and unspoilt.

See also: Utopian Children’s Literature

Allusion to Persephone?

If the garden is an apparent utopia, this sets us up to regard the cottages down below as Hades/hell — the classical underworld. We might then regard Laura as Persephone. If Laura is Persephone, Mrs Sheridan is Demeter. As evidence for the comparison, here’s the list from Thomas C. Foster:

  • fertility-goddess mother, who is the match-maker (people arrive at the party in couples)
  • beautiful daughter
  • kidnap and seduction by god of underworld
  • permanent winter
  • pomegrante-seed monkey business
  • six-month growing season
  • happy parties all round
  • they live on an ‘Olympian’ height
  • the broad road into the cottages is kind of like the River Styx, which you have to cross to get into Hades (roads are often like rivers in literature, when the city/suburbs are a symbol of the forest/plains)
  • When Laura returns from ‘the underworld’ she has basically become her mother. In Greek mythology, there is often no difference between mother and daughter.

The myth of Persephone is also about a young woman arriving into adulthood. This involves facing death and understanding it. The myth involves the tasting of the fruit. (The story of Eve in the Garden of Eden also makes use of fruit, and how tasting it gives you unwelcome but adult knowledge.)

Darkness and Shadow as Death

KM does a great job of describing the darkness and shadow of the township below. There are many examples in the text e.g. the large dog ‘running like a shadow’.

from Hilda Bewildered

from Hilda Bewildered

NCEA ENGLISH 1.4 Example Essay

DESCRIBE AN IDEA THAT INTERESTED YOU IN EACH TEXT.  EXPLAIN WHY THESE IDEAS INTERESTED YOU.

AUTHOR: Katherine Mansfield

TITLES OF SHORT STORIES: The Voyage and The Garden Party

An interesting idea that Katherine Mansfield dealt with in two stories, The Voyage and The Garden Party, is the transition from childhood to adulthood.  In both stories, Mansfield makes use of symbols to let readers know that growth has taken place.

The Voyage is about a young girl, Fenella, who is being taken to Picton to live with her grandparents.  As the story progresses it is revealed that this is because her mother has died, and we presume her father is unable to care for her alone.  The death of a parent is in itself a time for children to grow up suddenly, and Fenella’s ‘journey’ to the South Island on the Picton Ferry is symbolic of this period of growth.

Within the symbolic journey is a symbolic umbrella, which comes to represent Fenella’s transition into the next phase of her maturity.  Fenella’s grandmother, who accompanies her on this journey, allows her to look after the precious ‘swan-necked umbrella’.  At first, the grandmother feels she must remind Fenella to be careful with the umbrella, being careful not to poke it into the railings of the ferry and break it.  Later on in the journey, however, when Fenella and her grandmother leave the ship, Grandmother is about to remind Fenella about the umbrella, but does not need to, saying only:

“You’ve got my –“

“Yes grandma”.  Fenella showed (the umbrella) to her.

This demonstrates that Fenella has now grown up to the extent that she need not be reminded about looking after precious things.

In the same story, darkness is contrasted with light to symbolise childlike ignorance versus the knowledge and understanding that accompanies adulthood.  Images of light are used repeatedly in the first half of the story.  For example, as Fenella and her grandmother walk to the ship, everything is dark except for a shining lamp.  The solitary shining lamp highlights the darkness.  On board the ship, it is revealed that the grandmother is dressed all in black; likewise, the men on the deck are hiding in the shadows.  In contrast, as the ship sails into Picton, images of light prevail.  “The cold pale sky was the same colour as the cold pale sea”.  As Fenella is walking up the path to her grandparents’ house, she notices the path of ‘round white pebbles’.  These images of light contrast with the initial images of darkness to indicate that Fenella can ‘see the light at the end of the tunnel’; that she has grown up sufficiently to get on with life despite the death of her mother and that she has moved into the next phase of her life.  This is interesting because Mansfield’s view of life and death is ultimately a positive one, despite the overall negative view created in European culture.

