Ruth France and the male monolith
This thesis explores how a promising writer of the 1950s and 1960s did not fulfill her promise because the literary climate of New Zealand was controlled by male writers who were mostly out of sympathy with women's writing. Literature is examined historically, particularly the period 1900 to 1968. Until men began to reshape literature with their magazine, Phoenix in 1932, multiple voices predominated, among the best of whom were Katherine Mansfield, Eileen Duggan, Jane Mander, Blanche Baughan, and Mary Ursula Bethell. Born in 1913, Ruth France was encouraged to be a writer by the successes of her mother Helena Henderson, typical of a large group of Georgian poets of the school termed Kowhai Gold by the Phoenix men for the outdated and irrelevant subject-matter and tropes in that anthology, yet she failed to become established and did not recognise the extent to which a revolution had excluded the female inheritance of the first period of women's writing. The year 1932 is seen as the high point of the first period of women's writing, culminating in Authors' Week 1936 in which women were involved. The new men, Allen Curnow, A.R.D. Fairburn, Charles Brasch, Denis Glover, and Frank Sargeson, not only wrote in modes they considered more suitable for New Zealand's post-colonial status, but they established the climate to receive the new works by becoming literary historians, essayists, critics, compilers of anthologies, editors, publishers, printers, and performers on radio and public platform. They became guardians of the new canon they forged. The Writers' Conference of 1951 was an all-male affair. Literary criticism is examined closely. It is shown to be pragmatic, often biased and self-serving. There were few professional critics in this period. The literary dispute between Allen Curnow and a newer group of Wellington poets led by Louis Johnson is discussed as in-fighting among males for the high ground of poetry, and as it lasted during the period France tried to publish, the dispute served to distort criticism, to entrench views on what was or was not suitable for the emerging literature, and in particular to ensure that women writers were seen as irrelevant to the main male battles. France was a writer who needed support from her reading and critical public, and without it, her art became very insecure. To evade bias against women writers, France adopted a male pseudonym, a subject given a chapter. In theme France was largely out of step with her contemporaries since her view of the human predicament in a hostile universe was more pessimistic than most would tolerate, even her peers writing novels from an existential point of view. So monolithic had literature become that it was expected writers would conform to a prescribed pattern of laying bare the distorting puritan heart of society, showing how a better accommodation with the land might be achieved, through the method of critical realism. France, and most women writers, were more concerned with an inner reality of the mind, and with using impressionist techniques, as well as realism. France was late to publish, and came at the tail-end of a poetic tradition soon to be injected with new life by 'modernist' poetry from America. Ironically, many of the features of modernist poetry were already present in France's best poetry (and had not been appreciated by editors or critics). In novel-writing too, France came at the end of an era based chiefly on realism and now termed 'Provincial'. Her penchant for streams of consciousness with their non-linear progression might have taken her over into the 'Post-Provincial' era, but she died in 1968, disillusioned with her writing career.
Advisor: Jones, Lawrence
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: English
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis