The 'new men' of New Zealand literature who began publishing in the early and mid-1930s in Phoenix and other University college publications, in Tomorrow, the radical Christchurch weekly edited by Kennaway Henderson, and in Denis Glover's Caxton Press publications, like most literary revolutionaries were better at defining themselves against current movements than they were at defining their positive goals. Although there were some primarily positive literary manifestos — such as James Bertram's editorials in Phoenix in 1932, A. R. D. Fairburn's 'Some aspects of N.Z. art and letters' in Art in New Zealand in 1934, and Allen Curnow's Poetry and language in 1935 — the 'new men' most insistently defined themselves by opposition, whether to an idea or literary movement such as 'Georgianism' or to the journalistic-literary establishment and the individuals representing it: the triumvirate 'Mulgan, Marris, Schroder'. The young rebel writers of the 1930s and some of their elders from the 1920s had a natural generational resentment of the older men who seemed to them to form what literary establishment that there was. The Auckland poet R. A. K. Mason in an unpublished essay from about 1930, 'Why we can't write for nuts', bemoaned the lack of a strong New Zealand literature ('our present stagnation is spiritual death') and blamed that state on 'the gentlemen whose sacred mission it is to direct literary standards in N.Z.'. These men — whom he refrains from naming 'for reasons connected with the law of libel' — were 'for the most part old men page 144 (or youths prematurely old) who have never even studied literature deeply' and who cannot themselves write, but they imposed on New Zealand writing a worship of the safely dead past and a fear of anything modern. They, Mason thought, were the primary reason why New Zealand writers were 'conquered and soul-sick' and failed to develop but rather continued 'to swell that almost unmitigated mass of sickliness which we so loftily dub "New Zealand literature'".1 It was the younger Christchurch poet-printer Glover who named this enemy. His 1935 pamphlet, Short reflection on the present state of literature in this country , in four brief stanzas set up the triumvirate as the men 'who hold within their hand / the Literary of the Land / and lead this little pilgrim Band', the men who kept New Zealand literature 'solemn, solemn, solemn'.2 A few years later, in a letter to Frank Sargeson, he confirmed that his Caxton Press was a weapon in a generational war against those represented by his named triumvirate: 'I am right out to break this Mulgan, Marris, Schroder, Johannes C. Andersen ring of old men & let some of the younger writers have their say.'3 (Andersen, of the same generation as the others but more ethnologist and historian than literary person, may seem an odd addition to the triumvirate, but Glover probably had in mind his influence as Librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library and perhaps his poetry, which exemplified much of the genteel literary tradition which Glover so disliked.)
Glover's anger against the 'old men' probably went back at least to 1933, when Charles Marris refused his 'Nuit d'amour' for his annual anthology Best poems, explaining that it was 'narrowly excluded ... at the last moment' because 'competition was unusually keen'. On the back of the envelope Glover wrote 'Charlie bloody Marris!'4 In 1934 Marris included a Glover sonnet, Glover reviewed the anthology critically in Canta and Marris, as Glover later recounted, 'crushingly retorted, "New Zealand poets have a right to be judged by their peers'". Angered by this man who was 'leading New Zealand's poetry along the daisied path of pallid good taste', printing 'leisurely-whimsy, feminine-mimsy stuff and being 'presumptuous enough to proclaim [it] "Best Poems'", Glover carried out the campaign to oppose him and to 'impart new vitality to New Zealand verse' in the pages of Tomorrow as well as in Caxton publications.5 In his 'Pointers to Parnassus' article in 1935 he pointed out that New Zealand literature was to a great extent 'under the patronage of our daily press', and went page 145 on to call journalism 'that literary mincing machine'.6 In the following year he called for poets who wished to escape the confines of the 'poetic' and make genuine social comment to rebel 'against the older men who wheel our poetry in a pram, and wet-nurse our sucking young poets foolish enough to be flattered by their endearing noises'.7
Glover's major blow in his unilaterally declared war was 'The arraignment of Paris' in 1937, the period's liveliest literary satire. The narrative line, insofar as there is one, is of Paris (Marris) leading a group of his women poets on a literary picnic in the countryside, 'a sort of Scout and Girl Guide rally'. They are looking for an idealised Georgian pastoral countryside but find a world of mortgages, noisy tractors, dung, and the castration necessary 'to turn our little piggies into bacon'. Such things upset Paris, who sees them as 'lacking in poetic charm', although, as the narrator points out, castration should not bother him, for 'It's what he's done to literature for years'. At that point, Glover gives up the pretence of narrative, points out that there are 'poets in the land / whom Paris doesn't know or understand', who 'can leap a five-barred gate of rhyme / and still can keep on whistling all the time' (perhaps a tribute to Fairburn especially), and closes with an attack on Marris and the other journalist-critics as 'a kind of currant bun of journalese and poetry in one' and with an invitation to Marris to answer back in kind.8
Marris's answer seems to have been not a counter-satire but the threat of legal action. Sargeson, who by then was establishing himself as a short-story writer in Tomorrow — with which Glover was associated as a committee-member — had read the satire in manuscript and wrote to Glover from Takapuna, urging him to print it, saying 'Marris' job is simply to hit back harder & better which of course he can't do'.9 Late in December he wrote again to Glover, offering to testify for him if Marris sued, and saying that 'Marris reveals himself as the swine that he is'.10 Fairburn similarly wrote to Glover from Auckland after he had seen manuscript and galley versions and praised the satire as the 'best thing done in N.Z. so far, by a long way', and then later commiserated with him about a possible suit, criticising Marris for not being 'gentleman' enough to reply in kind as he should.11 Fairburn himself had the year before written to Allen Curnow rather more strongly about the bad effect of newpaper editors on 'the state of N.Z. letters', saying that it is one thing to have to get your boots page 146 muddy (as Curnow was doing in writing his 'Whim Wham' satirical poems for the Christchurch Press), but it was something else to 'actually eat mud — and like it':
I know an editor or demi-editor in Auckland who has tired of the flavour of mud and is content nowadays with nothing less than catshit. He keeps a regiment of tabbies in the Ladies Editorial Dept. and they produce a barrowload for him weekly. He dines on it every Thursday night and then vomits it all over the Saturday Supplement.12
However, his advice to Glover now was that, the libel laws being what they were, he might have to make a public apology to Marris.
