by Reprinted from University of Canterbury's "Chronic on November 29, 2010 12:28 PM

 

New novel explores crucial period in NZs literary landscape

Having been pipped at the post in his bid to write a novel by Janet Frame, University of Canterbury English Professor Patrick Evans has settled for publishing a novel about her.

 

Professor Patrick Evans with his third novel <em>Gifted</em>
Professor Patrick Evans with his third novel Gifted

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Professor Evans' (Humanities) third novel, Gifted, was launched during Septembers The Press Christchurch Writers Festival 2010. Gifted is Professor Evans imagining of what transpired when one day in 1955 the father of New Zealand fiction, Frank Sargeson, took in the young writer Janet Frame, who had recently emerged from a lengthy spell in a psychiatric hospital.

When asked about the genesis of his latest novel Professor Evans is brutally honest.

I always wanted to write a book by Janet Frame. I've taught her for ages and I knew there was an unpublished book, Towards Another Summer, so I planned to write that and smuggle in a fake Janet Frame novel into the canon, he said.

However, his literary plot was foiled when, in 2007, the Janet Frame Literary Trust offered the author's autobiographical novel, written in 1963, to publishers.

I had to regroup when they published the real one as I was busy writing my fake one. Bit by bit I came round to the idea of writing the way I've done having Frank write about Janet. So its really Frank's book.

Professor Evans said he settled on his new tack in 2007.

I connect my mother with Janet Frame as she gave me a copy of Owls Do Cry when I was 12. My mother died in June 2007 and I started writing the book two days after her death.

In another symbolic connection, Professor Evans book was primarily written in a five-month period, the same length of time Frame took to write her first full-length novel, Owls Do Cry, when she found sanctuary and inspiration living in the ex-army hut on Sargesons Takapuna property.

Professor Evans, who has written about both Janet Frames fiction (An Inward Sun, 1971) and the woman herself (Janet Frame, 1977 the first biography of the writer) and has taught about her for decades, said aside from the premise of Frame turning up on Sargeson's doorstep looking for somewhere to live and write, Gifted is entirely a work of fiction.

Janet spent 16 months in the old army hut and only they (Frank and Janet) really know what really went on and they're both dead, Professor Evans said.

It seemed to me a really important time in her life. She spent eight years in and out of mental hospitals and was caught in a relay and only ever went between hospital and home. But in 1955 when she broke out and went to Auckland, her sister introduced her to Frank and he extended the invitation for her to come and stay. I called the book Gifted because she was gifted this way out of the relay she was caught in and it's the beginning of her great success.

Professor Evans said his novel, starring two of New Zealand's literary greats, also explores the upside and downside of having a gift.

Gifted, which is published by Victoria University Press and features a cover illustration by Professor Evans' son Nathan, was launched on Thursday 9 September at the Christchurch Town Hall.

Gifted, Patrick Evans, published by Victoria University Press, September 2010, RRP: $30.00, Paperback, ISBN 978-0864736-37-6

UC historian finishes work on leading 18th century British diplomat

The latest book to come from the pen of University of Canterbury historian Professor Geoffrey Rice has brought his research career full circle.

Professor Rice's new book, The Life of the Fourth Earl of Rochford (1717-1781): Eighteenth Century Anglo-Dutch Courtier, Diplomat and Statesman, is the culmination of more than 30 years research that began while he was a doctoral student at Canterbury in the early 1970s.

 

Professor Geoffrey Rice with his latest book <em>The Life of the Fourth Earl of Rochford (1717-1781): Eighteenth Century Anglo-Dutch Courtier, Diplomat and Statesman</em>
Professor Geoffrey Rice with his latest book The Life of the Fourth Earl of Rochford (1717-1781): Eighteenth Century Anglo-Dutch Courtier, Diplomat and Statesman

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My PhD was on Rochford's diplomatic career and I always wanted to do a full biography but my work here at Canterbury and other research, particularly my book on the 1918 influenza pandemic, kept distracting me, Professor Rice said.

But I never gave up on Rochford and kept plugging away at him, turning out six articles and book chapters on various aspects of his career. Then, about five years ago, I got stuck into writing up all the material I'd gathered during study leaves overseas, and found it was fun revisiting the 18th century. Being a head of school slowed progress at times, but now I'm thrilled to see it in print at long last.

William Henry Nassau de Zuylestein, fourth Earl of Rochford (1717-81), was a British diplomat and statesman who was ambassador at Madrid (1763-1766) and at Paris (1766-1768), and was successively Secretary of State for the Northern Department (responsible for relations with the Protestant states of Northern Europe) and the Southern Department (responsible for relations with the Catholic and Muslim states of Europe) between 1768 and 1775.

Professor Rice said Rochford was one of the most neglected British cabinet ministers of the 18th century. He was a close personal friend of major cultural figures such as the actor David Garrick and the playwright Beaumarchais, and was George III's trusted foreign policy expert in the 1770s.

"His experience as a diplomat gave Rochford an overall view of British foreign policy that was unrivalled at the time. He ended up being one of the most knowledgeable and fully informed foreign ministers Britain had in the 18th century, and was easily the most imaginative and forward-thinking of them. He was the first to grasp the shift in the balance of power in Europe following the Polish partition of 1772, and just before he left office he had drafted a Peace Plan for Europe involving an alliance of the colonial maritime powers.

