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"This is not a work of fiction": Examining Robin Hyde's Passport to Hell as Creative Nonfiction

In 1936, journalist Robin Hyde prepared the final copy of a biographical novel that blended fact and fiction in order to capture the experience of the disreputable World War I veteran James Douglas Stark. The careful intertwining of research and creativity in Passport to Hell is redolent of present-day creative nonfiction and therefore renders Hyde a pioneer of the genre. However, creative nonfiction was not academically acknowledged until years after Hyde’s death, so her literary experimentation triggered a critical response from the public. This thesis traces back the origins of creative nonfiction so as to illuminate the uncertainty which continues to permeate the genre. Academic guidelines of creative nonfiction are then used as a platform to analyse Hyde’s employment of fictional techniques in order to illuminate the ingenuity of her creative writing. The criticism Hyde faced when publishing Passport to Hell is outlined alongside her insightful riposte which contributes to our understanding of creative nonfiction today. The creative component of my thesis is comprised of the first three chapters of a novelisation of the life of Ettie Rout, a sexual health campaigner who challenged local and international governments in order to improve the lives of soldiers during World War I. My interaction with creative nonfiction confirmed that even today, many authors struggle to operate within the confines of a single genre due to the continued debate around the level of fiction deemed appropriate in creative nonfiction. However, the fluidity Hyde exercises in Passport to Hell inspired a sense of freedom in my treatment of Rout, and therefore emboldened my commitment to focus more heavily on the intimate portrayal of her character rather than confining my work to the boundaries of genre.
Type of thesis
Holder, M. (2017). ‘This is not a work of fiction’: Examining Robin Hyde’s Passport to Hell as Creative Nonfiction (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/11822
The University of Waikato
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