Tuesday, May 01, 2012
Your Unselfish Kindness Robin Hyde’s autobiographical writings - Mary Edmond-Paul
Robin Hyde’s extraordinary but short life (1906–39) included a precocious early career as poet and parliamentary reporter. As a journalist, she juggled writing for the social pages with highly political reporting on unemployment, prison conditions and the alienation of Maori land.
She also struggled with drug addiction and depression, single motherhood twice over, and a lengthy period as a voluntary patient in a residential clinic (the Lodge) attached to Auckland Mental Hospital in Avondale.
There she produced several novels, and manuscripts of autobiographical writings. Her life culminated in brilliant reporting on the Sino/Japanese War following a journey into China in 1938.
Your Unselfish Kindness publishes the autobiographies for the first time. In 1937, fearing for her life in occupied China, Hyde wrote a letter to her mother asking that she ‘not let prejudice of any kind stop the publication’ of her work or of anything about her life, ‘if anybody should be interested in it ... Don’t tear anything up please’.
In effect, those words give permission for publication of this personal writing, allowing us at last to see Hyde’s struggle with conventions and attitudes – the forms of sanity on offer in the New Zealand of the 1930s – and how the ‘unselfish kindness’ of her doctor assisted her to recover from a breakdown and become a significant writer. Virginia Woolf was the first to use the term ‘life-writing’ – and was still writing in the 1930s that we had yet to learn about women’s lives, and that there had never been a truthful woman’s autobiography. Hyde’s autobiography is one Woolf might have imagined. As Mary Edmond-Paul makes clear in her careful and well-researched introduction, which brings many new insights to the study of New Zealand literature through her discussion of mental illness and therapeutic approaches to it in the early decades of the twentieth century, Hyde’s life writing is important because it gives testament to experiences that have formed our present world.
About the editor:
Mary Edmond-Paul is the author of Her Side of the Story: Readings of Mander, Mansfield and Hyde, the editor of Lighted Windows: Critical essays on Robin Hyde and co-editor of Gothic New Zealand (with Jennifer Lawn and Misha Kavka). She is a senior lecturer in English and Media Studies at Massey University Albany, in Auckland.
Otago University Press - RRP $40.00 / £27.50 UK