"Unfortunately, he's not that well-known because historians of domestic British politics, until recently, paid very little attention to foreign policy, and he had a very influential enemy in the diarist Horace Walpole, who hated his guts and took every opportunity to belittle him. A lot of what Walpole said wasn't true, but historians have taken Walpole's views at face value and, as Rochford couldn't defend himself, he's been waiting for a very long time to be rediscovered as an important 18th century statesman."

Professor Rice said most of Rochford's personal papers had been lost so his research was based mainly on a range of diplomatic archives in London and Europe, and tracking down letters Rochford had sent to other people.

Rochford was a very modest, self-effacing man. In history, most prominent people want to be remembered and blow their own trumpet, but Rochford wasn't like that. He was a behind-the-scenes diplomat, a mediator, whose aim was to rehabilitate Britain's reputation in Europe. His policies were just starting to bear fruit when they were derailed by the war in America.

Professor Rice said the book also sheds new light on key episodes in 18th century British foreign policy, particularly on the diplomatic crisis between Britain and Spain over the Falkland Islands in 1770, during which Rochford played a significant role in avoiding an unnecessary war. It is also the first to detail the routine domestic work of the secretaries of state before the positions were restructured into the Home and Foreign offices in 1782.

Rochford lived a long and remarkable life and I hope I've done him justice by writing an interesting and readable biography.

The Life of the Fourth Earl of Rochford (1717-1781): Eighteenth Century Anglo-Dutch Courtier, Diplomat and Statesman by Geoffrey Rice, published in two volumes by Edwin Mellen Press, September 2010, RRP US$169.95, 677pp, ISBN 978-0-7734-1300-9.

Biography of former PM a warts-and-all account of tireless reformer

A fascinating warts-and-all account of the political career of New Zealand's 33rd prime minister was launched in the capital in October by Canterbury University Press.

 

Front cover of <em>Palmer: The Parliamentary Years</em>
Front cover of Palmer: The Parliamentary Years

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Palmer: The Parliamentary Years is the product of research by historian Dr Raymond Richards involving more than 200 linear metres of archives, as well as interviews with Sir Geoffrey Palmer, his family and associates.

Currently the President of the country's Law Commission and New Zealand's representative on the International Whaling Commission, Sir Geoffrey was the key law-maker in the most reforming government in New Zealand history.

"As the deputy prime minister then the prime minister, he managed the government's legislative programme, initiated several major reforms, negotiated with US officials about visits by nuclear warships, and helped to keep the fourth Labour government working as its internal divisions grew," said Dr Richards, senior lecturer in history at the University of Waikato.

The political biography reveals what shaped Sir Geoffrey from his formative years in Nelson, the extent of his influence, and the achievements and limitations of his parliamentary career.

Educated at Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Chicago law school, Sir Geoffrey planned to use legal means to effect social reform when he entered Parliament in 1979 as MP for Christchurch Central.

Through hard work and intelligence Sir Geoffrey, who became deputy prime minister in 1984 and held office as New Zealand's 33rd prime minister for 13 months in 1989-1990, compiled a record of reform unmatched in this country's history, concerning parliamentary procedures, the voting system, the environment, longstanding Maori grievances, the Bill of Rights and economic reform.

Dr Richards said he was greatly impressed by Sir Geoffrey's energy and relentless work habits.

"He was the hardest working of a Cabinet of workaholics. I was impressed by the intelligence he brought and his impressive efforts to resolve disputes."

Dr Richards said that while researching and writing the book he found the private Geoffrey Palmer a lot more relaxed than the public Geoffrey Palmer.

"He always looked a bit awkward in public. I also learned about the extent of the American influence on what he did. He studied at the University of Chicago law school and came back with many American ideas about constitutional issues, freedom of speech, a Bill of Rights. And I discovered the extent to which his career was a reaction to [the politics of Robert] Muldoon."

Dr Richards said he hoped his biography would redress the fact that a lot of Sir Geoffrey's achievements have been overlooked or were simply unknown. With much of his time at the top of the political ladder spent as deputy to David Lange, much of Palmer's work was "behind the scenes", Dr Richards said. "He was the glue that held everything together and his organisational and diplomatic skills were a good foil for Lange's disordered brilliance."

Sir Geoffrey did not read the manuscript of the book before it went to print, which Dr Richards said allowed him to write an independent account an account his subject said should be "warts and all".

Dr Richards said the "warts" laid bare in the book include Sir Geoffrey's blind spot on compulsory unionism, his unquestioning faith in the legal system and his leadership limitations.

"He had great faith in the legal system which led him to overvalue it. He kept forgetting that the legal route was not always the way to solve problems. And as a leader he had limitations. He was not a man of the people but tried to appear one; it didn't work."

Palmer: The Parliamentary Years was launched by Labour Party Leader Phil Goff in the Grand Hall, Parliament, on Wednesday 17 November.

Palmer: The Parliamentary Years, by Raymond Richards, published by Canterbury University Press, November 2010, RRP NZ$45, Paperback, 234x153 mm 472 pp, 12 pp b/w photographs. ISBN 978-1877257-92-6.


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