Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Post-War Developments

Since the war, writers have consolidated what had been won. Good novels and stories cease to be rare. While the exploiter of New Zealand for popular entertainment continues to find material and a market, more writers offer, with increasing virtuosity, interpretations of life. Self-conscious nationalism is found today only in the tourist romance, which also alone continues to harbour the old-time plots, heroes, heroines, and villains. A mild regionalism has developed in writers such as Courage, Finlayson, and Davin. There is a group of novels with overseas or Pacific settings. Lower suburbia realistically rendered continues to occupy the short story writer, but Katherine Mansfield's influence has begun to counter-balance Sargeson's. Both in novel and in short story, New Zealand writers since 1940 have been more aware of the creative experiments overseas, and have made some of their own.

Popular Entertainers

Among the popular entertainers, Ngaio Marsh is pre-eminent; she has set three of her detective puzzles in her own country, Vintage Murder, 1937, Colour Scheme, 1943, and Died in the Wool, 1944. Mary Scott, who also first published in the 1930s, has made herself a corner in the light comedy of North Island backblocks life, romantically heightened for feminine readers. Dorothy Eden, like Ngaio Marsh, provides suspense for the English market, but has set several stories here, including two early novels which show some insight into family tensions. Elizabeth Messenger contrives local mystery stories.

The domestic romance is the largest class of fiction: writers include Rosemary Rees, Dulce Carman, Essie Summers, Eva Burfield, Mavis Winder, Jean Hall, Frances Keinzly, Grace Phipps, and Hamilton Grieve. More ambitious, with serious themes, though conforming to the requirements of the romantic genre, are Florence Preston, Margaret Jeffrey, Marilyn Duckworth, and Ruth Park. The well-documented historical Maori novel still attracts authors, but remains unmanageable, as laudable attempts by J. F. Cody and Leo Fowler show. Thriller writers for male readers exploit the supposed sexiness and violence of the pioneering days. Readable average stories for menfolk have been published by Michael Ellis, Diarmid Cathie, Albert Lord, and Denis Rhodes. John Gillies in Voyagers in Aspic, 1954, satirises the New Zealand tourist at sea.

Historical romances continue to appear, with varying degrees of imaginative success; among them are novels by Olga Stringfellow, Will Lawson, David King, Julian Mountain, Georgina McDonald, and Helen Wilson.

Dan Davin

The first of the post-war writers of high artistic purpose was Dan Davin who draws upon the Irish Catholic communities of the South Island. Cliffs of Fall, 1945, presents a typical New Zealand figure, the young adolescent rebel chafing at respectability and determined to escape the nets of home, religion, and nationality. “I want to get out of this country and over the sea.” But Davin's “godwit” does not succeed in making the long migration: he comes instead to disaster over the “cliffs of fall”, personal ties which block his ambition. In Roads from Home, 1949, Davin again takes up the theme of choice, handling the tight little Irish community with less arrogance and more affection. It appears again in No Remittance, 1959, a novel presented in slangy New Zealandese by a teller reminiscent of Joyce Cary's rogue heroes. A “remittance man without a remittance”, and a Protestant, Davin's narrator is an outsider in race as in religion, and makes a good recorder of the tenacious grievances, loyalties, and emotions of this regional group. Davin has set two novels overseas: For the Rest of Our Lives, 1947, is a novel of the 2nd NZEF in the Middle East War, acclaimed as brilliant reportage in its desert scenes by those who were there. The Sullen Bell, 1956, is a kind of sequel, picturing assorted New Zealand expatriates, mostly war veterans, in casual London meetings where they endeavour to forget the dead.

James Courage

James Courage is, like Davin, a permanent exile still writing of his homeland. The Fifth Child, his first New Zealand novel, appeared in 1948. Like Desire Without Content, 1950, Fires in the Distance, 1952, and The Call Home, 1956, it is set among the Canterbury station owners of Courage's boyhood. His themes are family tensions, neurotic obsessions, and social conflicts, all within the narrow society of the sheep-farming foothills of Canterbury. His characters, like Lady Barker's, Jane Mander's, and Mrs Grossmann's, are continually talking of “Home”, and move in this respect in a pre-Hyde and pre-Sargeson world. Courage's perception of detail is diluted as his distance increases from the time of which he writes, so that the effect of his work is often thin and unreal. His finest novel, The Young Have Secrets, 1954, is, however, redeemed by its constructive skill. It tells of the experiences of a 10-year-old boy in Canterbury at the time of the 1914 war. The material is familiar enough in this century, being the impact of the adult emotional world upon a young person encountering it for the first time, but Courage's handling of it is distinctive.

Two solo performances of the 1940s should be noted: David Ballantyne's The Cunninghams, 1948, an ironical compassionate picture of the lower middle class home between the wars, and Erik de Mauny's The Huntsman in His Career, 1949, a study of personal responsibility, as encountered by a young intellectual, newly enlisted, who finds himself one of an Army team detailed to hunt down a murderer.