In the event, Robin Hyde, then a freelance writer in Auckland, seems to have dissuaded Marris from legal action, or so Sargeson thought, for he wrote to Glover in February 1938 saying that he was 'glad she called Marris off in a way . . . She has a lot of influence with him'.'13 Hyde had been involved with both Marris and Glover. She had known Marris since 1927, he had helped her to get her second book of poems The conquerors published in 1935, and she had dedicated the book to him. She had reviewed his anthology, New Zealand best poems 1936 , very favourably with much praise for him. Her contact with Glover had been of a decidedly more mixed nature. She had met him in Christchurch in 1936, and later that year had reviewed his pamphlet of poems, Six easy ways of dodging debt collectors , and had praised the 'quick likeable humour' and the 'good music', although she did not like the mannerisms and the gloomy tone relating some of the poems to 'strictly modern verse of the Spender-Auden-Lewis school'.14 In April 1937 she had slipped a brief barb against his prose satires published in Tomorrow under the initials 'P.K.', calling them 'little anti-feminist excerpts' in a Tomorrow article devoted primarily to praise of the periodical Woman today. 15 In July 1937 she had favourably viewed some of Glover's work in reviewing A Caxton miscellany , but a month later in reviewing the second of the Verse alive anthologies (selected from Tomorrow by Glover and H. Winston Rhodes) she had made fun of his sentimentalisation of the proletariat in the ending of 'All of these' — an ending he cut from the versions printed after 1940. She had also mocked one of his satirical quatrains from 'Rotary' as worthy of Manuka blossoms , a truly dreadful vanity anthology of 1936. Glover seems to have been upset by the page 147 criticism: in a letter in August Sargeson had consoled him by calling it an unfair charge and had agreed that Hyde herself 'deserves to be placed' in Manuka blossoms (which Sargeson in the letter called 'Kowhai Blossoms', perhaps confusing it with Kowhai gold). Sargeson had even written a letter to the New Zealand observer the next week protesting against such a critical review being printed anonymously when the critic might have 'some pretension towards verse-making himself (or herself)' and should be identified.16 Hyde in turn had been upset with a charge in Tomorrow in August 1937 that she had ghost-written a biography of Sir Francis Bell by Downie Stewart (there was an editorial apology in the issue for 1 September 1937) and then with Glover's treatment of her in 'The arraignment of Paris' as 'one who's fairly good, / a desolated star, a Robin Hood'.17 (Her first volume of poems in 1929 had been entitled The desolate star and other poems.) A sharp exchange of letters had been the result. Writing to him in August 1937 in angry answer to his advance 'warning' about the poem (he seems to have sent her a draft of at least what he had written about her), she had said she would not read or review any more of his work and informed him that 'Robin Hyde is not a pen name, but rather intimately associated with my private affairs' and that she thus would prefer that he not 'divert [him]self with the name in itself'. She ended by asking him to 'keep your self-advertisements off my grass — I do like my grass'. On the back of the envelope she had written a quotation from Jacob Wasserman concerning envy, and Glover at some time wrote in pencil beneath it 'Our lady writers — A bunch of bores / in stuffy drawers'.18
Now in January 1938 she wrote a long letter in response to the printed version of 'The arraignment of Paris' after Glover had sent autographed copies to her and to Gloria Rawlinson, saying that she found the satire 'fun in spots, a bit feeble in others', and too vague about its target: 'Was it at Marris, at Marris because he prints the poems of women as well as those of men (including one of yours, if I remember) or just at women?' She included a long narrative about standing up to the male bullies in her childhood, the point being that Glover and the Caxton poets were similar male bullies looking for scapegoats on whom to vent their frustrations, and she again would stand up to them. She then went on to comment on his verse — she had liked a brief poem about China, disliked both his more ideological poetry and his light verse — cheekily offering to take some of his poetry to England page 148 to seek publication, saying she could put it 'between a little of Eileen [Duggan] and a whiff of Eve [Langley]', two of his explicit targets in his attack on the literary 'atmosphere of petticoats and frills' in 'The arraignment of Paris'. After a brief reference to the humour of Sargeson's parody of Passport to hell (which he seems to have shown to her before its publication in Tomorrow), she indicated that Glover, Sargeson, and Fairburn had quite misunderstood Marris's supposed threat to sue: 'And Mr Marris, of course you will have been informed by now, was pulling your leg — he was delighted when I told him how excited Sarge and Fairburn were'.19 The next month she referred publicly to the satire in an article on 'New Zealand authoresses' in the Mirror, criticising its prejudice against women as 'regressive' and implying that literary envy was behind Glover's attack: ' . . . the most admired satires were usually those written by well-proved writers, who attacked social evils, not publishers who refused their verses, and fellow-writers a little more successful'.20
