Sunday, January 29, 2012

Frame Family Graves


Janet Frame requested that her ashes be buried in the Frame family grave on the South Hill in Oamaru with her parents George and Lottie and her two sisters Myrtle and Isabel.

The grave had remained unmarked for many years until Janet and her sister June Gordon were horrified - and embarrassed - to be told of its neglected state. They had both moved away from the small town of Oamaru as teenagers, but together they returned to their childhood home and paid for the grave to be concreted and a memorial stone to be erected for their parents and sisters. At that time Janet and June decided they want to be buried along with their parents and sisters. Janet agreed that June's husband Wilson Gordon should also have his ashes interred in the grave along with his wife's family, and so they have been (June and Wilson's ashes were mixed together before burial, in a post-death sign of their closeness in life).

So it's an overwhelming place to visit for any of their loved ones, with seven close family members in their 'eternal rest'.

Sometimes the grave looks to me like a Queen size bed with a comfortable pebble duvet, and I like to think of everyone sleeping peacefully and not jostling too much, as in the famous scene from the Jane Campion movie, where the sisters sleeping all together in a double bed all call out "Turn!" at the same time.

Janet was certainly the Queen of Death; she knew parting and mourning inside and out. Very often her own words comfort me in grieving, especially her long magnificent poem from The Pocket Mirror "Thoughts on Bereavement", and many other poems and passages besides that one.

In the photograph of the grave above, if you look in the right hand upper portion of the snapshot, you will see that a nearby grave has a rather grand tall obelisk. That is also a Frame family grave, that I have written about before. It is the resting place of Janet Frame's Scottish-born grandparents, Alexander and Mary Frame, and also their daughter Janet Allan Frame who died as an infant.

Janet Frame's full name at birth (although she changed it later to Nene Janet Paterson Clutha) was Janet Paterson Frame. She was named after the aunt Janet Allan Frame who died as a baby and who is buried beneath the obelisk, and Janet's middle name Paterson was taken from the maiden name of her grandmother Mary Frame, also buried there. Mary Paterson was born into extreme poverty on the 7th of September 1858 in Paisley, Scotland. I don't know any other details about her origins other than that she was set to work in a cotton mill at the age of 8, and that in 1874 at the age of 18 she sailed to New Zealand alone on the Mairi Bhan, destined to work as a domestic servant.

Mary Paterson married Alexander Frame in Oamaru in 1877, when she was 21 years old. I have written about her before here. Janet Frame wrote about her paternal grandmother in the first volume of her autobiography To the Is-Land, and Michael King also provides details of Janet Frame's ancestors in his biography Wrestling with the Angel.

Below is a photograph of the base of the obelisk that stands above the earlier Frame grave:



One of Janet Frame's three nieces is buried under this crumbling obelisk as it is eaten away by time. Little Zarene Rose Frame died as a baby, and was buried along with her great-grandparents Alexander and Mary, and with her great aunt Janet Allan (also an infant) who died at the age of 13 months.

Zarene Rose's parents were Janet Frame's brother George Frame (also known as Geordie) and his wife Zelda (nee Chalmers). Biographer Michael King reports Janet Frame's niece's death in 1966 as follows:

"Frame picked up her copy of the Otago Daily Times to read that her brother’s daughter, Zarene Rose Frame, to whom she had written a poem the previous year, had died in her sleep aged ten months. The baby was in foster care, having been removed from Geordie and Zelda Frame’s charge on the ground that they were unfit to look after her." (Wrestling with the Angel, by Michael King.)

George and Zelda had two more children (a girl named 'Janet' after her aunt, and a boy named 'Geordie' after his father, in line with family tradition); and those children have also had children of their own. Geordie senior (referred to as 'Bruddie' by Frame in her autobiography) died in 1989 and was buried at his request in the Mormon Church section of the Oamaru Cemetery.  I don't know whether his family has erected a memorial stone for him, but Zarene Rose's grave remains unmarked.

