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Alternative Eves.

Eve Langley is known in histories of Australian literature as the author of two novels: The Pea-Pickers (1942) and White Topee (1954). The Pea-Pickers' first person account of two cross-dressing sisters, Steve and Blue, working as itinerant impecunious farm labourers in Gippsland in the 1920s is funny, wryly ironic and, at times, romantically rhapsodic. Langley's multiple voices have been described as postmodern--if prematurely so [1]--and readers who are fascinated by her unique style and vision have been intrigued and frustrated by the knowledge that in the Mitchell Library in Sydney, in the Angus and Robertson collection, there are typescripts of ten unpublished novels. Seven of these are set in New Zealand where Langley lived from 1932, five in Auckland where she lived from 1936 and where she wrote The Pea-Pickers in 1940. These four-hundred page novels seem to be based on journals she kept at the time, often even including the dates when episodes were written. The last novel, dated 1941, is left unfinis hed after one hundred pages. The typescripts were written after Langley's eight years in Auckland's psychiatric hospital and were sent to Angus and Robertson through the fifties and sixties.

Like those few others who have read those pages typed on pink paper I could see that here was superb writing, unpublishable in the fifties and sixties because of its extraordinary explicitness. Mary Fallon's character Toto in her marvellous 1989 postmodern novel, Working Hot, has been to the Mitchell Library and read these novels:

a huge grey box was wheeled out of stack

for a minute Toto thought she was in a morgue

'the body of woman the exhumed unhallowed

neglected body of woman's knowledge'

'the lot' said the Archivist

attached to each was a reader's report and right on the

top was a little yellow memo-

'the author wrote one successful novel then went

bananas and wrote this lot'

(signature illegible) the reports read-

'the author has an increasing tendency to turn in on

her own mind and sensations with corresponding loss

of vividness in outer incidents and other characters'

'this babbling reveals a pathetic breakdown more fit for the psychiatrist's couch than a publisher's office'

'it is purely personal'

'there is a most insensitive lack of reticence in her most private affairs it is the sort of stuff most people keep to themselves between the four walls of the bedroom it is all very sad and quite hopeless'

'most of the material is of too personal a nature to interest the general reader who as a rule wants a definite theme rather than the stream of impressions and looks to the author to sort the intake of observations and emotional responses into some kind of pattern which makes it reasonably cohesive and therefore memorable'

'she seems to have no shame about walking in unexpectedly on her relatives or travelling on a packing case in the back of a truck or leaving when there is too much housework to be done it is the aimless chronicle of an irresponsible person who follows her own moods till they run her into misery but never considers she has a duty to anyone.'

(all signatures illegible) [2]

These accurate transcriptions of the readers reports show clearly what publishers wanted in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as why what they rejected could be what the postmodern reader of the 1990s might relish, and certainly what the postmodern novelist Mary Fallon did relish. However, even if now we'd disagree with the unknown Angus and Robertson readers, the novels as they exist still seem unpublishable; they are rambling and repetitive, they apparently overlap overtly with the genre of the private journal.

Nan McDonald, an editor at Angus and Robertson who was sympathetic to Langley and supported her, wrote in 1962 of the New Zealand novels that Langley had been sending them:

A thought occurred to me--it would be an outrageous one in relation to most writers of Eve Langley's quality, but in her case I think it is excusable--that a good novel might be made by picking the best pieces out of several of these and running them together. [3]

I comment on Frost's editing of Langley's seven novels from the perspective of someone who tried the same thing and ended up with a very different New Zealand Eve. Back in 1993-4 my colleague Anita Segerberg and I, both academics and Langley enthusiasts, edited the five Auckland novels down to a lengthy 390 pages. Anita lived on the North Shore of Auckland (where much of the content of the Auckland novels is set), I lived on an island in the Hauraki gulf. We spent a summer arguing on the phone over which passages we felt needed to be included. Anita's Eve was a woman trapped in a disastrous marriage, trying to be both a writer and a mother. My Eve was a writer of genius focusing increasingly on gender roles and incidentally commenting on an unrecorded Auckland literary and artistic scene. We ended up feeling we'd captured the various multiple voices and interests of Langley. However we did not find a publisher or, rather, we left the text to languish with a university publisher, and as a result of discussion s with Langley's children were refused permission to publish by Langley's daughter Bisi (who appears as a most endearing young child in the novels). Frost has been more fortunate and I am delighted that the New Zealand Eve has been retrieved 'for the general reader.' [4] Frost writes in her introduction 'my project is simply to open these closed manuscripts' and 'I know that other readers would select differently--and I hope they will.' [5] What fascinates me when reading Wilde Eve is just how different Frost's novel is from my and Segeberg's version of Langley's novels.