As with the attacks on the Georgians by Curnow and Glover, Glover, Fairburn and Sargeson had good reason to set up Marris as a literary enemy, but, as with the Georgians, the matter is more complex than their rhetoric allows for. Marris was certainly a figure aligned with traditions that the Phoenix and Caxton poets were repudiating, but he was scarcely a benighted and tyrannical representative of them and he was a man thoroughly committed to literature and to the development of younger writers. Born in 1875, Marris was late Victorian in his tastes. He had published much verse when he was younger, placing 25 poems in the Bulletin between 1907 and 1911: graceful, traditional exercises with fin de Siècle titles like 'Ballade of farewell'. He had moved up the journalistic ladder from staffer for the Wellington Evening Post to literary editor for the Christchurch Sun and then editor for the New Zealand Times until its demise. After that he edited a sporting paper, The referee , then returned to the Post. In the meantime, in 1928 he joined with Harry Tombs as founding editor of Art in New Zealand and in 1932 established the annual anthology New Zealand best poems. In his roles as anthologist and literary editor he saw himself as one helping the development of younger writers. In an article written for Authors' Week in 1936, he dated the appearance of a 'younger generation' of New Zealand writers to the time in 1919 when the Christchurch Sun (under his literary editorship) 'decided to throw open its column [sic] to this country's literary page 149 talents'. His 'younger generation' as he listed them included, among others, in its first wave Eileen Duggan and J. H. E. Schroder, in its second Robin Hyde, Fairburn, and C. R. Allen, and in its third Eve Langley, J. C. Beaglehole, Gloria Rawlinson, Douglas Stewart (later to achieve fame in Australia), John Mulgan, D'Arcy Cresswell, and Geoffrey de Montalk. Certainly it did not include Glover or Mason or Allen Curnow, and Marris went on to insist that the real literary life was that associated with the newspapers not with the universities, which tended to nurture 'assertive young men, dark-minded in the earlier T S. Eliot manner', who 'get hopelessly lost when set out on the trail of their leader'.21 Marris, then, saw himself as a developer and encourager of younger writers, but as one leading them along properly non-modernist lines in the appropriate institutional framework — and thus he could avoid any mention of the university-tainted Phoenix and Caxton Press, and even the not properly journalistic Tomorrow. His self-image was supported by such contemporaries as the literary journalist, editor, and book-collector Pat Lawlor, who in 1935 described him as 'a man of brilliant literary attainments and a true friend of all writers', one who 'because his critical faculties have so often been tempered to meet the strivings of the younger writers ... has done much to help the development of talent in this country'.22
The direction in which he wished to lead young writers is evident in the reviews that he printed and possibly sometimes wrote in Art in New Zealand (usually signed 'Prester John'; 'John Dene' was one of the pseudonyms he used for his later poetry). In June 1933 'Prester John' found the Dunedin traditionalist Allen to be 'one of our most consistently thoughtful poets', while he found the 'politico-cum-social articles' in Phoenix to be 'mostly too pontifically rhetorical, intense and unsatisfying'. He also disliked the poetry, finding it lacked discipline and used 'indelicate epithets', apart from that of Fairburn and Charles Brasch.23 In the same issue Marris published an essay by J. Malton Murray, 'Plain man and poet', which attacked Harold Monro's anthology Twentieth century poetry (1929) as one in which 'the modern poet celebrates his escape from metrical requirements by ignoring the elementary demands of grammatical construction and insults our intelligence by verses lacking in common sense'. Eliot especially was the target of Murray's criticism because his poetry does not lift the reader 'out of the mundane into the dramatic or ideal'.24page 150
'Prester John' viewed the Caxton publications similarly. New poems (1934) he found was for rebels, and rebels only' (again he excepted Fairburn), while Another Argo (1935) really had Eliot as its Jason, and contained poetry of 'frustration and utter hopelessness'.25 Curnow he reviewed as a poet who let modernism and social radicalism block off his poetic potential, attacking Valley of decision (1933) for the way in which the Anglo-Saxon rhythms and the concision choked off lyrical qualities, and commenting of Three poems (1935) that it was lower in temperature and thus better than the earlier work where the poet 'consorted with a school whose muse was a harridan with a smoky torch in her hand and bitter words in her mouth'.26
Marris's sense of the proper direction for poetry is of course most evident in his selections for the various works he edited. An in New Zealand is generally conservative and Georgian sentimental in its orientation. The best of the recurring poets are Hyde and Duggan. The annual poetry prize was usually won by Helen Brookfield, Langley, Elsa Mary Bosworth, Paula Hanger, or F. Alexa Stevens. Other frequent women contributors included Dora Hagemeyer, the model for Maurice Gee's Ella Satterthwaite in Plumb (the poet with the gauzy pre-Raphaelite clothing, the ethereal manner, and the very earthly taste for scones), and Helena Henderson. There were fewer male poets, including Marris and 'John Dene', with Allen and the almost equally traditional Arnold Cork among the most featured. A few of the poets were ones who would be chosen later by Curnow for his Caxton anthology of 1945: Curnow himself (once only), Glover (once only, 'commended' in the award competition), Brasch, and more frequently, Beaglehole and J. R. Hervey. One poet printed by Marris but not by Curnow was John Mulgan. The fiction was thinner, mostly by women: Hyde, Langley, Mona Tracy, E. Mary Gurney, Joyce West, Helena Henderson, E. P. Dawson, Isobel Andrews, among others. The male writers include Marris, Alan Mulgan and Donald Cowie. The stories were mostly conventional and sentimental, although, surprisingly, Marris wrote in his comments on the 1933-4 competition that he would have liked more stories like those of Coppard, Hemingway, Anderson, Bates, or Mansfield, 'drawing their inspiration from life itself, stories which 'are less concerned with what happens than why it happens', stories that 'prefer to show us human impulses and appetites at work, human emotions under stress'.27 The one-act drama page 151 was even thinner, more gimmicky and less realistic and only the winning entry was printed each year. Writers who competed included Alan Mulgan, Stewart, Hyde, and Mary Scott. Rata, Marris's short-lived gift annual, included a selection from the same poetry and fiction, but excluded drama and added rather touristy illustrated essays about New Zealand by writers as good as Dora Wilcox, Hyde, Duggan and Beaglehole.