In Memoriam


In Memory Of

Nene Janet Paterson Clutha

(née Janet Paterson Frame)

28 August 1924 ~ 29 January 2004

Dearly Loved
Remembered Always

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Three new Swedish translations


Vid ugglors skri 

(Owls Do Cry)


Doftande trädgårdar för de blinda
 (Scented Gardens for the Blind)

(The Edge of the Alphabet)


These three Janet Frame novels will be published for the first time in Swedish translation

by Modernista Books

on the 30 of May 2012

A visit to the Janet Frame House

Yellow dahlias in the antipodean dining room

The hearth in the living room: pinecones from the plannies strewn with rose petals from the summer garden

A window into the past: the wallpaper in the back bedroom

A front room 're-framed'

 56 Eden Street Oamaru - Janet Frame's childhood home.

Open to the public in the summer months.

For more information contact the FRIENDS OF THE JANET FRAME HOUSE.

hung with light

FRUIT
The pear tree in the back yard of Janet Frame's childhood home at 56 Eden Street, Oamaru.

"There’s still just a pear tree there, in a wilderness, hung with pears as a chandelier is hung with light" (Intensive Care)

GRAFT
The pear tree is the same one (with the two varieties grafted together) that was there when Janet Frame was a child.

"There were fruit trees in the back garden – a winter pear and a honey pear growing on one tree, a plum tree belonging to the neighbours but leaning into our place, an Irish Peach apple tree, a cooking apple tree, an apricot tree, and gooseberries and blackcurrants." (To the Is-Land)


Never to start again


The chiming clock on the mantelpiece of the Janet Frame House at 56 Eden Street Oamaru was damaged during one of the awful series of aftershocks from the 2010 Canterbury earthquake. As can be seen on the face of the clock, it stopped as a result of a large jolt at just after ten to three on the afternoon of the 22nd February 2011. Curator of the house, Ralph Sherwood, says that the clock cannot be persuaded to start again.

The house is open to the public every day from 2 pm to 4 pm during the summer months.

I was at the house yesterday, paying my respects ahead of the eighth anniversary of Janet's death, and there was a constant stream of visitors enjoying the Oamaru sunshine. The comments in the visitors book were delightful to read as Frame fans are always very moved to at last spend time in the house where the great writer grew up and about which she has written so much. I noticed that a German tourist stated that she had come to New Zealand chiefly to see this place.

The Frames of Hampden


Reasonably often, I hear of or meet somebody I had never heard of before who claims to be "related to Janet Frame".

Of course I'm very interested in this possible new family member, because if they are related to Janet Frame - who was my mother's sister - then they are also related to me.

So I enquire as to the details of the blood connection between them and Janet Frame, and more often than not it turns out that this person believes that the link between them and Janet Frame consists of their own family's past associations with "The Frames of Hampden' (who they understand to be somehow related to Janet Frame's Frames).

Hampden is a small locality in Coastal Otago on the road between Oamaru and Dunedin.

Just out of Hampden there is a 'Frame Road' (No Exit).


I haven't yet met someone who claims to be related to Janet Frame through the Frames of Hampden, who is actually themselves a blood relation of the Frames of Hampden.

As the story goes, apparently someone in their distant family tree, and they can never name them, had a brief run in with one of the Frames of Hampden, and they can never name that person either. Apparently the relationship ended disastrously and from what I can gather, there were no children involved. This is in the past, a few generations back.

They don't seem to know any more than that.

The story has all of the characteristics of an urban myth - the person is quite sure it is true because they were told it by somebody or other, but on closer enquiry the facts vanish like steam, and they can't even refer me to anyone who can verify it. They're all dead now.

More than once the person has even proudly claimed themselves to be "a little mad" (only a little) and that was because "that's only to be expected because I'm related to Janet Frame".

Well, there have been some crazy people in the wider Frame family, that is no secret, but Janet Paterson Frame was not one of them, so anyone who makes a statement like that one proves that they don't know anything at all about who Janet was as a person. All they are repeating is small town scuttlebutt.

The Frames of Hampden: No Relation

Anyway, I have no idea who the Frames of Hampden are, but they are no relation of Janet Frame's Frames.

Janet Frame's grandfather Frame came to New Zealand on his own. His siblings went to North America. He had a quiver full of sons and daughters, including Janet's father George Samuel Frame, but they are all accounted for, and there just isn't the time for one of them to have morphed into the lost tribe of Hampden.


