NZ Classics: Frank Sargeson

The Stories - Frank Sargeson

Everything you did you ought to do beautiful. If you did that, Harry said, you'd always have a sort of core inside you that nobody would be able to touch. It wouldn't matter what you had to go through, whether you had to go on relief or anything, nothing would be able to touch you. If you loved beautiful and hated beautiful and did everything beautiful, then you'd live beautiful. Right inside, in that core inside you, you would.

 

-- Frank Sargeson, A Conversation with a Landlady

One of New Zealand's best beloved writers, Frank Sargeson wrote several novels and a memoir, but he was a master of the short format, indeed sometimes very short. Many of his stories are tiny but perfectly formed single pages in fact, which is probably one reason so many of them were assigned reading when I was in high school.

 

Sargeson is credited as the first writer to truly write in the NZ vernacular, rather than attempting to "be British". He was also one of the first to write about the lower classes in NZ, the farm workers, the working tradesmen and the middle class too, not just the rich businessmen and wealthy sheep station owners that most authors wrote about. 

 

He was also a major mentor of younger writers, down to providing several of them a roof over their heads when they were in dire need. (Janet Frame, for instance, wrote her first and some of her later novels, while staying in a house he owned - she'd just got out of a mental institution and was more or less disowned by her family due to the stigma of it.)

 

Much of Sargeson's writing is unfortunately difficult to get hold of, but I did find a few examples online.

 

"The Hole that Jack Dug" @Google Books (it lets me read the whole story, I hope that is true for everyone else!)

 

"A Piece of Yellow Soap" (one of those tiny but perfect pieces I mentioned - it's barely any longer than this blog post, published in 1935)

 

The book I linked to this post is probably the easiest to find, but even that may be a task. It contains all his short stories, including some not published in his lifetime, arranged in chronological order.

 

More kiwi reading fun on the NZ Classics Reading List