Best poems, Glover's main target, drew mostly from the same stable, with many poems reprinted from Art in New Zealand, supplemented by poems from the Bulletin and the New Zealand mercury. The first year Marris reprinted work from the university magazines, with Ian Milner from the Canterbury review and John Mulgan from Kiwi. There was never anything from Phoenix or Tomorrow, but there was a bit of Fairburn and Cresswell and in 1934, a sonnet by Glover. A. D. Wylie in the Bulletin echoed his earlier attack on Kowhai gold in reviewing the 1937 volume, complaining that 'apart from Cork and Robin Hyde, the poets in this book hardly seem to live in M.L. [Bulletinese for 'Maoriland']',28 and Marris himself in the foreword in 1933 commented that too many of the poems which he received and turned down had 'too little of the substance of life as we know it'.29 If 'life as we know it' included social and political concerns, these were missing right through the 1930s (in sharp contrast to the poems appearing in Tomorrow at the same time), with the exception of a few poems such as John Mulgan's 'Old wars' and Beaglehole's 'Newspaper reader 1934' in 1935. At last in 1939 and 1940, with posthumous poems from China by Hyde, the social crisis became visible. In the 1940 collection an awareness of the war seeped in around the edges. In Enid B. V. Saunders's 'Peace', the peaceful scene was juxtaposed to a final awareness that 'Across the world men haste to war — and death', and in F. Alexa Stevens's 'For all the past' there was an awareness that now 'Cloven-hoofed danger looms'.30 Finally, in 1941, not only Anton Vogt but also some of the women poets wrote poems about the war, and even Hagemeyer seemed to at least point towards Winston Churchill, while in 1942 the Jessie Mackay Memorial Prize was awarded to Hanger's 'Three fronts of war'.
Perhaps the most significant gauge of Marris's taste and his concept of poetry was his anthology, Lyric poems 1928-1942, drawing on fifteen years of editing. There was some quality to the volume; it was certainly no Stuffed owl. There were two fine poems page 152 by Brasch from 1939, eight poems by Hyde (but not any of the China ones), two excellent poems by Stewart from the Bulletin which Curnow selected also for his 1945 Caxton anthology (while criticising them in his introduction for their adjectival over-insistence), Langley's best poem, 'Native born', and a surprisingly effective dramatic poem by Barbara Dent, 'Eve to Adam'. But the majority of the poems ranged from mediocre to downright bad. There were a variety of undistinguished poems of stock types. There was the decorative sentimental Georgianism of Brookfield, a poet singled out in the introduction as one who had 'a true poetic life before her' but died tragically young. There was the generalised religiosity of Hagemeyer finding 'a universe has opened in my soul!'.31 There was the high moral abstraction of Henderson striving for 'clear pinnacles of truth and righteousness'.32 There were any number of conventional moralised nature lyrics such as Francis H. Harris's 'Courage from sparrows', where the speaker finds that the 'ecstasy' of the sparrows 'Builds [him] up a valiant mind, / To guard [his] peace of soul to-day', or Marris's own 'Grass trees' (by 'John Dene'), where if Christ should walk 'down the coverts dim . . . between the birches slim', the grass trees would become 'candles ... lit for Him'.33 There was the embarrassingly amateurish didacticism of Dane Olberg in 'World-savers', where a hypothetical modernist or realist poet was presented with heavy structural irony as citing Joyce, Lawrence, Eliot, and 'Auden, Spender and the like' as the models for his boasted 'lavatory vernacular' and his attacks on God, King, and country.34 Poetry such as this, ostensibly among the best from fifteen years of selections, is so bad that it parodies itself.
Marris seemed to see his anthology as a rival to Curnow's, that was being compiled at the same time. He refused Curnow permission to use poems from the New Zealand best poems volumes because he wanted them to be represented exclusively in his anthology, although in practice Curnow did use some of the same poems, but ones which had been printed elsewhere first. When Curnow's finally appeared in 1945, Fairburn wrote to him in triumph: 'Mother Marris's collection looks pretty pathetic now. His routed rabble will be streaming over the countryside like ants fleeing from boiling water.'35 By the time of his death in 1947, Marris was definitely yesterday's man, with no standing in the literary community that Glover and Curnow and Sargeson were coming to dominate, but in the 1930s he was significant enough page 153 to be worth Glover's attack. His taste and his editorial role made him eligible to serve as a representative literary enemy. However, the attack, politically useful as it may have been, did not do justice to a man very committed to New Zealand writing and genuinely desirous to encourage young writers. Curnow's remark on him many years later in his introduction to The Penguin book of New Zealand verse makes the important critical point more justly: 'Bad editing (however devoted) could only corrupt the better, as it encouraged the worse'.36 However, such balance could scarcely be expected in the heat of literary battle. Glover's 'Marris' is as much a politico-literary construct as Curnow's 'Georgianism' and, like it, a move in a literary struggle.