There are other Frames in the Otago district who are also unrelated (in recent centuries in any case). The shoe shop Frames of Dunedin, for instance, are also not related to Janet Frame's Frames. If they were, I might be seeking a discount next time I buy my winter boots. Because I'm family they'd have to give me one surely?

Of course the name Frame is something for the holder to be proud of for its own historical origins and I suppose everyone who has it can trace themselves back to common ancestors long ago.

When Janet Frame was alive, as she got more and more famous, people did 'come out of the woodwork' claiming to be related to her. And often they were related, because they arrived with the connections already mapped out on a family tree.

Janet used to have a test for whether a distant family member who contacted her just wanted to be related to someone famous, or whether they really wanted to be part of the family. She referred them to her one remaining sister, my mother June, and if they wanted to be related to plain June as much as they wanted to be related to her illustrious sister Janet Frame, then they had passed the first hurdle.

Actually over the years Janet and the rest of her close family welcomed some wonderful new friends and family members who were only able to track down our branch of the family because there was that one who was high profile and easily traced, so please don't think that I am casting aspersions on the joy of reuniting with long-lost family members. We are a large family anyway but with an attitude that there is always room for more.

As always when meeting a stranger, even one with tenuous historical connections, there will be a relationship only if one "hits it off" in some way. Having a shared ancestor doesn't guarantee that you will be compatible. I have to say, brutally, that anyone who arrived at the door spouting culturally acquired poisonous myths about Janet Frame, either quickly realised they had been misinformed or got short shrift.

Janet once said to me:

"If somebody comes to you claiming to be related to me, ask them if they visited me when I was in hospital. If they didn't, then I'm not interested."


Thursday, January 26, 2012

To be utterly Frank



The Selected Letters of Frank Sargeson edited by Sarah Shieff (February 2012)

I'm looking forward to reading this volume to be published soon by Random House NZ.
As Frame's literary executor I have had quite a bit to do with this project as of course there was a very large correspondence between Janet Frame and her loving but difficult friend Frank Sargeson. And the book will undoubtedly be of some interest to Janet Frame scholars given that it will shed so much light on the attitudes towards Frame from the male-dominated NZ literary coterie that she encountered early in her career.

Because of the significance of Sarah Shieff's undertaking to the history of Zealand literature at a formative moment, given the various kinds of influence that Frank Sargeson has had over generations of writers and readers, the Janet Frame estate took the decision to let Sarah read all of  Frank's many letters to Janet and to publish the ones she felt suited her project best. The Sargeson letters to Frame (except for those cases when Frank kept his carbon copies) are still held under the strong restrictions that Janet Frame placed over her personal and literary papers, so this book will provide a unique opportunity to read what Frank, the big fish in the small pond, had to say over the years as he addressed his increasingly world-famous friend (and to compare that to what he said about her behind her back!)

I'm expecting that  there will be some unpleasant moments for Frame fans in reading these letters as Frank, despite being lovable and generous to a fault, was well known for his delight in spreading malicious gossip. He was perhaps not so well known for his mendaciousness, so my hope is that this volume does put his bewildering contradictions into a humanist perspective that does at last begin to unravel the ways in which Frank Sargeson at times undermined Janet Frame. He was of course also a benign and supportive influence on her, not at the beginning of her career (as the myth has it) because she was well launched as a significant writer before he even met her (that is why he tracked her down!), but at an important crossroads for her as she was making her attempt to flee New Zealand's narrowmindeness, something Frank understood all too well, and that he helped her achieve.

Later on, Frame was the mentor and the support for instance as she trudged around London attempting to interest editors in his manuscripts.

Frank's love was also tainted by envy, and I expect that these letters to all his correspondents may well show the insidious process by which Frank caused Janet's reputation much harm by his hysterical and highly coloured representations (and misrepresentations) of her.

In my cynical moments, I brace myself for a reception of this book in which the usual suspects in NZ literary commentary will take everything at face value that Frank (and others of his group) said (and say) about the Janet Frame who shot through their skies like a meteor for a brief time in the mid fifties.

