The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
Frank Sargeson. Frank Sargeson is by far the most original page 69 and interesting writer of the forties; unfortunately for our purposes, his best work is in his short stories. His novels suffer from being short novels, or short stories expanded to novel length. As a novelist, therefore, he may not seem so impressive. But readers will wish to follow up his stories as well; here then is a list of his writings.
Conversation with my Uncle (stories), 1936; A Man and his Wife (stories), 1940; That Summer (short novel), 1943; When the Wind Blows (short novel), 1945; I Saw in my Dream (novel), 1949; Up on to the Roof and Down Again (in Landfall 1950-1) ; I, for One . . . (short novel), 1952. (See chapter eight.)
A discussion of work up to 1954 will be found in a symposium of essays edited by Helen Shaw, The Puritan and the Waif, 1954. In an extended review in Landfall 74, June, 1965, E. A. Horsman discusses the art of the short stories, while the Collected Stories, 1964, contains a valuable introduction by Bill Pearson.
Frank Sargeson was born in 1903 in Hamilton. He took a law course at Auckland University College and spent some time in England. Since he returned in 1928, he has lived in various parts of the North Island, but the Waikato and the King Country remain his particular area. Like John Mulgan, he can report most faithfully the speech of the casual North Islander, still to be distinguished at that time, so the linguistic experts say, from the lingo current in the South.
His first book, Conversation with my Uncle, is a set of stories related to the depression-born novels of John Lee, Robin Hyde, and John Mulgan. D'Arcy Cresswell wrote that when it appeared in the mid-thirties "it was as though the first wasp had arrived, a bright aggressive little thing with a new and menacing buzz ... it prefers jam, any kind of bright, sweet, sticky, falsified jam, and open windows and the smell of dishonest cooking. And soon it was evident that the suburbs, where they have flowers on the piano and eiderdowns on the beds, were being severely stung."16
The collection A Man and his Wife contains a well-known story, The Making of a New Zealander, which came first equal in the literary competition organised for the national centennial celebrations in 1940. All but four of the sketches in Conversation with my Uncle were reprinted in this second volume, which is therefore representative of his early work.