Glover's 'Schroder' is a less important literary construct, there in Short reflection perhaps as much for the metre as for his representative function — 'Andersen' would not have served as well metrically, although 'Lawlor' would have. The man Schroder stood behind nothing as important and vulnerable as New Zealand best poems , but in the long run he probably had more power than Marris. Ten years younger, he worked under Marris for the Christchurch Sun and followed him as literary editor, and then moved over as literary editor of the Press from 1929 to 1949. He then became assistant director (and later director) of broadcasting and also served on the Literary Fund Advisory Committee, but this was all many years after the Short reflection. He would have been known to Glover as the literary editor during his short and unhappily terminated stay with the Press, and probably as another mentor to Hyde and women poets (he had overseen the publication of The desolate star, her first collection, in 1929). His own poetry was probably less well known than Marris's, being primarily light topical verse. However, like Marris he was represented by one poem in Kowhai gold , a lyric, 'The street', which begins with relatively realistic images of 'the humbled ugliness' of the city street but which ends with a predictable transfiguration by the dusk, the 'kindly shadows' and the cool air, which 'Enfolds the throbbing hours in a soft / Forgetfulness'.37 Although that poem was his best known and provided the title for his one volume of verse in 1962, he was a better poet than it would lead one to think. His light verse has a command of metre and a deft touch not unlike Glover's own or Curnow's in his 'Whim Wham' poems, and there are a few good serious poems also, the best being 'Timor mortis', a sonnet on the fear of dying in which page 154 Death's face is imagined as 'Split in a grin, while I stretch out my hand / In agony for God's, stretching in vain'.38 However, his real literary accomplishment was in his familiar essays, very accomplished pieces in the Charles Lamb tradition. In them he very successfully built the persona of an old-fashioned, opinionated, nostalgic, gently ironic, whimsical Anglophile bookman with a quiet, controlled, bookish style. Very few of his essays touched on New Zealand (there were a couple of nostalgic pieces on the pre-Otira Tunnel West Coast in which he grew up), and most were on such trivia as 'On the decline and fall of the straw hat' or on literary curiosities, such as the extremely funny piece on an Anglo-Indian commentary on The rape of the lock. The very persona of the essays, of course, would point towards the genteel English tradition that the Phoenix and Caxton writers were most anxious to leave behind them, and further evidence of Schroder's literary loyalties might be found in his essay on 'The names of poets', where the names he cited included de la Mare, Masefield, Meynell, Patmore, Flecker, Blunden, Sassoon, Drinkwater, Brooke, and Kipling, scarcely a catalogue of the preferred poets of the younger writers.39 Thus, while he was not so obvious a target as Marris, he was still a useful cultural symbol.
The third of Glover's triumvirate, 'Mulgan', was likewise of only secondary importance as a literary construct (and again metrically useful in the poem), but the man Alan Mulgan was, from a literary standpoint, quite important, one of the key figures of his generation. Like Marris and Schroder he was a significant literary editor, serving in that function (as well as others) for the Auckland Star from 1915 to 1935 such he was perceived as a conservative influence. Fairburn sometimes referred to him as a representative establishment figure, as when he wrote to Mason in 1931 that 'people like Mulgan' accuse D. H. Lawrence of 'being obsessed with sex' or when he quoted a satirical squib to Mason and said 'I suppose Mulgan will think that very naughty of me'.40 At the same time Fairburn was quite dependent on Mulgan, who accepted for the Star his first published poem in 1926 and continued to publish some of his poetry and prose through 1933. In 1927 Fairburn wrote to de Montalk that, while Mulgan 'is a small town man in some ways', he is a 'gentleman ... A good sort, and straight about it, and rather tolerant about things in gen-eral'.41 A 1932 letter to Mason made clear his resentment of the 'very comfortable and complacent' man who suggested when he page 155 approached him for a job that Fairburn look to relief work, but there was the appreciation for a positive review of He shall not rise (even if 'patronage did creep in'), the recognition of being 'under an obligation to him', and the admission of the corrupting power of bourgeois life which could touch him too: 'I don't dislike him: regret him, perhaps: and pity him — pity my future self mirrored in him'.42 Nonetheless he was to Fairburn a representative of the outmoded past. In 1934 Fairburn praised Mulgan's Home: A New Zealander's adventure (1927) as 'the one simple and true statement of the genuine emotion' of a love for England but went on to say that 'It is also a full-stop . . . the end of an era in New Zealand'.43 As a writer Mulgan was much more significant than Marris and Schroder. Over a long career he produced more than 20 books in a variety of genres. None were terribly good, but he had his moments as poet, dramatist, novelist, autobiographer, and critic. To the Phoenix generation it was probably his weaknesses as a writer that were most manifest. Fairburn was sharp about his criticism, commenting to Glover on his review of New poems that it showed an unawareness of there being an 'English tradition of poetry' outside of Tennyson, evidence of a lingering of 'the Georgian week-end notion of poetry'.44 A few years later Sargeson happily wrote an 'unspeakably vicious' parody of Mulgan's Spur of morning for Tomorrow, making fun especially of Mulgan's idealisation of clean-limbed, high-minded public schoolboys, his Anglophilia, his stylistic pretentiousness, and his sentimental treatment of New Zealand nature — 'the cathedral-like bush, the great top of forest giants wearing their chaplets of clematis'.45 Even John Mulgan, although he admired his father, seemed to have received a 'negative stimulus' from seeing through the press in England Spur of morning , so that Man alone was in some ways a reaction against that novel and its 'static complacency', as Paul Day has shown.46 C. K. Stead has similarly shown that the descriptions of Auckland in Man alone can be seen as correctives to those in Alan Mulgan's A pilgrim's way in New Zealand (which John had also seen through the press in England), 'sober truth' against 'Georgian romance' and 'the false way of seeing the world which the sentimental Georgian cosiness encouraged'.47 Certainly John Mulgan can be seen as reacting against the myths of his father's generation in Man alone: the myth of the welcoming landscape; the myths of the Pastoral Paradise and the Just City; the myth of England as Home. Beneath this repudiation of myths was a different attitude concerning the page 156 writer's relation to New Zealand society. If Alan Mulgan could say as late as 1953 that the function of the novelist is to celebrate 'what is right with society' rather than to 'dissect' what is wrong, John Mulgan was clear that such a dissection was part of his task. Thus, after making some unauthorised revisions to his father's novel while seeing it through the press in 1934, John Mulgan could write to his father that he was 'struck by the difference of our points of view', and he contrasted his 'modern' sceptical perspective to his father's 'serenity' and certainty in his moral values:
I think that if you have believed in those things they have been true for you, but my generation can't accept them any longer. I think we are without standards . . . But the answer I think is to be sincere in one's reactions and emotions just as living and see what happens.48
