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Sargeson, Frank (1903-1982)  

The New Zealander Frank Sargeson wrote stories and novels about ordinary men in ordinary circumstances, their plots driven by sexual problems and antagonisms that obliquely reflect their author's homosexuality.

Sargeson was born Norris Frank Davey in the then small country town of Hamilton, in the Waikato district of New Zealand. He trained to be a solicitor. After a brief stint in an office, he took off on a tour of Europe and began to experiment with writing.

After some time on his uncle's farm, he retired to his family's holiday cottage at Takapuna on Auckland's North Shore and settled down to write. Those were the lean years of the great depression, but he kept doggedly to his task. His first short story, "Conversation with My Uncle," appeared in 1935 and presaged what was to come--terse, vernacular tales of ordinary men in ordinary circumstances.

He discussed his upbringing extensively in the first installment of his memoirs Once is Enough (1973). His strongly Methodist family may well have conditioned him both to accept social norms and to rebel, covertly, against them.

Although he spent most of his adult years in a homosexual relationship with Harry Doyle (an ex-jockey), he never came out publicly. The nearest he came to such a move was to resign as President of the New Zealand Branch of the P.E.N., after a public breach with A. R. D. Fairburn over the influence of homosexuals on New Zealand literature.

His short stories came to be regarded as the epitome of New Zealand writing. They were about regular blokes whose laconic utterances were far from the pretensions of most previous writers. They spoke to those who yearned for a genuine New Zealand literature, and critics developed the phrase "the world of Frank Sargeson" to describe what they saw as a genuine representation of the New Zealand of the settler. Sargeson himself disputed the myth that had grown around him, claiming simply to have written about what he saw as he saw it.

His stories continued through the early 1950s until he decided to take a break while reconsidering his objectives. From the early 1970s onward, he produced a series of novels, accompanied and followed by several autobiographical pieces.

Most critics have failed to see the connection between his earlier stories and his later novels, and few have recognized that sexual problems and antagonisms form the basis of his plots.

"That Summer," for example, written in the late 1930s, and often regarded as his most perfect story, recounts the experience of two mates in the depression. Perhaps its most poignant moment is Terry's farewell to his dying mate. He is unable to voice his affection, but the understatement comes through, for those with the needed understanding, as a complete statement of love and of the problems that result.

By contrast, A Game of Hide and Seek (1972) treats openly of a gay union between a New Zealand Pakeha [white] and a Samoan at much more length without, however, reaching the same level of emotion.

In a society that conspires to devalue and suppress the expression of emotion by males, it is not unusual for violence to substitute for love, and this aspect of Sargeson's stories has been explored by Joost Daalder.

Kai Jensen, in an exploration of "The Hole that Jack Dug," exposes the sexual polarization common to New Zealand literature in the 1930s. He points out that the hole is indeed a parable of essential male wholeness. Few critics, however, have been willing to explore the effect of homosexuality on Frank Sargeson's writing. An exception is Bruce King, who comments on the paradox that "Sargeson's homosexual stories should be seen as the quintessence of New Zealandism."

Murray S. Martin


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Daalder, Joost. "Violence in the Stories of Frank Sargeson." Journal of New Zealand Literature 4 (1986): 56-80.

Jensen, Kai. "Holes, Wholeness, and Holiness in Frank Sargeson's Writing." Landfall 44 (1991): 32-49.

King, Bruce. The New English Literatures: Cultural Nationalism in a Changing World. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980.

McEldowney, Dennis. Frank Sargeson in His Time. Dunedin: McIndoe, 1976.

Sargeson, Frank. "Conversation with Frank Sargeson." Landfall 24 (March 1970): 4-27; (June 1970): 142-160.


    Citation Information
    Author: Martin, Murray S.  
    Entry Title: Sargeson, Frank  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 18, 2002  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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