"Preposterous and wrong" is how Frame biographer Michael King described a claim by English Department teacher Patrick Evans that in writing Frame's biography King had acted merely as a puppet for Janet Frame. (The presumption being the biography could not be taken seriously as a work of neutral scholarship.)
King made his retort during a speech delivered at the Tasmanian Readers' and Writers' Festival at Hobart in August 2001, but because of King's untimely death the Evans accusation is far better known than the King rejoinder. It's safe to say that the 'ventriloquist dummy' jibe has suited many a patronising Frame commentator for whom the King biography - based as it was on fact and not on the malicious gossip that had informed much of the previous public and private discourse about Frame - was an awkward document, presenting as it did a self-directed, clear-headed, robust and ambitious Janet Frame that challenged their own condescending portraits of her as ethereal, dependent, pathologically anti-social, and at best "fragile".
Preposterous and wrong are two words that in my opinion are two excellent words describing the pseudo-academic writings of that notorious Frame parasite Patrick Evans. 'Preposterous' because of his questionable moral stance culminating in the theft of her identity soon after her death, in order to reinvent her history in a turgidly written fan fiction novel; and his own lack of neutrality towards the great author, following Frame's spurning of him as a would-be biographer. And "wrong" because of the countless errors that have characterised Evans's deterministic proclamations about Frame, from the very first foolish bio-critical speculations in which he disseminated false facts about her real family, having assumed that a family she wrote about in a novel was her actual family, to those stubborn errors about her that he continues to make, on whom the ink is scarcely dry, including his apparent belief that by 1955 she was an "unknown" writer, when she was already a celebrated prizewinner, publishing regularly, and widely regarded as the "one to watch" in the New Zealand literary firmament, which is why Frank Sargeson - perhaps perceiving the threat to his own status as top dog - had pursued her tirelessly and persuaded her to join his campfire.
The paparazzi Evans - behaving more like a celebrity stalker than a level-headed man of letters - has repeatedly derided Frame's autobiography, and he has also mocked Michael King's authoritative biography of Frame, claiming that both were full of lies and omissions, and that there was more truth about Frame to be found in her fiction. And now, apparently, in his own fiction, a lacklustre rip-off called Gifted, which he has claimed is the "consummation" of everything Frame was not able to achieve in her work...!
Listen to his bizarre claim yourself in the last of these video clips:
Patrick Evans's own 'truths' about Frame were apparently gained by guesswork and invention, yet he claims her own honestly told version of her life is the "myth". Snidely, he refers to Frame's autobiography and King's biography as "the authorised version". All this, perhaps, to obscure the fact of the ridiculous errors he made in his attempt at an unauthorised biography. In his continued campaign to discredit Frame and to reinvent her after his own image, he has felt it necessary to resort to writing a novel filled with gross distortions of almost every fact about Frame's brief stay in Takapuna. Perhaps Evans finally realised that his supposed 'insights' about Frame were not able to be supported by rigorous research and recourse to historical fact.
No wonder Evans has so consistently attacked the veracity of the King biography. If you read the King text next to almost any of Evans's vague and unsupported speculations, you start to notice how many errors pepper the Evans polemics. And the fanfic 'novel' can be recognised as the travesty that it is.
Here's Michael King hitting back at Evans for his sneering suggestion that King was merely a ventriloquist's dummy on Frame's lap:
"It is a biography written in consultation with its subject, because that is the only way in which it could have been written satisfactorily in her lifetime. The secondary literature was so riddled with error [20 errors of fact in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature] that only Frame herself could provide a clear foundation of reliable fact upon which narrative and analysis could be built. Only Frame could ensure that her family and friends would cooperate with a biographer. Only Frame could authorise access to her correspondence and permission to publish copyright material. Only Frame could release her own photographs for publication.
But the suggestion of one reviewer, one of Frame's would-be-biographers [Patrick Evans], that I have sat on her knee like a ventriloquist's dummy and voiced only those aspects of her life which she alone wanted to show the world, is preposterous and wrong. I wrote the text; I proposed what should or shouldn't be there; and I made final decisions about what would or would not be in the text. And sometimes I made those decisions in the face of Frame's opposition. It is very much to her credit that she not only consented to relive with me some of the most painful episodes in her life; but she also recognised my right, as a fellow professional, to make ultimate decisions about treatment and content."