It is an outrageous thought, but one that readers of the novels in the Angus and Robertson collection have had. In Wilde Eve, Lucy Frost has edited the 2,500 pages of the seven novels set in New Zealand to 304 pages. It's an ambitious undertaking and one fraught with peril. We know from the Angus and Robertson editors' comments that The Pea-Pickers was edited, but we don't know what aspects of it or how much. Wilde Eve is a case study of what an editor can do with a text--and it brings up the issue of what an editor should do with a text. What is an editor's responsibility to the integrity of the text which they are going to edit? The drastic editing necessary to cut six and a bit novels to one short novel must mean that Lucy Frost's Eve is her Eve Langley. Frost chooses not only what passages from Langley's typescripts to give us, but also what words, sentences, paragraphs within those passages we should read.

Frost's introduction begins as does Joy Thwaite's 1989 biography The Importance of Being Eve Langley by focusing on Langley's obsession with Oscar Wilde. [6] Frost writes: 'She was Eve Langley and Oscar Wilde, Australian woman and English man--poet caught in the woe of World War II and immortal, one of the ancients come again to life.' [7]

The title chosen by Frost hammers home the point as does the introductory quotation-- 'I, Oscar Wilde have risen from the dead as I said I would '[8]--from the conclusion of Langley's unpublished 'Wild Australia' (although the source is not acknowledged). But in the text of Wilde Eve there are few references to Oscar Wilde. And in the unedited original text Wilde is dismissed by the paranoid Eve as a bad influence who may be leading her husband to homosexuality. Indeed, in the afterword, Frost admits: 'The narrator's other is Steve, not Oscar Wilde. '[9] Steve is the name Langley records taking in The PeaPickers when with her sister June (Blue) she worked as an itinerant labourer in Gippsland in the 1920s, and Steve is the lost and regretted 'bachelor' self Langley refers to nostalgically when recording her married life in Auckland. Eve Langley is a writer whose worth has little to do with her Wilde preoccupation, intriguing though it may be.

Frost in her short introduction describes Langley's autobiographical fictions as 'rich, sprawling and language obsessed.'[10] So they are, but the need to condense and to keep a narrative sequential coherence has created in Wilde Eve a narrative which often seems episodic, bare and factual, which cannot be allowed to sprawl and which only occasionally is permitted to flare into the rich, uniquely exciting, eccentric rhetoric and insight of an extraordinary writer.

Commenting on her editorial practice, Frost says: 'I have eliminated multitudes of modifiers while editing' and 'Words have been silently deleted from Langley's text.'[11] In our unpublished version Segerberg and I omitted large sections, but decided to keep the passages chosen intact unless there was an obvious typographical error. And I think we were right. Choosing just a few random examples from thousands, does it make any difference that Frost's Eve, applying for a telephonist's job at Sanford's fishery envisages herself wearing a 'wonderful hat of yellow '[12] whereas the Eve of Langley's typescript wears a 'wonderful hat of yellow, of golden floral trimmings, a most adventurous and classical hat'?'[13] Going to see the new house Eve and her husband are planning to rent, they leave daughter Bisi with their present landlady. Frost's version is: 'And on a perfectly lovely morning of autumn, we left Bisi with Maori Gran and went down to see Mrs Gaussen."[14] Langley's version was: 'And on a perfectly love ly flashing long lanced morning of autumn nostalgic with brown leaves and vaguely decaying orchards and fruits, we left Bisi. '[15] Does it make a difference that, in a rare moment of happiness with Hilary, Frost's Eve writes:

I rest my head on Hilary's shoulder, on the bones of his throat, and

I sigh there deeply with happiness and peace. [16] whereas the typescript reads that she sighs: 'deeply and snoringly with happiness and peace.' [17]

Or when Eve regrets Hilary's going to the theatre in the city with friends, Frost's text reads:

And my face is drawn and hot with tears I want to cry ... But leaning against the sink, I face the audience of all lonely women. [18]

The typescript reads:

And my heart is drawn and hot and bitter with tears that I want to cry for hours... But leaning against the sink, I face the huge, never ending, the eternal audience of all lonely women. [19]

These 'multitudes of modifiers' are what makes Langley's prose so unique. The alterations may seem minor but, when consistently and continually repeated, they drain the text in such a way that one ends up reading at a fast gallop to find out what happens, rather than how it is told. Not only modifiers and words are silently omitted but also longer units within passages. In February 1940 Langley takes the ferry into Auckland. Frost's text reads:

I see an old woman, in a girlish peasant frock like mine, wheeling a pram and beside her walks an old man. There is no child to be seen. [20]

Her text stops here, but the original continues:

The New Zealand soldiers with their repellently honest hard faces under the hats which are the color of fresh cow dung, move by, looking intense, it is their hour. [21]

Certainly these soldiers play no part in the plot of the novel, but neither do the old woman and man, and the ironically incisive description, capturing so exactly the appearance of the soldiers up from the farm in photographs of the period, helps create that sense of a unique place and time that is so characteristic of her novels. The second echelon of the NZ troops are soon to leave for overseas service. Also, juxtaposed against the grotesque old couple, this sentence adds to the sense of surreal discomfort so characteristic of the later New Zealand novels. Again, this is one of thousands of examples of excisions.

Frost's Wilde Eve is a novel with few characters--the multitude of eccentrics characteristic of The Pea-Pickers have been edited out. When Eve is boarding in Auckland the humour of the itinerant misfits in her boarding house must vanish as the boarding house is omitted. Details of hearing on the radio Aunt Daisy and Uncle Scrim, well known radio personalities, one representing conservative mid-New Zealand, one a socialist anti-government voice, disappear together with comments about Mussolini and the war in Ethiopia. Langley is an astute and aware political commentator (even if a supporter of Mussolini, pinning a photograph of I1 Duce on the communal kitchen wall), but this Langley is not present in Wilde Eve. In the typescript novel 'Remote Apart,' whose title came from the second line of Kipling's eulogy to Auckland but is changed by Frost to 'A Son is Born' Langley records listening to the 1940 Waitangi celebrations on Mrs Gaussen's radio. Frost cuts this out, yet this is a record of Langley's response to the hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi. Interspersed with the racist comments of Mrs Gaussen's lover are the dramatic and powerful words of the Maori speakers and the responses of Eve and her children to the rhythm and power of the Maori songs and chants. She records this radio broadcast because she knows its importance. There are few if any records like this. Frost does include Langley's visit to the Ratana pah when she's in Wanganui, but most of the other references to Maori are omitted.

And the humour largely vanishes. Marvellous vignettes have been cut out like this one of the editor of the Auckland Mirror to whom Eve is trying to sell her poetry:

dear Gillespie the editor, who was awfully humorous and laughed at me but really liked me very much, and was given to taking lessons in French by night from a mysterious lady teacher in Newton, had a bottle of Clements Tonic standing on his shelf near the bright glare of the small window that looked out on the Ferry Building, and was always moaningly thinking of taking a holiday in the country. [22]

It's a sparse life Frost's Eve leads in Auckland, totally focused on her husband to be--art student Hilary. The enormous rows with Hilary vanish, as do Ida Eise, Lois White, Johnny Weeks, Bessie Christie--the teachers at the Elam Art School who are of interest as part of the bohemian life in Auckland in the late 1930s as well as by virtue of being important New Zealand artists.

