Settlers to New Zealand brought with them a range of love stories, including the fairy tale about Cinderella and Prince Charming, the Arthurian legend about the illicit love between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the novels of Jane Austen, George Eliot and the Brontë sisters. These stories were often about passionate attraction between people of different social standing or people whose families were in conflict. Often they challenged social pressures on people to marry someone ‘suitable’.
Once in a lifetime
Readers of the Hawke’s Bay Herald were told in 1887 that love was an ‘all-absorbing and ennobling passion’ that comes ‘but once a life time to every man and woman, and sometimes not at all’. Readers were advised that such love ‘should not be trifled with’ but also to beware the young woman whose sole aim ‘is to bring men to her feet and under her sway’1 while spurning them when she tires of their attention.
Controversial love stories
Home-grown stories about love appeared – some critical of restrictions on the expression of love. The heroine of Jane Mander’s novel The story of a New Zealand river (1920) has a child outside marriage and marries a man she does not love. In Jean Devanny’s novel The butcher shop (1926) Margaret Messenger has an affair with the manager of her husband’s farm. The novel ends dramatically with suicide and murder. It sold 15,000 copies, but was banned in New Zealand as ‘sordid, unwholesome and unclean’2 and a threat to the country’s immigration policy.
Romance fiction focuses on how attractive and independent young women, often in interesting locations, secure the affections of a man. A number of New Zealand authors have achieved international fame as writers of romance, including Essie Summers, who wrote 55 romance novels between 1956 and 1997. Her stories sold 17 million books, mostly published by Mills and Boon.
Love stories have featured in New Zealand movies, including To love a Maori, made in the early 1970s about the relationship between a young Pākehā woman and a Māori man. Films about the complexity of love between women and men include Jane Campion’s The piano (1993) and Niki Caro’s Memory and desire (1997). They both use the New Zealand landscape to symbolise the emotional turbulence associated with love and sensual desire.
Lesbians’ and gay men’s stories
Lesbians, gay men and those attracted to both women and men have also produced poetry, novels, songs, plays and movies about their experiences of love. Anika Moa’s CD Love in motion, released in 2010, includes the song ‘I am the woman who loves you’ – inspired by her relationship with burlesque artist Azaria Universe.
Feeling so good
Poet Cilla McQueen wrote this on falling in love:
I’m not quite sure what’s happening
but your image is in me like a scent
all the roses in the garden are opening up at once
it’s raining big round drops
of extraordinary sweetness
let me be serious
I’m in love with you.3
Love songs and poetry
New Zealand has produced some distinctive songs about love. They include Ken Avery’s prosaic jazz waltz about falling in love at the dog-dosing strip at Dunsandel, and the romantic First World War Māori love song ‘Pōkarekare ana’.
Poetry also explores the pleasures and discomforts of love. In ‘Yes’ Hone Tuwhare has captured the pleasure of seeing his lover ‘slip out of your things’.4 Fiona Farrell has celebrated being ‘full to the brim with you’5 while Anne French has likened the loss of love to being like ‘an amputee in a minefield’.6 A. R. D. Fairburn’s poem ‘Farewell’ invokes the moment in a relationship when ‘there is nothing we can say’.7