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.



Short Story

The art of the short story was mastered in New Zealand before the art of the novel: doubtless the examples of Katherine Mansfield and Frank Sargeson partly account for this, though the local writer's meagre opportunities and part-time status are also contributory causes. Sargeson remains New Zealand's finest short story writer today. A number of the novelists already discussed have written excellent short stories. Davin, in The Gorse Blooms Pale, 1947, is seen at his best. Janet Frame in The Lagoon, 1951, writes on themes of insecurity, exile, loss, and homelessness of spirit as these may be felt by the child or the unstable personality; in their poetic impressionism and their understanding of children, these stories recall Katherine Mansfield. Finlayson's collections have been discussed. Also noted for their stories, which have not however been issued in book form, are James Courage, David Ballantyne, Ruth France, and Noel Hilliard; their work will be found in the pages of Landfall, the New Zealand Listener, Arena, and other periodicals.

Among authors who have confined themselves to the short story form, C. K. Stead, Maurice Gee, Bruce Mason, and John Caselberg, all talented writers, have not yet published collections.

Short Story Collections

There are a number of volumes of collected stories to be noted. G. R. Gilbert's Free to Laugh and Dance, 1942, employs the American style for New Zealand material. Douglas Stewart, in The Girl with Red Hair, 1944, pictures life in small places, with their humorous debunking of official pretensions, their enjoyment of gossip, and their local crustiness of character. His one Maori story, “The Whare”, touches a sensitive point of race relations.

A. P. Gaskell, in The Big Game, 1947, works in a colloquial medium for which he may be indebted to the example of Sargeson and the Americans: he writes skilful sardonic stories of ordinary New Zealand activities, a football match, a school picnic, life in military camp. This is the world of the good-time Kiwi. J. R. Cole, in It Was So Late, 1947, probes more deeply, particularly in his stories relating to Air Force men during and after the war. Both Gaskell and Cole give some grim insights into Maori-Pakeha tensions, working through the medium of compassionate irony.

Helen Shaw's talent is more poetic: The Orange Tree, 1957, deals sensitively with quirks of personality, odd irrational episodes, and the passing away of old people and old settlements. In The Stone, 1959, O. E. Middleton evokes the unforgettable moments of boyhood, in an underplayed style accurately suggestive of the average New Zealander. His stories are less artless than they may appear to be. Phillip Wilson in Some Are Lucky, 1960, also has an ear for the vernacular of the casual New Zealander, and writes loose, gritty stories of young people, often in outdoor settings.

A Good Keen Man, by Barry Crump, 1960, is, like Roderick Finlayson's Tidal Creek, F. S. Anthony's Me and Gus, and John A. Lee's Shining with the Shiner (1944), a series of loosely related sketches akin to the tall tales of pioneer days, rather than a set of stories. Crump's work, in this and in Hang on a Minute, Mate, 1961, is notable for its vivid rendering of the local patois, its gusty comedy, and its original material. These are uninhibited picaresque yarns of deerstalkers and swaggers.

The two most distinguished artists among those whose output has warranted collection in book form are Maurice Shadbolt and Maurice Duggan. Duggan in Immanuel's Land, 1956, is an assured craftsman, working with meticulous care in a variety of modes and in flexible subtle prose. His stories have human feeling at their core, but are never fluffy or sentimental: the Catholic basis of some of them provides strength as it does in Davin's fiction. Of the men writing today, Duggan comes nearest in kind as in achievement to Katherine Mansfield. Shadbolt is more varied, with less poetry and less precision. His volume, The New Zealanders, 1959, includes stories of European origin, as well as some notable longer tales set in New Zealand. He is best at the portrayal of the younger generation.

Other writers of short stories may be briefly noted: Marie Insley, Alexander Guyan, David Anderson, Dennis McEldowney, Thomas Hindmarsh, Denis Glover. Two young Maori writers, Rora Paki and Rowley Habib, write in English of their own people.