The title Wild Eve is Lucy Frost's, as are most of the titles of the sections in the book, each containing the contents of one typescript novel. Langley's title of the novel 'Last Loveliest Loneliest' (from the lines in Rudyard Kipling's poem on Auckland, 'Last Loneliest, Loveliest'), is changed to 'The Bach at Maori Gran's.' Certainly the events recorded in the course of this novel do take place when Langley is living in the small cottage (a bach is a holiday house) owned by 'Maori Gran,' but the original title emphasised Langley's repeated attempts in all five Auckland novels to capture the distinctive feel and atmosphere of this New Zealand city.

Down the end of the long Hinemoa street lay the wharf and the little ferry boats steaming back and forth to Auckland and far off and yet all about us I could hear the voice of Hochstetter, the old German scientist saying, 'Auckland is situated on a veritable nest of volcanoes.' I could see them pinkly lying like shallow reddish saucers still under the blue of the sea at evening. [23]

Or after hearing Maori Gran's tales of the Ngapuhi and the Hau Hau: the mysterious New Zealand bush lit by a savage and awful Maori moon that shone deathly over it, all, such a wild and mad and terrible tangle of bush I had never seen before, so different from the dry stately poetic and measured glades of Australia.... Here, in one awful plunge of green like a Maori chief spread from one end of the island to the other, under the horrid light of the fierce white swimming moon lay the tumultuous tangle of wild bamboo, banana passion fruit and native shrubs and raraki a white flowered shrub whose leaves you could boil and eat and dandelions growing cold at the side of the house where I had walked one day to get a few to put between a slice of bread and butter ... [24]

Descriptions like this create an oppressive and alien environment which is stifling Langley and her creativity--in contrast to the opening sentence of this novel (which Frost does use):

It was summer in 1938, summer in Auckland, New Zealand, this most faerie of faerielands, this shimmering sea above this shimmering yellow grass. [25]

Langley's title for the second to last novel was 'Portrait of the Artist.' Frost replaces it with 'Portrait of the Artist as Pea Picker.' This novel is the one in which Eve's novel, The Pea-Pickers, wins the Prior prize, but it focuses on Eve's relationship with her egoistic husband, an artist, who sees himself as the true artist in the family. It's an ironic title since the writer is Eve, and the echo of Joyce's novel suggests this. Langley is a subtle. ironic and complex novelist and while drastic cutting was obviously necessary if Langley's novels were ever to be available to anyone except the few aficionados who could afford the time to visit the Mitchell Library, I'm not sure that the substitution of Frost's titles for Langley's is justifiable.

The novel that Langley titles 'Last Loveliest Loneliest' and that Frost retitles 'The Bach at Maori Gran's' focused on the increasingly senile Maori Gran and the elderly eccentric Mrs Gaussen, their new landlady who lives through the wall and who is getting more sick and dying. A minor figure is Mr Brett, who lives in a cottage on Mrs Gaussen's property with his little dog and who is dying of cancer. Brett has deformed hands as well as cancer after a lifetime working for Goldie the timber merchant, who is related to Goldie the famous New Zealand painter of Maori. Hilary and Eve have discussed Goldie's art and concepts of photographic representation. It's a fascinating discussion in terms of Goldie's current status in New Zealand art (a major exhibition has recently toured New Zealand and Australia). But Mr Brett merits a bare mention and Goldie has vanished in Wilde Eve. Mrs Gaussen tells stories of locals like Mr Carr, who 'did something really dreadful--she averted her face and I knew it must have been the sort of thing ladies do avert their faces from'--and who has been in the asylum for nine years with 'suicidal mania' while the constable who arrested him died of cancer and his wife 'went mad and lit a fire in the gully and laid herself on it, and burnt to death.' [26] And Mrs Gaussen tells the story of Mary Flowers, who became pregnant to Mrs Gaussen's first husband, Constable Kelly, went to Sydney and 'was drowned.' At the end of the story Langley writes:

And so, it seems to me, that a river full dark and wise, knowing the gentleness of Mary Flowers, the bitterness of life and the faithfulness of that which moves men, came up over its banks, lilies in hand and put an arm around her waist and drew her close to itself in a laughing (and we all know how wildly, escapingly, tantalizingly, deeply and lostly a river laughs) embrace. And in it she hung until they found her, the cold wet body carrying the cold wet babe within. Lost one, lost one, ah God, here's someone weeps for you, drifts down stream with you, mourns for love, regrets her life. [27]