At least one seemingly gullible reviewer of Speaking Frankly, the collected Waikato University 'Frank Sargeson Memorial Lectures (also edited by Sarah Shieff) apparently swallowed the 'Gospel According to Saint Frank' (as it concerns Janet Frame at least) whole. Frank Sargeson is referred to uncritically in the review as "patient friend to the seemingly impossible Janet Frame". This patronising information was transmitted in those lectures, as it has been over the years, by the Sargeson acolytes, as a series of increasingly embroidered and demeaning anecdotes about the "Janet" they remember, that bear little resemblance to the facts, which of course will in the fullness of time reveal Frame to be just as patient a friend to an equally if not more, impossible Frank.

But I do hope that the volume will provide overwhelming evidence that Frank had this quite dark side to his character, and that he is not at all a reliable witness when it comes to Janet Frame's state of mind or demeanour.

"We'll see", as Janet used to say philosophically.

In any case, the selected Sargeson letters will fruitfully be read as companion piece to Janet Frame In Her Own Words by any reader who is genuinely interested in a balanced perspective on New Zealand social and literary history.

Then they can compare for themselves the person we meet in Janet Frame in her own words with the second-hand Janet Frame that emerges from Shieff’s Selected Sargeson. And they can observe over Sargeson's long career, that he did mount propaganda campaigns against various people, and that Janet Frame was just one of many who were under fire for various reasons, and that perhaps many of the popular beliefs about Frame and her work that can be traced back to that brief Sargeson hut era of her life, may not be true.

As the letters themselves will undoubtedly show, Sargeson himself actually moved on with regard to his early misconceptions about who Frame was, but as (I predict) some of the reviews will show, a few of his followers have not.




Monday, January 23, 2012

An interesting thesis

There's a brand new PhD thesis out in the ether, and it's a very interesting one:
The Politics of Security and the Art of Judgment in the Writings of Herman Melville and Janet Frame by Philip Loosemore of the University of Toronto.

The abstract, and a link to the thesis, can be found here: https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/handle/1807/31841

Here is the first paragraph of the introduction, which gives a good flavour of the author's approach:

"The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the idea of political judgment as it relates to the imperative of political security in the literary art of two major writers, Herman Melville and Janet Frame, who, though rarely if ever paired together in critical studies, shed a good deal of light on one another not only in terms of political insight, but also in terms of narrative and stylistic technique. In each of the chapters that follow, I explore, from one angle or another, how Melville and Frame question the mechanisms, frameworks, and effects of the power of judgment as it relates to issues of violence and political security."

How refreshing it is to see Frame's heightened political awareness under consideration. In a later chapter, Loosemore observes:

"Of course, the idea that Frame's work marks a "poetic resistance" to conformity, to techno-bureaucratic domination, and so on, is well established, if it is not in fact the underlying assumption of most criticism on Frame. What has not been dwelt on, to my knowledge, is how Frame responded to the specific discourse of nuclear power and political security in the Pacific; what her insights into this discourse offer in terms of a concept of potentiality that pushes against the "exploitative, ordering attitude" that underpins technological domination; finally, what it is, specifically and in formalist terms, about her imaginative search that yields this concept of potentiality."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The greatest love story ever told


A new radio documentary has been broadcast on Radio New Zealand this week to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Jonathan Dennis, the first director of The New Zealand Film Archive.

24 Frames: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told (also available to listen to online) includes extracts from Janet Frame's short story 'The Pictures' read by Prue Langbein.

The Janet Frame Literary Trust was of course happy to cooperate with the producer Gareth Watkins by giving permission for the use of the Frame copyright for the purposes of this timely tribute to a much loved fellow New Zealander.

The recording of the Janet Frame story was originally made for Jonathan Dennis’s Centenary of Cinema programme in the late 1990s.

'The Pictures' was first published in The Lagoon and other Stories. It's a glorious and poignant observation of a mother and her young daughter being swept away from their daily life by the magic and romance of a trip to the movies. The story is also reproduced in several other 'best of' selections of Janet Frame's stories: You are Now Entering the Human Heart,  Prizes,  and The Daylight and the Dust.



"They stood outside the theatre, the woman in the black coat and the little girl in the red pixie-cap and they looked at the advertisements. 
    It was a wonderful picture. It was the greatest love story ever told. It was Life and Love and Laughter, and Tenderness and Tears."