The Garden Party also deals with the interesting issue of growing up, as Mrs Sheridan has decided to let her children organise their first garden party all by themselves.  Unlike Fenella in The Voyage, though, Laura’s journey to independence is not as clear and definite; she flits between feeling very grown up and suddenly losing confidence.  When the workmen arrive to put up the marquee, for instance, she begins to address them in an authoritative manner, but suddenly feels that this is too affected, and “stammered like a little girl”.  This demonstrates the difficulty Laura initially feels in taking on adult responsibilities.

The real test for Laura comes later, when she is forced to make her own mind up on a moral issue.  When the news arrives that a man from down in the cottages has been killed, Laura feels that the party must be cancelled out of respect for the family.  Until her father and brother arrive home, however, she is forced to stand alone in this opinion.  She decides to compromise by putting the incident out of her mind until the party is over, then taking it more to heart when the fun is over.  At the conclusion of the story, when Laurie, her more mature older brother meets her in the village below Laura says, “Isn’t life-“ and does not finish the sentence.  She does not need to, as Laurie understands her.  This demonstrates that the younger sister has now joined her older brother (whose names are symbolically similar) in the increased understanding of life that comes from making one’s own decisions and contemplating death. This increased empathy with a more mature individual is an interesting one to consider, as it affects all of us as we grow older.

Both of these short stories deal with the fascinating theme of growth in two individuals who are confronted with the issue of death.  Mansfield’s skilful use of symbolism and imagery help the readers to plot the growth of her central characters for themselves.  This is interesting because the idea of growth and development is relevant to all human beings.

[750 words]

At The Bay by Katherine Mansfield

WHAT HAPPENS IN “AT THE BAY”?

The sun rises over Crescent Bay. Each of the characters goes about the day: Stanley’s morning swim, children playing with their cousins, Mrs Fairchild’s afternoon rest… All of this is ordered, even though the family is obviously on holiday. Conflict centers on the characters succumbing to social expectations.

The story divides into 12 sections. The relevance of each section to the others is not always clear. Vagueness is probably deliberate, as KM illustrates her own attitude towards the events that shape a life. The montage of scenes is a recreation of the haphazardness in life.

STORYWORLD OF “AT THE BAY”

This is the story of an upper-middle-class household near Wellington, colonial New Zealand. It is a constricted social environment where gossip can run rife.

At the Bay opens with a panoramic description of the bay. A camera-like eye follows the shepherd, his sheep and the dog.  The eye switches to Stanley Burnell. In Prelude, the house and garden are surrounded by the dark bush. In At the Bay, the story moves in and out of the house to the sea and shore. But the characters seek answers to the same questions. The setting illuminates the world of childhood, where nobody knows the answers to certain, fundamental questions.

This time, The Burnell Family go to the beach, finding a new environment in which to explore their interactions and their philosophies on life and death.

IMAGERY IN “AT THE BAY”

This is Mansfield’s attempt to demonstrate in art the triumph of

  • beauty over ugliness
  • mystery over simplicity
  • artistic knowledge over nature baseness

The themes and imagery are all set up in the first section, when the microcosm of the bay is described in detail. Sea and earth merge together: a metaphorical statement of the mutability of time and life.

Sheep Bleating

The sheep are heard by the little children in their dreams. Later in the day they will find fear.

The dog

The dog’s natural impulse is to frolic but trots beside its master because it has been trained to do so. The characters, too, must maintain control over their impulses and natural inclinations. When the dog runs from the path onto a rocky ledge and ventures too far, it retreats hurriedly, just as the characters will do during the day that follows.

Also, the Trouts’ dog (Snooker) sleeps on the steps of one of the bungalows but looks as though he’s dead. This suggestion of mortality sets the tone for the conversation to follow between Kezia and her grandmother.