Langley's increasing isolation and depression, her memories of her lost child, are incorporated with such stories and the two dying old women whom she loves--Mrs Gaussen and Maori Gran--are central to what is a powerfully depressing and moving volume with a strong theme of mortality and decay and insanity. Maori Gran has a vividly described visitor Agnes, a patient at Pt Chevalier (the psychiatric hospital in which Eve will later spend 8 years incarcerated). But Frost's 'The Bach at Maori Gran's' has to edit Brett and Goldie and Mr Carr and Mary Flowers and Agnes and many others out. Eve's constantly resurfacing memories of her dead child vanish--powerful passages like this, where she walks where she'd been pregnant with her now dead child:

I walked along this street thinking. 'Can it be true, really true, that I once walked this street alone, and now walk it, the mother of Hilary's child, the wife of another man?' As I came down the hill I passed a house and garden dug into the incline; a woman tall, ragged and thin stood in the garden with an old perambulator beside her. Its body had worn out long ago, and a bag was now tacked into place in the frame, and this bag was full of bone dust ... of whom ...? and she wheeled it around the ugly garden, stopping here and there to throw shovelfuls of dust from the sad little pram. It seemed to me that she had dug up her dead baby and was sprinkling her on the garden and I longed to cry out to stop her because it was such a dreadful thing to do, to wheel an old pram that had once held babies around a terrible garden, sprinkling bone dust on to the already too rich earth. [28]

The thematic and emotional coherence of each novel, as well as the changing voice of Eve through the novels vanishes in Frost's speedy summary of the

events of Eve's life. Frost in her introduction says:

There are gaps in this narrative. What is the story of pain she comes to associate with Rinaldi? Was she pregnant, and if so, what happened? [29]

This is odd, given that in a footnote Frost says that a child, Luigi Rinaldi's daughter, was born to Eve. [30] Although Langley always avoids describing the event directly there are numerous references to a lost child.

Wilde Eve is the result of more types of editing than Frost suggests in her introduction. There are some strange variants in Frost's presentation of the typescript. There's a letter written to Douglas Stewart dated 4 February 1938. Wilde Eve's highly edited version of the letter begins in the italics which Frost uses for letters. [31] It begins 'I have sworn to post your letter today,' then the text of the next paragraph begins as if it's Eve's narrative, in the usual font of Wilde Eve: 'Then followed months of starvation.' Then the text indents and in a different font, the one Frost uses for the journal entries, moves to 'I have appealed for a little help.' The extraordinary thing is that all these passages come from one letter to Douglas Stewart in the original typescript. [32] What is Frost suggesting by breaking one letter into three different paragraphs and fonts? Certainly Langley's letter is almost embarrassingly revelatory and melodramatic: the only meat I procured was that which my old Maori friend spared to me from what she got for her dog. With this and boiled thistles, dry bread and milk, I managed to make milk for the baby.

But making it appear as if is not part of this long and rambling and intensely personal letter to Stewart changes the tone and effect of the passage.

The original typescript novels, based on journals that Langley had kept at the time are sometimes repetitious and there are three obviously different voices--one is the Langley of the journals, the extraordinarily sane voice of the moment, sometimes lyrical, sometimes cynical, with a marvellous descriptive flair and an ear for dialogue. This is the Eve who needs to be preserved. There's also the voice of the later Eve rewriting these events who on some occasions summarises prosaically the intervening events, on others rhapsodises ecstatically and maniacally about people or themes that obsess her. Fortunately the Langley who had been rebuked by Angus and Robertson for her Wilde obsession keeps the latter to the occasional interjection. Unfortunately, in her need to give narrative continuity, Frost gives us a lot of the prosaic summaries, which means the text we have is too often a rather dull, quick summary of events. But she does allow the voice of the distinctly eccentric later Eve to remain:

