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Brush Up Your Lit Crit

A new book is dedicated to 'the class of 1985 who ate the Caramello chocolate, smelt the marigolds, stroked the woollen socks and helped paste the gold stars on the wall as mnemonics in our reading of Janet Frame's Faces in the Water'.

Sounds like a fun class and an innovative teacher! The teacher was Dr Mary Paul, now senior lecturer in English at Massey University's Albany Campus, and the dedication can be found in Her Side of the Story: Readings of Mander, Mansfield and Hyde, published by University of Otago Press. The book builds on the teaching and theoretical approaches Dr Paul has been developing since 'the class of 1985' at Auckland and Massey universities.

The book explores contemporary ways of reading some important works by three big names in New Zealand literature: Jane Mander, Katherine Mansfield and Robin Hyde. All of these writers pre-date Sargeson, with whom the New Zealand literary 'canon' is supposed to have started. Her Side of the Story, therefore, offers other ways of viewing the development of our twentieth century literature.

Dr Paul argues that interpretation is a process which can never be completed, although at any one time there will be readings that are more significant than others. To illustrate her argument, the author discusses key works by two authors: Mansfield's 'Bliss' and 'Prelude', Mander's The Story of a New Zealand River, and the work of Robin Hyde, poet, novelist and journalist. She also looks at the film The Piano which is considered by some to be a re-reading of Mander's novel.

Dr Paul opens up different ways of reading, using feminism, psychoanalysis and a variety of other approaches. Take the readings of Mansfield's story 'Bliss', for example, which has elicited contradictory and heated responses from both writers and critics. Paul outlines four interpretations: the tale of an hysteric (a Freudian reading), a positive reading of female creativity and imagination, a Lacanian interpretation of ambiguity, and a modernist reading showing Mansfield's deconstruction of certainties about gender and identity in a way that we think of today as very contemporary. There is no right or wrong - each interpretation has validity.

Her Side of the Story is based on Mary Paul's doctoral thesis, but unlike many theses it was written to be a book. It includes notes, a bibliography and an index. It will appeal predominantly to students and teachers of literature, but also to the informed reader with an interest in New Zealand culture and women's writing. Her Side of the Story encourages a greater self-awareness in the interpretation of New Zealand literature and culture, and is a stimulating addition to literary criticism in this country.

About the Author

Dr Mary Paul is Senior Lecturer in English at Massey University's Albany Campus. She has edited two other books: The New Poets: Initiatives in New Zealand Poetry, with her husband Murray Edmond (Allen & Unwin/Port Nicholson Press, 1987), and New Women's Fiction 3, with Marion Rae (New Women's Press 1989).

She has also published many reviews and contributed to various publications such as encyclopaedias of literature. She is currently part of a team working with Marsden Fund support on a number of projects focusing on the work of Robin Hyde.

Readings of Mander, Mansfield and Hyde Mary Paul
paperback, 288 pages
ISBN 1 877133 71
xDue early November 1999


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