The eucalyptus tree

‘Something immense,’ like an ‘enormous shock-haired giant with his arms stretched out’. A meeting will take place there – Alice hurries towards it when she is frightened of being on the road alone. Alice will duck inside to see Mrs Stubbs who is going to have a photograph of a giant fern tree enlarged – a continuation of the phallic imagery. (Alice dwells on size.)

Like the aloe in Prelude, the gum tree serves as a symbol of sex (birth) and death.

The manuka tree

Its blossoms will fall and scatter and be brushed aside as ‘horrid little things’. The blossoms symbolise Linda’s questions about the meaning of life. Linda sees herself as a leaf blowing about. She feels there’s no escape. But unlike the scattered blossoms of a tree, life offers Linda sensual pleasures; her question is partially answered when she sees her baby smile. As in Prelude, Linda is presented as an earth-goddess in her connection with nature and the tree.

The encounter between the dog and the cat:

Foreshadows the encounter between Beryl and Harry Kember.

There has been some time lapse since the readers met these characters in Prelude but there have been no significant changes in their relationships and routines. This is because:

1. People are essentially unchanging

2. Time is constant

3. People and time continue on an unbroken line that extends from the past into the future, crossing the present.

The Tide

Here’s the thing about beaches — this is where the land meets the sea. Seems obvious, but worth pointing out because when there’s a beach in a story, this points out attention towards something else merging. The significance of water in At The Bay is apparent from the opening passage, with mention of the sea, the dew.

What’s merging here, in this story?

Well first, life and death are unified.

There’s this Jungian idea that water is an ever-moving, feminine flow and Katherine Mansfield utilised that. The Bay, as a body of water, bears a heavy weight of historical, mythical and psychological meaning.

Freedom

The illusion of freedom is central to At the Bay.

Linda gave up a life of travelling to marry a man she loves only sometimes. She has conformed to society’s expectations, having children and tending to her husband, though there are many times she doesn’t feel great love towards them.

Then Linda is seduced by the sight of her baby boy lying on the grass beside her. She experiences joy, another form of motherhood’s entrapment. When Jonathan tells her he feels like an insect trapped in a room, he is explaining a variation on the same theme: ‘something infinitely joyful and loving’.

Likewise, Jonothan Trout imprisons himself in an office for all but three weeks of every year. Unable to find a way to escape, he would rather be a prisoner in a jail.

Even the sheep are controlled by the dog, but the dog is inhibited by the cat on the fence. Each creature has its own prison.

Freedom is symbolised by the water and each character’s attitude towards it:

Linda wants to escape ‘up a river in China’ but, ironically, is the only character who doesn’t go to the water at the bay during the day.

Jonathan Trout is a ‘trout’ in the water. He gives himself to life easily and wholeheartedly yet is inhibited by his job.

 

Life and Death

Kezia asks her grandmother about death, but neither of them understand. The uncomfortable conversation turns into a game of love and affection, which take the place of knowledge. The meaning of life and death ultimately escapes them.

When Lottie sees the face at the window and screams it’s not simply that the children have overactive imaginations, but also that they understand something about death: an intuitive understanding, symbolised by Jonothan’s bearded face.

Life and death merge on some other plane which transcends human experience. The characters see them merge at points throughout the story: The rock pool becomes a microcosm of the universe. Beneath the water there is a glimpse of the unknown.

The theme of mortality is also felt by Linda as she sits under the bush. The flowers fell as soon as they flowered. And when Mrs Fairchild and Kezia take a nap, the peaceful rest itself is a prelude to death.

Connected to this is the theme of…

Darkness and Light

A pattern throughout the story is contentment and joy followed by disappointment and disillusionment. This is like the natural cycles of the earth: night, day, night, day. This is evident as the story takes place over the course of a day, in itself measured by darkness and light.

The story does end on a positive note; we know that the next day will follow.

CHARACTERS OF “AT THE BAY”

The activities of the characters are seen against the background of ocean tides, much as the waxing and waning of the moon is significant in Prelude.