It is the year 1958, the age of the atom bomb, the rocket, the guided missile and Man the Unknown. It is sixteen years after that dreadful thing called World War II. I have been married, had children and am divorced ... In the interim I have got into touch with the Greek god Apollo and his men out of the planet Mars. [33]

As the original typescripts progress, Eve becomes increasingly focused on gender roles, on an awareness of the body and its physicality and how this traps and controls the individual. She's increasingly intrigued by her daughter Bisi's acculturation, by the way in which gender difference is imposed on or expressed by her children. But her fascination with the children and her ambivalence towards them, the record of conversations with Bisi and Langley (the second child) have been cut. Some of these passages are extraordinarily powerful:

I sat in the sun, making a woolen suit for Langley. Bisi hovered around, came out onto the verandah, and stared at the sultry clouds. 'I tink wain,' she said presently. 'Indeed?' said I. She ran to a clump of white irises and smelt them deeply. 'Ah, nice smull. Tank you much,' she said to them, earnestly. 'Now Bisi love Mumma.' Sitting astride my legs, she pressed her arms around my neck in a shy half giddy delight and stared at me. I put my nose against her cheek and snuffled quickly and deeply. She laughed. There is a softness about her arms that is utterly sensual, as though she had come fresh from the half glorious, half frightful matrix of myself, sheerly and terrifyingly sexual. In the afternoon I wrote a poem on the war ... Hilary came home and condemned it utterly as being wretched and commonplace. [34]

There is so much like this that has vanished. Langley, the son, barely exists in Wilde Eve, but in the typescript he becomes a formidable male presence:

In the children's room, I heard Langley and Bisi fighting violently. I heard him come at her, roaring with his mouth open. It opened in my mind, organic and simian, as he roared, and then ... bit her. She cried. When I brought them out of the cold into the room here, she touched her arm and cried, 'Langley bit Bisi. He naughty. He bite me.' I stared at him in contempt. 'No. Langley good,' he cried wildly. I turned to the wall. 'Good Langley,' he cried. I looked away still. He bellowed like a bull, and I turned and stared at him in a light stricken moment. His face was purple and distorted with rage, hatred and boiling impatience, near madness. 'Langley GOOD!' he screamed, hating me, himself, life. I was so shocked by his devil that I burst into a long wild laughter, and the tears ran down my cheeks. He laughed with me too, tearfully, flinging himelf onto the bed, and roaring with me. Bisi, she laughed too, and the tears ran down our faces.... What the hell is this? And what am I rearing so patiently? His litt le face, hook nosed, square like a native bear's, big nosed and small eyed is the cloth hung over a cavern to me. Who shall know? Who can make him kind? And the woman, and the women who are waiting and growing for and with him, what can I do to help them? At this moment I feel a strong pitiful thread catching me to them and I am helpless. Suppose I thrash him often? Suppose I crush him? Yes, he must be crushed. I can't bear to think of a woman being hurt by my son. I'm tired of being hurt by man.

This feminist voice and awareness has grown out of Eve's immersion in marriage and motherhood and is very different from the Eve of the earlier novels, or the Eve of The Pea-Pickers. It's a most unusual voice for the period--I've read nothing else like it--and it's a voice which must not be lost.

The sexual/bodily disgust of the last novel, 'The Saunterer,' vanishes in Wilde Eve. In this last unfinished novel Langley writes of her third pregnancy:

What a terrible thing it is to be a human being, I think, stooping over the tin! Organs, a child stuffed into your bowels; quivering there, and rolling, tight and greasy in your bowels; it is coiled fatly and roundly and swells forward in the daytime and slows you down. [35]

and again:

heavy with this cannonball of a child. I feel the vagina begin to stretch and be pained. [36]

Later Eve and less Duff are discussing less's disastrous first marriage, and less says:

'I hear that Fairburn (the local poet) is in love again, quite lovesick over a married woman, and she is love-sick over him, and his poor frail little wife has had all her teeth out. It's a shame. She's an intelligent little thing, his wife; she was an art student. And he's sick with love. And so frail his wife is, too.'