The echoes of Hemingway's experience-centred morality are obvious. John Mulgan clearly saw his father as a sincere representative of myths and values that he was to debunk by truth-telling, although he was relatively restrained in saying this to him. Thus, even to his son, Mulgan became something of a representative figure against which to define himself. And Alan Mulgan was very much a man of his time who accepted his society's myths and values and therefore could serve as a representative of them. His basically unquestioning acceptance of liberal bourgeois values is everywhere in Spur of morning and other writings. His acceptance of the pioneer myth and the concept of progress is there in his long poem, Golden wedding (1932). Home, his most popular book, is the archetypal statement of the Anglophilia of his generation, epitomised in his triumphant reversal of Macaulay's prophecy: ' . . . here was a New Zealander standing not on London Bridge and surveying the ruins of St. Paul's, but by Macaulay's own grave, in the London he loved, a London far greater than in his day, and far mightier than he would have believed possible'.49 As he put it in the poem 'England', he was truly 'England's lover worshipping afar'.50 The Georgian literary loyalties that went with such an attitude were evident in the fact that the book was introduced by J. C. Squire — while Mulgan himself was later to write the introduction to a New Zealand reprint of Rupert Brooke's 'Grantchester' and 'The great lover'. His own poetry clearly reflected those loyalties. It was permeated with Kowhai gold Georgianism. He even wrote some standard page 157 kowhai poems ('Kowhai at home' and 'Kowhai tree'), and in his short story, 'Blame Keats', his chief character, a frustrated amateur poet, looks at the 'lovely pool' made around his kowhai tree by the falling blossoms, and wonders 'Dash it, why couldn't he get this into his verse? He'd tried and tried', but always he found that he could not translate what he saw and felt 'into another medium'.51 The character is meant to be taken with some humour, but there is no indication that this poetic ambition is not a worthy one. Like Duggan, Mulgan also wrote poems about native birds such as the bellbird and the riroriro, and one about pohutukawas which contrasts strongly with Curnow's 'Spectacular blossom':
Some of us love her best of all for the sea that whispers low,
To the shining sands of the slumbering bays where the Christmas blossoms blow,
Where you pluck the season's greetings between the deep and the sky,
And the sea-foam kisses the crimson lips as the little waves go by.52
Appropriately, Duggan wrote the introduction to his posthumously published selected poems and praised especially Golden wedding because it 'glorifies the gnarled and homely virtues of the land'.53
Mulgan, then, could easily be seen as simply a representative of the Georgian literary and social values of his generation, but of course he was more than that. John Mulgan wrote to him in 1935 saying that he could imagine him writing 'a more personal book', one that set out his 'good liberal principles' and told the story of how much of those principles survived in 30 years of adult life in New Zealand, one that included as a background 'all the stories you have heard and the people you have met', the things that he knew from experience — a 'report on experience' such as John himself was to write ten years later.54 The making of a New Zealander , Alan Mulgan's autobiography, written 20 years later, is not quite that book, but it and other writings over the years contain many of the things that Mulgan knew which went beyond accepted social myths and values. His best poems present not entirely predictable insights and transcend Georgian conventions in their presentation. 'Success', for example, has the obligatory kowhai, 'royal but lonely, dropping its gold on the grass', but has also a realistic townscape with 'clusters of dusty shops, broken page 158 fences, a fester of petrol pumps', a backdrop to the funeral of 'the old money-breeder' who ruled his family in his lifetime and will continue to rule them through his influence after his death, his only contribution to life being the 'calcium, iron, phosphate' of his ashes that might feed a tea-tree.55 Spur of morning , despite the cliches of style and plotting that Sargeson mocked, captures very well urban Auckland at the turn of the century, the North Island bush frontier, and the liberal hopes that linked city and frontier, and treats those hopes with a sympathetic yet critical historical understanding. The daughter , his best play and possibly the best New Zealand play before Bruce Mason, evokes the deadly round of 'nothing but milking and housework, housework and milking' that breaks the spirit of an educated woman trapped on a back-blocks dairy farm, and thus reveals the human cost of the pastoral dream.56
In bringing together his diverse insights on New Zealand, Mulgan attempted, not entirely successfully, an ambitious cultural synthesis. The synthesis involves bringing together a faith in the liberal dreams of the Pastoral Paradise and the Just City, and a more critical and realistic view of the actual imperfect society in its present state. Basic to that synthesis is a combining of Anglophile values with New Zealand nationalism. Spur of morning implies such a synthesis in the bringing together of the two heroes, Mark Bryan, a strong New Zealand nationalist and an extroverted man of action, and Philip Armitage, introverted literary Anglophile. What unites them is 'nation-building', their hopes for New Zealand's future, the building of a just society in the best of the Anglo-Saxon tradition. The making of a New Zealander is the story of such a synthesis in Mulgan's own life, perhaps most explicit in his attitude towards New Zealand literature:
New Zealanders must use, cherish, and pass on the magnificent body of English prose and verse, ancient, modern, and evergrowing, that is their joint possession, but it will not entirely suffice for their needs. In the imported soil of language and tradition, but in new sunshine, wind, and rain, we must grow our own prose and poetry.57
A similar synthesising impulse can be seen in Mulgan's editing of the New Zealand section of the 1950 Oxford Book of Australian and New Zealand verse. There Mulgan did not rigidly exclude the Phoenix and Caxton poets, but attempted to join them with those page 159 in the Georgian and Victorian traditions in a representative selection of verse (much more representative than Marris's for the years Marris covers), acknowledging, as he later put it, that 'there was a rapid development in originality and breadth of interest' after 1920, producing a poetry 'more philosophical, more concerned with intellectual values, more critical of life'.58 While Duggan remained his favourite New Zealand poet (and he gave her more space than any other), Mason, Fairburn, Curnow, Glover, Brasch, and the young James K. Baxter were all represented in the anthology. As he grew older, and as the Phoenix and Caxton writers grew more established themselves, Mulgan ceased to be cast in oppositional terms and came to be accepted more as a part of New Zealand literary history with his qualities recognised. In a graceful compliment to Alan and Marguerita Mulgan on their golden wedding anniversary in 1957, Bertram pointed towards this synthesising openness to experience in characterising them as ones 'Who seek the truth where most it hurts / In the long agony of human hearts' and find a calm that is praiseworthy 'Because it rests on threatened ground'.59 Such a tribute from the original editor of Phoenix was an indication of how Mulgan was much more than a convenient representative of what the Phoenix generation wanted to change.
