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New Zealand as dominion and Commonwealth: Mansfield, Sargeson and the short story

By Janet M Wilson


New Zealand became a dominion in 1907 and joined the Commonwealth in 1931. These markers of independence from colonialism may not have directly affected the work of its writers during these decades, but they were nevertheless imagining the nation through the modes and images of connection and disconnection from the imperial centre that these developments put into place. This paper examines the divergent sites, problematics and tensions from which New Zealand’s early nationalism developed with reference to the impact of the short story genre. It examines the contrasting attitudes to New Zealand of two of its most iconic writers: the European-based modernist, Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923), and the nationalist realist Frank Sargeson (1903-82). It asks what kind of national imaginary emerges from their very different world views, dispositions and locations, and their shared literary aesthetic of fragmented, discontinuous forms. Recent counter-discursive responses to their work -- e.g. Sue Orr’s continuation of Sargeson’s story, “An Affair of the Heart” (2006), Bill Manhire’s The Brain of Katherine Mansfield (1988), Witi Ihimaera’s Dear Miss Mansfield (1989)-- which reposition and reinscribe Sargeson and Mansfield into contemporary culture by parody, mockery and ‘writing back’ will also be examined for the extent to which they rearticulate and contest early twentieth century notions of New Zealand as a commonwealth nation as represented by these foundational writer

Topics: PR9639.3
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