Celebrated NZ author Janet Frame died almost ten years ago on 28 January 2004. The New Zealand Studies Network recently held a Janet Frame colloquium to mark this moment by looking at developments in Janet Frame studies over the last decade. While Frame has an international readership and is rumoured to have been short-listed for the Nobel Prize, the fact remains that only three of her thirteen novels are currently in print in the UK. A younger readership has developed since her life was popularised by the New Zealand-born film director Jane Campion, whose feature film An Angel At My Table (1990) developed from the three-volume autobiography first published in 1989 in New Zealand by Century Hutchison and in the UK a year later by The Women’s Press. There have also been major advances in Frame criticism since her death, mainly by a new generation of New Zealand-based scholars.
This is the first time that a colloquium has been held in the UK exclusively on the works of Janet Frame. There was only one delegate of British origin present among the eleven who participated, although a New Zealand Rhodes scholar currently working on Frame at Oxford University also spoke, and in the audience were two further postgraduate students from UK universities working on Frame texts. The speakers were mainly from Belgium and France and there was a close focus on the short stories and novels by Frame that have been published posthumously. The chair of the morning session, Emeritus Professor Jeanne Delbaere from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, a pioneer of Janet Frame studies, has brought a deeper understanding of Janet Frame’s work to a wide audience through her analysis of Frame’s novels, and editing of the first essay collection on her work, Bird, Hawk, Bogie: Essays on Janet Frame (1978), expanded and updated as Ring of Fire: Essays on Janet Frame (1992). Keynote speaker Professor Marc Delrez from the University of Liège, and one of the world’s leading Frame scholars, spoke about ‘The Dialectics of Embarrassment’ in In the Memorial Room. Although written in 1974 this novel was not published until 2013. It explores the private agonies of a fictional New Zealand writer who had been awarded the prestigious Rose Hurndell Literary award where the writer stays in rooms in Menton made famous by the late, pre-eminent New Zealand writer, Margaret Rose Hurndell (or Katherine Mansfield). The afternoon sessions were chaired by Professor Janet Wilson, Director of Research and Professor of English and Postcolonial Studies in the School of Arts at the University of Northampton, who also organised the conference.
Delegates to the conference were treated to a powerful recording of Janet Frame reading her own poetry, now part of an online New Zealand poetry archive, commissioned by New Zealand-born poet Jan Kemp, and a moving reading by Ann Cawley from Frame’s letters to Ann’s husband, the psychoanalyst Robert H Cawley, who was the dedicatee of seven of Frame’s novels. Robert Cawley, at the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudesley Hospital in London, encouraged Frame to continue writing when she was living in London in the late 1950s and early 60s, and was responsible for overturning her misdiagnosis as a schizophrenic.
The New Zealand Studies Network is keen to promote further studies in the UK of this multiple-award-winning writer whose brilliantly written work, often based on her experiences in mental hospitals and of being wrongly diagnosed as schizophrenic, has done a great deal in contributing to the understanding of the human condition. Only three of Frame’s novels are in print in the UK, two books of short stories, and a book of poetry. We would like to see Frame’s work included more in British university studies, and more publications being made available in the UK. Frame’s posthumous publications include:
Towards Another Summer, Auckland: Random House, 2007; London: Virago, 2008
Janet Frame: In Her Own Words, Auckland: Penguin NZ, 2011
Gorse Is Not People: New and Uncollected Stories, Auckland: Penguin NZ, 2012; published in the US as Between My Father and the King, Counterpoint, 2012
In The Memorial Room, Melbourne: Texts Publishing Company, 2013
The New Zealand Studies Network, chaired by Emeritus Professor Andrew Sharp, University of Auckland and in 2013 by Emeritus Professor Rod Edmond, University of Kent at Canterbury, from its London base aims to promote study of the New Zealand and the Pacific Region. Academics, public figures, professionals, literary figures, artists, musicians and film-makers present their current ideas at our events which are hosted by Birkbeck, University of London. This year it has featured a series of sessions along the theme of Water. The main focus of the July 2014 conference will be New Zealand and World War One.