Letters, Issue 22, March 1996
Not a bowdler
I thank Vincent O’Sullivan for his long and thoughtful review of Frank Sargeson: A Life (New Zealand Books, December 1995). I would like to make the following comments, however.
I certainly did not set out to bowdlerise Sargeson, as O’Sullivan implies. If he reads the whole book, he will find ample examples of the kind of robust and bawdy comments he suggests have been excluded. He will find, too, that Sargeson’s father died in 1953, not (as he alleges) in 1946; and that the two men had contact right up until the week of that death.
O’Sullivan also makes reference to Eric McCormick’s falling out with Sargeson over an anti‑semitic comment. McCormick himself told me in 1979 that he had come to believe that he had been mistaken about that incident: that the comment, made at a North Shore party in the 1950s, had been another example of Sargeson’s many attempts ‑ some of them clumsy and insensitive ‑ to shock what he regarded as a docile audience into a conversational response. Again, other examples of this kind of behaviour are quoted in the book.
Finally, I am happy to report that O’Sullivan’s wish to see publication of a broad selection of Sargeson’s letters is to be met. He can be assured that nothing mean or amusing will be excluded.
Simon Upton’s writing is always a pleasure to read, so I was surprised to find in his review of Coates of Kaipara an odd mixture of three metaphors.
He wrote: “But the seeds of the world we have been dismantling these last 10 years were laid during the years of his greatest influence.”
If he had written “foundations” instead of “seeds” I doubt that I would have paused. As it is, the first impression I got was an agglomeration of agriculture, construction (or rather deconstruction) and egg‑laying.