Scoop Review of Books

Massey Scholars Shed Light on Robin Hyde

Media Release
A just-launched book of critical essays on Robin Hyde, author of the renowned novel The Godwits Fly and a prolific poet, political columnist, travel writer and war correspondent, reflects growing interest in a remarkable writer overlooked in her own lifetime, says its editor Dr Mary Paul.

Titled Lighted Windows, the collection of 12 essays by New Zealand and overseas literary scholars is the first book of critical essays on Hyde, who committed suicide in 1939 aged 33.

Dr Paul, English programme coordinator at Massey’s School of Social and Cultural Studies in Auckland, argues in her introduction that Hyde’s “influential contemporaries were blind to the scope and variety of Hyde’s work and its mature development” because “it would have interrupted their version of a national literature”.

Hyde is described in the book as having had the most significant output of any New Zealand writer during the 1930s, yet was regarded as of minor interest for many decades after her death. The book extends and complements the reassessment of Hyde that has been taking place more recently Dr Paul says, particularly the Marsden-funded project she helped to initiate in 1999.

Named after an unpublished short story of the same title by Hyde, the collection (published by Otago University Press) brings new insights and understandings of Hyde’s fiction, poetry and life stories as well as her travel writing and journalism. It ends with a discussion of Hyde’s internationalist outlook and her visions for the future expressed in Dragon Rampant, her last book based on her travels in China in 1938 during the Sino-Japanese war.

Several essays deal with the fantasy novel in which “Hyde’s early twentieth-century challenge to contemporary Anglophile and conformist ideas of family and society is enacted in the extraordinary island society she creates in Wednesday’s Children,” writes Dr Paul.

Contributors include Palmerston North-based Massey journalism lecturer Dr Nikki Hessell, who focuses on Hyde’s parliamentary writings in her essay Novitia the Anti-Novice: Robin Hyde’s Parliamentary Reports. Examining her “Peeps at Parliament” columns, Dr Hessell’s essay highlights what an intelligent, humorous, perspicacious writer the then Iris Wilkinson was, even at nineteen years old, says Dr Paul.

Dr Hessell says Hyde, a budding feminist who was obliged to report from the Lady’s Gallery, would not have been impressed by much of today’s press gallery reporting and believes there is much contemporary journalists can learn from her insights and style.

Hyde, born Iris Wilkinson in 1906, renamed herself after her first son who died at birth when Hyde was 20 years old.

Dr Paul wrote about Hyde in her previous book, Her Side of the Story, which focused on the work of three women writers. She was jointly awarded a Marsden Research Fund grant with poet and academic Michelle Leggott, and Dr Pat Sandbrook, a Palmerston North-based Massey administrator who wrote a doctoral thesis on Hyde and edited and wrote the introduction for the latest edition of The Godwits Fly. The project has encompassed the production of a biography, The Book of Iris, written by Hyde’s second son Derek Challis and poet Gloria Rawlinson (2002), and new edition of poems, Young Knowledge (2003), edited by Michelle Leggott, as well as research into the autobiographical writings. Dr Paul is presently preparing the autobiographical writings for publication.