Stanley

Stanley fancies himself in a class of his own. If he fails to be first in the water his morning is ruined. He plays games of substitution to make his life seem more smooth, but is constantly involved in competitive battles. Life is an exclusive affair, a business to be negotiated profitably without unnecessary human intercourse or waste of time.

1. He engages the entire household in a race against time to find his cane. When Linda breaks a rule she is penalised – he does not say goodbye. But he has to wave to avoid losing face in public.

2. Stanley recoups his losses by bringing home gloves. He feels guilty.

Jonathan Trout

Stanley’s brother-in-law also plays games. He role-plays in a game of masquerade to hide his overall dissatisfaction with his lot.

Beryl

Beryl is an unusual character because on the one hand she lives in a dream-world, hoping that one day her prince will come to rescue her, and on the other hand, is not naive to the ways of the world. She understands the Kembers couple, for instance.

Beryl’s play-acting, like Jonathan’s, allows her to escape her unsatisfactory life but she is her own audience. She plays games to evade knowledge of the meaning of life. Beryl is childlike. The children are capable of seeing a piece of green glass as a beautiful emerald as big as a star. This is how Beryl is able to imagine herself.

All of these games, played by the adults, are juxtaposed with the innocent games played by the children.  All of life is make-believe, with rules, penalties and rewards.

Beryl’s attempts to ‘discover herself’ are juxtaposed with Lottie’s efforts to compete with her older sisters. She is always left behind. Similarly, Beryl fears she will be left behind unmarried. When Lottie screams at the whiskered face in the window this foreshadows Beryl freezing in horror when a man appears outside her bedroom window later.

For Beryl, the day at the bay is a frustrated attempt to find a life and lover. Stanley can see there is something wrong with her humour; Beryl is mindful of Stanley and cross with Kezia over breatkfast. Beryl’s humour changes when she stops the coach and has a chance to socialise with one of the passengers. She is also happy when Stanley leaves – a feeling shared by all the women in the Burnell household. “Their very voices were changed as they called to one another…’

Linda

Linda Burnell is one of three daughters (one of whom is Beryl; the other is the unnamed mother of Rags and Pip). Linda is half-way between youth and age. She has three daughters of her own. Isabel, the eldest, remains unexplored. Linda is aligned most closely to Kezia, as they share the same concerns. (Likewise, Lottie’s concerns reflect those of Beryl.)

This kind of juxtapositioning of characters gives a sense of continuity to the story; a sense that time exists beyond the single day spent At the Bay, that time stretches over generations and beyond.

The themes of identity and sexual conflicts are explored through the character of Linda. Her father once promised that they would both run away together. That didn’t happen; Linda found Stanley instead, as a substitute for her father. Her baby boy holds a hope for Linda’s expression of her masculine side.

Stanley Josephs

The Josephs Family provides a neat contrast to the Burnells. In comparison, his family is vulgar and bad-mannered. (Their lady-help blasts on a whitle and hands out dirty parcels. The basin of fruit-salad has turned brown. The children play like savages.) Meanwhile, Mrs Fairchild sits genteel in her lilac cotton dress and black hat. The Burnell children no longer play with the Samuel Josephs children, nor do they attend their parties.

Mrs Kembers

Sinister. Notorious locally because she refuses to conform to societal conventions, including what it means to be a woman. This nebulous way of living is reflected in the landscape; the shoreline itself blurs the boundary between sea and land.

Although Mrs Kember has money, Mrs Kembers breaks social conventions in her relationships with men and with her servants. She cares nothing for her house. She does not have children. She behaves with men as if she is one of them. Beryl is more accepting of Mrs Kembers because she is younger and less traditional. She is fascinated by the freedom. Curiosity outweighs disapproval. Beryl is both seductive and seduced by Mrs Kember. She becomes shy then reckless, defiant of other women on the beach. She undresses boldly and joins Mrs Kember in the water.

