Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

'Grey Tweed Sports Coat, Green Eyes, Little Freckles, Tall, Cleft in the Chin, Fair': Timothy Cardew/Harry Sweetman in the Godwits Fly

Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

'Grey Tweed Sports Coat, Green Eyes, Little Freckles, Tall, Cleft in the Chin, Fair': Timothy Cardew/Harry Sweetman in the Godwits Fly

Article excerpt

As part of her treatment as a voluntary patient at the Auckland Mental Hospital, Iris Wilkinson (Robin Hyde) was encouraged to write autobiographically.1 She wrote several journals and autobiographical fragments over the period 1934 to 1936. This therapeutic exercise led to a series of more or less autobiographical novels, short stories and poems; the autobiographies record the inspiration for and often the progress of these fictionalised works. Both the traditional autobiographies and the autobiographical fiction and poetry that Hyde produced during this period reveal her attempts to make sense of herself and her history, but also of her relationships with the people she knew.

This essay will focus on Iris's brief but formative relationship with Harry Sweetman, her first love, as represented in the relationship between Eliza Hannay and Timothy Cardew in The Godwits Fly. I will suggest that Hyde's novel, in its various versions, presents a fascinating, psychologically realistic and subtle picture of the relationship between Eliza and Timothy. I will follow aspects of the creative process through the available draft material, focussing particularly upon the effect of Hyde's decision to incorporate so much of Timothy's perspective and experience into the narration, and especially Hyde's inclusion of Timothy's many love affairs in the story. My argument is underpinned by the wealth of autobiographical and documentary sources that remain, predominantly in the Alexander Turnbull Library, sources that include her autobiography and journals, recently edited by Mary Edmond-Paul as Your Unselfish Kindness, as well as letters and medical records. The drafts and documentary evidence together demonstrate that Hyde carefully negotiated and renegotiated the terms under which she shared with Eliza and Timothy the details of her relationship with Harry.

Writing from her room at the hospital, Iris recorded the genesis and progress of the first draft of the The Godwits Fly in her journal entries for March to May 1935. On 2 March Hyde writes:

Settled: I'm going to write a faintly autobiographical novel called 'The Godwits Fly'... telling about the Colonial England hunger, and they that depart, and they that stay at home - Girl to be called Eliza Hannay, God knows why - But there she is - Like me, but very much pleasanter and I think a sense of humour would be a help.2

After several short updates on her progress, Iris is able to report on 12 May that she has

just finished 'The Godwits Fly' and am not a bit sure of it, except for the ending, which is rather lovely. But a plague on introspection. The wench in the book sort of talks her way through a no doubt admiring but long-suffering world. Yet there are bits good and true in it.3

Hyde would go on to revise this first version of The Godwits Fly extensively; the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, and the University of Auckland Library hold a number of drafts and fragments of drafts that demonstrate Hyde's process.4 Taken together, the extant draft material and the published version demonstrate three stages in the development of the novel. Most of the draft usually designated the 'first version' is held in the Turnbull; it is completed by a 38-page fragment in the University of Auckland Library.5 Typescript drafts of parts of the novel6 and hand-written material in a series of exercise books represent an intermediate stage in Hyde's redrafting of the novel.7 The exercise books seem to date to mid-to-late 1936. The published version was completed at a cabin near the Whangaroa Harbour in Northland in March 1937, and published by Hurst and Blackett in 1938.8

These various drafts reveal the care and deliberation with which Hyde fictionalised this part of her life. She rewrites and repurposes her material - both the material drawn from her experience and that which she creates - suggesting that certain details have a greater resonance for her than that supplied purely by a particular context. …

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