If by 1957 there was no longer a need to set up the pre-1932 generation as enemies (in fact the Phoenix and Caxton writers were by then being placed in that role themselves by the younger poets), the situation in the 1930s was very different, and it was not at all clear that the younger writers were going to establish themselves. The extent to which the generation of Marris, Mulgan, and Schroder dominated the New Zealand literary scene in those years can be seen in the symbolic occasion of Authors' Week in 1936. The younger writers were at best on the fringes, while the establishment represented by Glover's triumvirate was at the centre. The occasion was organised by PEN (New Zealand Centre), a group very much controlled by 'them'. It was founded by Lawlor in Wellington in 1934, with Jane Mander, Duggan, G. H. Scholefield, Andersen and Lindsay Buick also present at the foundation meeting. By 1937 it had 41 members, with Marris the president, Mulgan one of the vice-presidents, and Lawlor secretary. Only Mason, Cresswell, Hyde, Fairburn and Stewart among the younger writers were members, and Fairburn disclaimed his membership. In July 1936, in a letter to Curnow in which he page 160 invited him to 'unload some dynamite on Marris', he complained that 'Glover has accused me of being an active member of PEN', a 'charge' that he considered 'lousy' ('I don't mind dirt as long as it's clean dirt').60 The 'accusation' came about because Lawlor invited Glover to join, saying Fairburn was a member. The next year Fairburn wrote to Glover to clear his name, saying that he had been invited into PEN by Lawlor in 1935 but that he had never answered and certainly had never paid a subscription:
But at no time did I ever, by word of mouth, by written communication, by lifting my hand from my lap in a gesture of assent or toleration, or by placing my handle on the bar and raising my arm in the Nazi salute — at no time I repeat did I in any way have anything whatever to do with the PEN club.61
O. N. Gillespie was the national organiser for the Week, and Marris, Mulgan, Lawlor and Andersen (the chief of the editorial committee) were prominently featured in its primary publication, Annals of New Zealand literature. Among the many speakers at the occasions held in each of the four main centres, only Hyde, Fairburn and Mason from the younger writers were featured (all at Auckland). Hyde, speaking on 'The writer and his audience', tried to make her talk a positive occasion, but it contains beneath the humour a heartfelt plea for a place for writers in New Zealand society, 'a new relationship between writers and the public':
That instead of being your freaks, your occasional light entertainment, we might become, as well as those things, the will of the people, the longing and the unspoken, dumb things that are ploughed into the earth? Instead of there being the eternal broken pieces, pandering to one another, mightn't we be the organ of the voice, given back to the body, which is the people?
That relationship should be economic as well as spiritual, and in this regard 'New Zealand's record is a bad one . . . the better the writer, the smaller, in many cases, has been the attention he received from the public'.62 Fairburn, on the other hand, seems to have taken his talk on New Zealand poetry as an occasion for attack on the literary establishment and its taste. He wrote to Glover that he gave 'a very bad talk' in which he was 'very irrelevant [irreverent?] and v. rude' and in which he 'slammed the page 161 Yellow Book N.Z. school of poetry' represented by the late Dick Harris. He was grateful that he did not name Harris, as the next speaker praised him and quoted 'large tracts' of his work/'63 Mason in his talk took a political line consistent with his Marxist attitudes represented in the 1933 Phoenix issues. Robin Hyde has left us with a witty account of Fairburn's and Mason's talks, describing Fairburn as 'rising to speak on Auckland poets, and, after a little scattering of birdshot among the stuffed turtledoves of long ago, giving the impression that he had sailed right round the coasts of New Zealand, eventually discovering those wild shores to be inhabited solely by R. A. K. Mason, making ink with the greatest difficulty from the gallbladders of financial cuttlefish'. Mason, 'billed to speak on the future of New Zealand literature, hoped for a mighty political uprising coincident with a great literary outpouring, but in the absence of either could only put up his umbrella in the pious hope of red rain, and so depart'.64
The Week provoked some critical comments about New Zealand writing as well as congratulations. One of the sharpest comments came from that much-maligned figure, Quentin Pope, editor of Kowhai gold , writing in the Bulletin. He thought that the emphasis was all on quantity, not quality, and that what was revealed was the lack of a 'really distinctive literature'. This he blamed on 'the dominance of the English tradition': 'Completely without any national awareness of her own outside football, lacking stable tradition, even the tradition of the soil because of the desperate scramble for land speculation which has followed in the wake of freehold, M.L. has turned to England with increasing frequency.'65 Pope's idea of a distinctive national literature would doubtless have been different from Curnow's, but it is nonetheless striking to see a criticism of the literary establishment not unlike that of the Phoenix and Caxton writers coming from such a quarter. More to be expected, perhaps, was the critical summation of the Week by Winston Rhodes in Tomorrow. Like Pope, he took the occasion to discuss what was wrong with New Zealand literature: 'The truth must be faced New Zealand Authors' Week was a tame affair because New Zealand authors are a tame lot'. He deplored the 'sentimental imitation and almost slavish worship of second-rate tradition' among New Zealand writers, whom he characterised as 'hot-house plants from an old country run to seed in a row', and he called for writers to live dangerously, to 'mean it, and mean it passionately', and for critics to be frank and constructive.66page 162
