‘Novels are not Nonsense’: 1920s and 1930s New Zealand reflected through the Fiction of Jean Devanny and John A. Lee.
Horsley, A. K. (2013). ‘Novels are not Nonsense’: 1920s and 1930s New Zealand reflected through the Fiction of Jean Devanny and John A. Lee. (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8452
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8452
John Mulgan’s Man Alone (1939) has often been considered by historians and literary scholars as ‘the fullest prose rendering of what the New Zealand twenties and thirties felt like.’¹ This thesis argues that other contemporary novels, specifically those of Jean Devanny (1894 – 1962) and John A. Lee (1891 – 1982), present equally rich sources of information for historians researching early twentieth century New Zealand. Devanny and Lee both wrote novels set in a contemporary context, all of which offer critiques relevant to aspects of New Zealand society. These works often draw on and comment on entrenched understandings of gender, class and race, and thus provide a nuanced and sophisticated picture of 1920s and 1930s New Zealand. In this sense, the novels enable meaningful insights into contemporary issues. As Devanny asserts, they are by no means ‘nonsense’, but highly valuable and useful considerations relevant to contemporary lives and issues.² This thesis stresses that the contradictions and intricacies found in the novels of these two authors, Devanny’s in particular, should be utilised by historians as they reflect on various issues in early twentieth century New Zealand. Indeed, what might they say about New Zealanders’ understandings of their national history if Devanny’s The Butcher Shop (1926) or Lee’s Children of the Poor (1934) was regarded by historians as the quintessential novel of the 1920s and 1930s instead of Man Alone?
University of Waikato
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- Masters Degree Theses