'I'd cut his genitals off,' I said. [37]

Fairburn is an important New Zealand poet, so the anecdote is of interest, as are Jess Duff's comments about her marriage to Oliver Duff, a well-known New Zealand literary figure. But, more important, the anecdote and Eve's response are thematically relevant to the mood of the last two novels. I'm surprised that Frost omitted these passages. They are quite extraordinary for anyone writing at that time. What struck both Segerberg and myself as we read from the first Auckland novel to the last was the transition in style and tone from a positive lyrical romanticism and delightful excess to a grim realism focusing on the physical in the last novels. So Langley describes her discovery that both she and Bisi have worms:

Oh this is so screamingly low. How will it read in years to come? 'Bye bye worms,' cried Bisi, as I covered up her uneasy faeces.' Say bye bye worms, Mumma give it hand,' raising my hand up to wave to the horrors. [38]

On the ferry over to the North Shore Eve watches

the cigarette smoker who stared at me from a small soft yellow face, not wrinkled by age, but muffled by it, folded by it, with a large deep soft pair of lips, unpleasant in an old man, seeming to have been formed directly out of the sexual organs.' [39]

Langley's unpublished New Zealand novels are of particular interest to those interested in New Zealand writing, as she was part of the contemporary literary scene and, through her husband, knew of the art scene of bohemian Auckland. The woman who is stoned by small boys for wearing trousers--'There's a lady in men's trousers. Lady! You've got men's trousers on! Lady!' [40] (an episode omitted from Wilde Eve)--represents writing of a time of unique interest in New Zealand's cultural history, and a time which is only just beginning to be recorded a generation later. What is particularly frustrating to an Aucklander is that so much of this record has vanished in Wilde Eve.

I imagine that one reason for Angus and Robertson's lack of interest in publishing Langley's New Zealand novels was just how much of New Zealand they were. This is, as Eve herself points out in her contrasts of the New Zealand and Australian landscape, an alien world for the Australian.

Langley herself was by the late thirties known in New Zealand literary circles as a promising poet, and published in many of the New Zealand literary magazines. Frost brings this out clearly in her edited versions of the first two New Zealand novels. In Auckland, Eve became a friend of Robin Hyde [41] and Gloria Rawlinson, two of the better known women writers of the period. Frost includes some passages where Eve meets Hyde. They will, I imagine, be read with interest by Hyde scholars in New Zealand. But what these scholars will not know is that what they read has been cut. Drastically cut. The long poem, 'Thaumantius,' that Langley writes hearing of Hyde's death in London is omitted totally as is the very moving account of Langley's reception of the news of Hyde's death. Frost's Robin Hyde writes Eve a very prosaic little letter saying she will be away for a while (three lines). In the original it's three pages, describing the time of her pregnancy when she was hiding out on D'Urville Island. It describes t he writing of her poem 'Montaigne on the Hillside,' and has a marvellous account of the islands and of pregnant Maori girls in 'rich sealskin coats, not out of money, but brought back by their men who went to the far South sealing, years ago.' It's an important letter to anyone interested in Hyde, and near enough to Hyde's own account of this traumatic time in her life in A Home in This World to suggest that this is a copy of an actual letter. Regardless of its interest to a reader of Hyde it is a poetic, evocative, poignant letter, but it's edited back to a bare record of absence and return.

Langley in the typescript records reading Frank Sargeson who, after Katherine Mansfield, is considered New Zealand's most influential short story writer:

I read a story of Sargeson's. A man sat talking to a Communistic Dalmatian in a bare world; they spoke well, but the world was bare, not a bush in sight, no sky, but an odd sense of fences in everything; they even wore clothes as hard as the fence. Then a young man and a girl stood talking in a hotel kitchen or a farm kitchen; she fried eggs while he stood stripped to the waist, drying himself, and he thrust the cat onto the glowing fire and the people came home in the car. `I like this stuff alright, but Sargeson only sees one part of the world, there's no extraneous incident at all; no world, no grass, only a board and two people standing on it, talking; that's dangerous and false, for grass, light, wind and sun can change people...' [42]

