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No. 12 (September 1955)
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BOOKS

The Expatriate, a study of Frances Hodgkins and New Zealand, by E. H. McCormick. New Zealand University Press. 1954, 30/-.

Frances Hodgkins (1869–1947) a New Zealand painter who gained considerable fame abroad, is probably not a figure familiar to most New Zealanders, but for our art lovers and critics her name has frequently been the centre of much controversy, and in recent years, downright unpleasant squabbling. Mr McCormick examines all this carefully and impartially, but his book is first and foremost an account of Frances Hodgkins' life, and only indirectly an assessment of her art. For a few this will be disappointing, but for the lay reader, possibly more interested in the woman and what she did than the paintings she produced, this should be no drawback. And there is no doubt about it, Frances Hodgkins was a remarkable woman. In the revealing correspondence Mr McCormick quotes so effectively, the strength of her home-ties and the strength of her ambitions as a painter are painfully clear, and between the two she must have suffered agonies, but ambition was always just a little stronger. It triumphed continually over repeated disappointments and failures, poverty, loneliness and frustration. One is almost repelled by the singleness of purpose that developed alongside her work—everything else bounced off like so many ping-pong balls—and the Frances Hodgkins of the latter years was very much a product of her own art.

Mr McCormick describes in a sober but highly readable style, the early years spent in Dunedin with her family whose enthusiastic hobby was painting, her first unsettling trip to Europe in 1901, and the long self-chosen exile that followed, broken by only two brief and uneasy returns to her homeland. Her life being what it was, Mr McCormick's book becomes a study of ‘the expatriate’—a person torn by loyalties for the land of her birth and the land of her adoption and he goes a long way in explaining why Frances Hodgkins, like so many expatriates New Zealand has produced, felt forced to seek her fortune overseas. Our position on the map has less to do with it than our attitudes toward artists and their work. New Zealanders pride themselves on being practical. And art is not practical. As someone once said to me, poetry and painting—they don't pay (as Frances Hodgkins found to her cost). Thus for many New Zealanders, ‘art’, in the form of a National Orchestra, art exhibition, or literary periodical, is merely an expensive ‘extra’ stuck on to the real business of living. As for the ‘artists’ who forsake their families and give up good jobs and choose to live on the smell of an oil-rag or their friends—well, if they end up starving in a garrat (Francis Hodgkins nearly did several times) they deserve all they don't get. Coming from a society that expects everyone to do his bit in contributing to the material prosperity of the country, this view may be reasonable enough (and I suppose a sense of dedication is always difficult to undertaken), but as long as we continue to hold it so we will continue to produce expatriates like Frances Hodgkins, and be obliged to find biographers like Mr McCormick to write their obituaries.

—J. S. Sturm

The Emigrants, by George Lamming. Michael Joseph. 1954. 15/-.

While reading this book, Mr Lamming's second novel, I had to remind myself continually that the author is only twenty-eight, and I could see straight away why the Times Literary Supplement describes him as ‘a major writer in the making.’ Part West Indian part English, Mr Lamming introduces us to a group of West Indians seeking ‘a better break’ in England, for them, the treasure house of opportunity and self-advancement. But the London they become lost in is a jungle of factories and basement-flats and crowded hostels and night clubs and people no happier than they are themselves. It isn't difficult to guess what happens to them generally, but Mr Lamming refuses to spare us any of the details. And some of them are more than surprising. Education, social background, and money are no protections, and good intentions are so much chaff before the wind. One by one they are bewildered and defeated by circumstances beyond their control or understanding, and when they try to help each other it's like the blind leading the blind. Vague hopes and modest ambitions, even self-confidence and personal integrity go down before repeated attacks of loneliness and disappointment. Mr Lamming is speaking on behalf of his countrymen, but not apologetically or with appeals to our sentimentality. He simply rubs our noses in the mess and leaves us to think it over. The inkling that he sees not only a small group of West Indians in this plight, but also the whole of post-war society, is no comfort either. A tough modern novel, tougher because of its vivid hard-hitting prose. And frankly, not everyone's cup of tea.

—J. S. Sturm

Cheri & The Last of Cheri. Colette. Penguin Books. 1954, 2/6.

Madame Colette, a famous French novelist who died last year, is not very well-known to English readers. “Cheri,” written as far back at 1920, was first translated in 1930 and again in 1949, and was first published by Penguin Books in 1954. To say I enjoyed the book would be an understatement. The country, the way of life, and the people, will probably be as unfamiliar to most New Zealand readers as they are to me.

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But this is quite unimportant. M. Colette's superb language as transparent and smoothly flowing as a clear stream of water, is a delight to read (the translator must be given credit) and a relief from the heavy pedestrian seriousness which weighs down much modern writing. Her images are always original but never forced; her humour is pointed but not unkind; her rich detailed descriptions of sensuous experiences are those of a connoisseur of food, people, clothes, and love. The story is set in the period just before and after the first world war, but the war is hardly mentioned. We follow the gay, wilful, and finally tragic career of a young man who lives for six years with a woman much older than himself before he casually marries a pretty young thing his own age. The marriage is doomed from the beginning, and the man, no lighthearted boy any longer, attempts to return to the warmth and comfort of his idyllic youth. This theme could well be sickly, sordid, or salacious, but M. Colette makes it none of these. She does not condemn or condone, but simply writes of what she knows, and the reader cannot help but see things through her eyes. It was only after I had finished the book, and began stripping away its exotic trimmings, that I realised what a masterpiece of compassionate insight into the problems of love and youth and age M. Colette has given us.

—J. S. Sturm

Parihaka Story, by Dick Scott, Auckland, 1955 14/6 (cloth), 9/6 (card cover).

This work gives a lively account of a painful and regrettable episode of New Zealand history. In the main it is based on existing accounts of the Parihaka incidents published in the works of S. Percy Smith and others.

Maori and Pakeha will be equally pained when looking back on these incidents and few will deny that Parihaka is a black page in New Zealand history. They will equally admire Te Whiti's wisdom and moral courage.

Many, however, will regret the book's style of writing calculated to whip up emotion at any price. The Government has acknowledged, by accepting the findings of a Royal Commission, that injustice was done to Parihaka.

Regrettable, too, is the violent and quite unwarranted attack on the Minister of Maori Affairs, the Hon. E. B. Corbett, evidently prompted by nothing but the fact that he bears the same name as a Captain Corbett at Parihaka. As it happens, Mr Corbett is not related to the Captain. There is a big difference between history and political pamphleteering and it is to be hoped that a scientific and unbiased historical treatment of the Te Whiti movement may still be written before the essentials become quite impossible to ascertain.

INIA TE WIATA IN SAMOA TO MAKE FILM

The famous Maori singer Inia te Wiata is in Western Samoa at present acting the leading part in a British cinemascope colour film. Entitled ‘A Pattern of the Islands’, the film describes the adventures of a young government officer in the Gilbert Islands. The film is being made by an independent British company, Lawrie Productions.

A large number of Samoan parts will be filmed, giving the local population another opportunity to win screen roles. An American company made the technicolour film ‘Return to Paradise’ in 1952 and a small Walt Disney unit is filming another picture about Samoa at the present time.—

Wanganui Herald.