Answering him, Gillespie defended the Week as a necessary step in the awakening of the New Zealand public to the uses of literature, but surprisingly agreed with his diagnosis, asserting that the 'besetting sin' of New Zealand society was 'gentility', and that its 'literary faults lay largely in slavish imitation and a derivative laziness', and that it was a cause of worry that it had needed a depression to 'awaken some depth of feeling in our writers'.67 Whatever Gillespie's reading of the New Zealand situation, the Week had in practice been mostly a celebration of what the Phoenix and Caxton writers were in revolt against, a genteel literature presided over by Mulgan, Marris, and Schroder. Nonetheless, there were reminders that changes were in the wind. The elaborate programme of the Week in Dunedin had been dominated by the older writers (the performance of a three-act play by Edith Howes, the launch of a novel by Allen, pictures of Andersen, Gillespie, Mulgan and others in the papers),68 but R. G. C. McNab, lecturing on 'The university and literature', made an answer to Marris's downplaying of the university's role and pointed towards the future when he singled out Phoenix and Caxton for comment:
The Phoenix . . . was literally an astounding thing, the writers showing a mastery of strange forms of verse and prose and also of sociological problems which their predecessors seldom bothered about. In Christchurch there was Allan [sic] Curnow's group of young writers which was carrying on the same type of movement as was Auden, Day Lewis and Stephen Spender in England.69
In 1936, then, New Zealand literature was still identified mostly with the generation represented by Marris, Mulgan, and Schroder, but there were rumblings beneath the surface, especially in Christchurch and Auckland. From a perspective 60 years on, we can see that it was probably politically and psychologically necessary for Glover and his contemporaries to make a literary construct 'Mulgan, Marris, and Schroder' to attack, and that such a construct was necessarily unfair to the actual accomplishments of the triumvirate. If what Glover and his contemporaries were engaged in was not quite the 'literary gang warfare' of which Robin Hyde complained,70 it was nonetheless a real literary-political conflict. We can see now, as they could not see then, that within 20 years the victory would be complete, and that it was a page 163 necessary victory. We need only put Curnow's A book of New Zealand verse 1923-45 next to Kowhai gold or Marris's Lyric poems 1928-1942, or Man alone next to Spur of morning, or the last half of Dan Davin's World's Classics New Zealand shon stories (1953) next to Gillespie's New Zealand Short Stories of 1930 or Allen's Tales by New Zealanders (1938) to see how necessary. However, that should not blind us to the simplifications and injustices involved in the revolution.
2 Denis Glover, Short reflection on the present state of literature in this country (Christchurch: Caxton Club Press, ).
6 Denis Glover, 'Pointers to Parnassus: A consideration of the morepork and the muse', Tomorrow, 2 no.1 (30 October 1935), 16-18 (pp.16, 17).
7 Denis Glover, 'Poetry out of its pram: Admonition of newspaper nursemaids, connoisseurs of culture, and people who don't like verse', Tomorrow , 2 no. 34 (28 October 1936), 20-23 (p.23).
10 Ibid., 29 December 1937 (Glover Papers, folder 18).
11 A. R. D. Fairburn, letters to Glover, undated and 6 November 1937, in The letters of A. R. D. Fairburn, ed. by Lauris Edmond (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp.110-3. Volume hereafter cited as Letters.
14 Robin Hyde, 'Rhythm and reality: Young New Zealanders' verse', in Disputed ground: Robin Hyde, journalist , ed. by Gillian Boddy and Jacqueline Matthews (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1991), pp.211-2 (p.212); first published in New Zealand observer , 29 October 1936. Volume hereafter cited as Disputed ground.
16 Frank Sargeson, letter to Glover, 23 August 1937 (Glover Papers, folder 18); Frank Sargeson, 'Bards and reviewers: Observer critic taken to task', in Disputed ground , p.231; first published in New Zealand observer , 26 August 1937.
19 Ibid., 16 January 1938 (Glover Papers, folder 22).
21 C. A. Marris, 'Our younger generation of writers', in Annals of New Zealand literature, being a preliminary list of New Zealand authors and their works with introductory essays and verses (Wellington: New Zealand Authors' Week Committee, 1936), p. 18.
22 Pat Lawlor, Confessions of a journalist with observations on some Australian & New Zealand writers (Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1935), pp.153, 230.
23 'Prester John', Art in New Zealand, 5 (June 1933), 231-3 (pp.232, 233).
37 J. H. E. Schroder, 'The street', in Kowhai gold: An anthology of contemporary New Zealand verse , ed. by Quentin Pope (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1930), pp.143-4.
45 Sargeson, letter to Glover, 26 October 1937 (Glover Papers, folder 18); Sargeson, 'A New Zealand anthology: II. Spur of the moment', Tomorrow , 4 no.2 (24 November 1937), 56; see Alan Mulgan, Spur of morning (Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1960), p. 166.
46 Paul Day, 'Negative impulse (The relation of Spur of morning to Man alone) ', Landfall , 32 (1978), 362-7.
47 C. K. Stead, 'John Mulgan: A question of identity', in In the glass case: Essays on New Zealand literature (Auckland: Auckland University Press/Oxford University Press, 1981), pp.67-98 (pp.73-74); first published in Islands 25 (April 1979).
58 Ibid., p.131.
59 James Bertram, 'Letter to York Bay: For Alan and Marguerita Mulgan 9 April 1957', in Occasional verses (Wellington: Wai-te-ata Press, 1971), pp.26-7.
69 R. G. C. McNab, reported in Otago daily times, 4 May 1936, 2.