This is a perceptive criticism of Sargeson and his story 'The Making of a New Zealander.' It also illuminates Langley's very different ebullient eclectic mind that incorporates extraneous incident as an integral part of her style and the self. Frost's Wilde Eve is often closer to Sargeson because it doesn't have time for such extraneous incident. Wilde Eve suffers from being seven four hundred page novels edited down to one three hundred page novel. Frost has made a brave attempt at producing a text which gives the general reader her Langley. Our version of the New Zealand novels had fewer editorial decisions as we chose only the five Auckland novels We called the whole sequence `Last, Loneliest, Loveliest.' The typescripts sent to Angus and Robertson end abruptly half way through a novel of 1941 when she's pregnant with the third child. I'd always assumed that this was because the events recorded were becoming too painful for Langley. Transcribing these journals, twenty years later, Langley was to write:

Face to face with my old self, the writer, I know I am still aching.

To write is pain, like the pain of remembering the dead ... [43]

However Frost convincingly argues that Langley's disastrous trip to Greece, at the age of sixty-one in August 1965, would have occurred as she was writing this novel, a trip when her luggage and manuscripts were lost. This would support the belief that the novels are closely drawn from her journals and it would mean they stop because their material has vanished.

Frost writes: 'I know that other writers would select differently-and I hope they will.' But now Wilde Eve is published, this is the Eve readers will know. And although there are marvellous passages in Wilde Eve, the editing has meant that we hear of the events of Langley's life over those years, but we get only hints of the brilliant, eccentric and insightful vision of the woman whom Ruth Park described meeting in 1940:

a dazzling autodidact with a head full of classical literature, other languages, and uncontrollable creativity the frustration of which was eventually to drive her mad ... to me she was a living example of all that was rapturous, exciting, literary. [44]


(1.) Robyn Colwill, 'Eve Plays Her Wilde Card and Makes the Straight Flush,' Hecate 20.1 (1994).

(2.) Mary Fallon, Working Hot, Melbourne: Sybylla Co-operative Press, 1989: 189-90.

(3.) Angus and Robertson Archives, Reader's report 26/9/1962.

(4.) Frost, Wilde Eve, Random House, 1999: 5.

(5.) Frost: 5.

(6.) See Robyn Colwill for documentation of Langley's reading of Wilde.

(7.) Frost: 1.

(8.) Ibid.

(9.) Frost: 317.

(10.) Frost: 5.

(11.) Frost: 6.

(12.) Frost: 82.

(13.) 'The Old Mill': 66.

(14.) Frost: 133.

(15.) 'Last, Loveliest, Loneliest,' ML MSS 3269: 149.

(16.) Frost: 298.

(17.) 'Portrait of the Artist': 362.

(18.) Frost: 296.

(19.) 'Portrait of the Artist': 350a.

(20.) Frost: 214.

(21.) 'Remote Apart': 315.

(22.) 'The Old Mill': 141.

(23.) 'Mill': 7.

(24.) 'Mill': 86.

(25.) Frost: 107.

(26.) 'Last, Loveliest, Loneliest': 177.

(27.) 'Last': 287-288.

(28.) 'Last': 57.

(29.) Frost: 7.

(30.) Frost: 74.

(31.) Frost: 110-111.

(32.) 'Last, Loveliest, Loneliest,' ML MSS 3269: pages 38-39A.

(33.) Frost: 24.

(34.) 'Portrait of the Artist': 136.

(35.) 'The Saunterer': 5.

(36.) 'Saunterer': 21.

(37.) 'Saunterer': 68-69.

(38.) 'Portrait of the Artist': 72.

(39.) 'Portrait': 141.

(40.) 'Last, Loveliest, Loneliest': 329A.

(41.) See Michele Leggott, 'Opening the Archive: Robin Hyde, Eileen Duggan and the Persistence of Record,' Hecate 20.2 (1994): 193-216.

(42.) 'Portrait of the Artist': 272.

(43.) 'Last, Loveliest, Loneliest': 6.

(44.) Ruth Park, A Fence Around the Cuckoo 1992: 234.
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Author:McLeod, Aorewa
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 1999
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