Kōrero: Frame, Janet Paterson

Whārangi 2: Hospitalisation and publication

Frame, Janet Paterson


Schoolteacher, writer

I tuhia tēnei haurongo e Patrick Evans, ā, i tāngia tuatahitia ki Ngā Tāngata Taumata Rau i te 2010.

In October 1945, John Money facilitated Frame’s committal to the psychiatric ward at Dunedin Public Hospital. She was then committed to Seacliff Mental Hospital, north of Dunedin, in November 1945, diagnosed with incipient schizophrenia. Six weeks later she was released to the care of her parents in Ōamaru, but returned to Dunedin to work as a boarding-house maid and to write. During this period, she published her first adult work, a short story called ‘University Entrance’, in the New Zealand Listener. She was also told of her diagnosis as schizophrenic.

Personal crises

Money’s impending departure to the United States devastated Frame. Then her younger sister Isabel drowned in Picton harbour on 17 February 1947 in a sad reprise of the circumstances that caused Myrtle’s death. The two situations produced a crisis for Frame, and she received her first electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatment at Christchurch’s Sunnyside Mental Hospital in 1948. The ECT worsened her symptoms and fears, and led to her recommittal to Seacliff, by her mother, in October of that year.

Frame spent much of the next eight years in Seacliff and in Auckland’s Avondale Hospital, sometimes as a voluntary and sometimes a commited patient. Treatment consisted of numerous bouts of ECT and insulin, and confinement alternated with probationary periods in the care of her parents. Contact with her parents, and with her brother, who had an ongoing rivalry with her father, have been seen as causes of the symptoms that led to her initial hospitalisation. Frame continued to write, and sporadically publish, short fiction and poetry during her time with her parents.

The lagoon

In Avondale Mental Hospital Frame received copies of her first published book, The lagoon: stories (1951), which Money had put together for her from her early writing. In her autobiography, she claimed that winning the Hubert Church Memorial Award for The lagoon in December 1952 persuaded Seacliff’s superintendent to forbid a pre-frontal lobotomy, for which her mother had signed permission. A further period at Seacliff, from December 1954 to March 1955, was her last stay in hospital in New Zealand, after which she returned to Auckland to live with her sister June Gordon and her family.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Patrick Evans. 'Frame, Janet Paterson - Hospitalisation and publication', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2010. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/mi/biographies/6f1/frame-janet-paterson/page-2 (accessed 25 September 2020)