With her ‘black waterproof bathing cap’ Mrs Kembers is the image of Satan and like Satan she is constantly shifting forms. Later that night, Beryl puts Mrs Kembers’ words ‘You are a little beauty’ into the mouth of an imagined suitor; she has not been threatened.

Mr Kembers

Outrageous, like his wife. “How did he live? Of course there were stories, but such stories! They simply couldn’t be told…”

That night, Mr Kembers appears outside Beryl’s window, not an apparition at all. Beryl goes out to him but suddenly she is frightened. He calls her a ‘cold little devil’ and Beryl disappears back into her bedroom. Mr Kembers has become a horrible caricature of a fantasy lover.

Alice the Servant Girl

Alice is constricted in this place; like Beryl, she has nowhere to go in the evenings. Her predicament mirrors Beryl’s, who we might expect to have more personal freedom as she is not a ‘servant’ but a member of the white upper-middle-class.

When Alice visits Mrs Stubbs, their encounter mirrors Beryl’s encounter with Mrs Kembers on the beach. This visit emphasises the role of women as guardians of tradition. If women act like men, tradition is threatened. Mrs Stubbs says that ‘freedom’s best’ and Alice laughs but she longs for the security of the Burnell kitchen, safe from the dangers of sex, life and freedom.

Sex again loses its boundaries when the edema of the dead man and the edema of pregnancy become one in Alice’s mind.

Alice is Beryl’s counterpoint in age. Just as Beryl seeks knowledge from Mrs Kembers, Alice visits an older woman, seeking knowledge. But neither Alice nor Beryl have any luck. Neither woman is any the wiser at the end of the story. Both Alice and Beryl are puzzled when the three younger girls meet the boys at the beach, digging for treasure.

Rare Interview With Author Janet Frame

This is a radio interview, transcribed and published in Landfall 178 (Volume forty-five, June 1991) between Janet Frame and Elizabeth Alley.

janet frame

Elizabeth Alley: In the autobiography you seem more willing than in the fiction to open some of the doors about yourself and your life – to correct some of the myths that surround you.

Janet Frame: I wanted to write my story, and you’re right of course, it is possible to correct some things which have been taken as fact and are not fact. My fiction is genuinely fiction. And I do invent things. Even in The Lagoon which has many childhood stories, the children are invented and the episodes are invented but they are mixed up so much with part of my early childhood. But they’re not quite, they’re not the true, stories. To the Is-Land was the first time I’d written the true story. For instance, Faces in the Water was autobiographical in the sense that everything happened, but the central character was invented. But with the autobiography it was the desire really to make myself a first person. For many years I was a third person – as children are. ‘They’, ‘she’… and as probably the oppressed minority has become, ‘they’. I mean children are forever ‘they’ until they grow up.

EA: For a long time you really were quite reluctant to discuss anything that had to do with the genesis or meaning of your work.

JF: Well I write, you see. I don’t tell about my life. I just write and that is my telling, but in order to set down a few facts and tell my story, this is my say.

EA: Tell me about your title, ‘To the Is-Land‘. Is this something to do with your feeling about the truth of words? And the way that you always prefer to take the very literal meaning of words?

JF: Yes, and it arose from my meeting with the word ‘Is-Land’, in an early story I was reading, one of those Whitcombes stories, and my refusal to accept that it was Island, that it really wasn’t Is-Land. Of course, looking at it n ow I chose the title ‘To the Is-Land‘ for obvious reasons, because of the obvious double-triple meanings. I assumed that words meant what they said, and everyone about me seemed to assume that they did. It was just a gradual process of learning the depths of words, I suppose.

EA: Words were always revered in your house though, weren’t they? As ‘instruments of magic’ I think you described them.

JF: Certainly, I think so. I was thinking of that knowing I was coming here to be interviewed by you. I was having a cup of tea at that little place next door and I took out the bus timetable to read. And I remembered that everyone at home always had something to read.

EA: When did you first discover you could make words work for you?

JF: Oh I’ve never discovered that… I’m still working at that.

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