“Seven thousand feet, the woman said to herself. She liked to remember the length of the picture, it was something to be sure of.
   She knew she could see the greatest love story in the world till after four o’clock. It was nice to come to the pictures like that and know how long the story would last.
    And to know that in the end he would take her out in the moonlight and a band would play and he would kiss her and everything would be all right again."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Make sure you read the small print


Janet Frame In Her Own Words
 Reviewed by John McCrystal, from Wellington
NZ Herald Saturday 10 December 2011

Excerpts:

"This book is a delight, because Frame herself is a delight"

"Janet Frame has been largely depicted as a recluse, an idea which this latest book dismantles"

"The volume is quite beautiful - small, printed on gorgeous stock in hard covers with a dust jacket featuring photographs depicting the young Frame in various moods, from stern and contemplative to whimsical and even clownish. But you have to question the decision to render the text in so piddly a font size."

"Highlights of the material presented here include her book reviews, a 1968 report on her tenure of the Burns Fellowship from Landfall, a 1987 draft report on her tenure as the inaugural Frank Sargeson Fellow, the spectacle of the diffident Frame dealing with the intrusions of interviewers, her valedictory notes to Sargeson and Brasch, and her reminiscences on the thrill of discovery when first she handled a copy of the stories by the Brothers Grimm."

Note: Most NZ Herald book reviews are accessible in an online archive but for some unknown reason this particular review has not been made available to the public.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Makers of Modern New Zealand


I was in New Zealand's capital city recently and managed to see the exhibition Makers of Modern New Zealand 1930 - 1990 that is currently showing in a most picturesque setting at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery on Wellington's waterfront. I have discussed this exhibition in an earlier post, and even though all the images and also the captions are available online, nothing beats the atmosphere of walking around a gallery and enjoying the works in person. It adds enjoyment to note the intriguing juxtapositions of the images of some of these prominent Kiwis: in the snapshot above you can see that Janet Frame's portrait hangs next to that of the influential money-man, Ron Brierly. Janet would have been amused.


Portrait of Janet Frame by Robin Morrison

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Towards Another Summer in Turkey


The first of several new Janet Frame publications for 2012 is Bir Başka Yaza Doğru - the Turkish translation of Towards Another Summer. (Yapi Kredi, January 2012)

Yapi Kredi have already released Owls Do Cry in Turkish translation: Baykuşlar Öterken (2010):

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"new sides to a beloved friend"


There was an excellent little notice for Janet Frame in Her Own Words in last weekend's Herald on Sunday (in the 'Living' section, 'Sunday Books' page 16).

Ngaire Atmore of the book blog BookieMonster said that "reading the non-fiction, interviews, letters and speeches is like discovering new sides to a beloved friend. A very welcome addition to the Frame oeuvre."

Herald on Sunday (15 January 2011)

Postscript: Full text of the small review may be found here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jenny McLeod's Janet Frame Song Cycles


Composer Jenny McLeod has released a CD of all three of the Janet Frame song cycles she has composed in recent years. In all Jenny McLeod has set 28 of Janet Frame's poems to music.

The three song cycles are:

FROM GARDEN TO GRAVE

PEAKS OF CLOUD

THE POET

The CD has been published by the Waiteata Music Press as part of the Waiteata Collection of New Zealand Music:

Volume XII. Jenny McLeod: Vocal and Choral Works.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bloomsday or Doomsday

The carrion vultures are croaking and crawing over the corpse of the James Joyce literary estate which emerged from its copyright protection on the 1st of January 2012.

Oh Happy New Year!

"We all own Joyce now" shrieks the twitter account of a sausage factory for ready-made writers. Oh dear, duck your heads for some tedious mash-ups of Joyce with the staple fare of middle class banalities about what to wear to the jazz club. Workshopped to within an ironic inch of any vitality.

The Wikipedia version of Phenergan's Wake will be a triumph of democracy.

The unbridled exultation on the part of those whose commodifications will be unfettered at last, has led to a bit of a vituperative slagging-off of literary estates in general. How dare they be so obstructive! There has been a little more than muttering, and there's apparently a lot of resentment to express about the supposed outrages done to truth and justice. As can be seen, for instance, in this article from todays' Independent: An End to Bad-Heir Days (by Gordon Bowker, 7 January 2012).

A lot of it is fiction, and betrays the natural hostility of many academics towards literary estates The scholars project their own greed and inappropriate sense of personal entitlement onto the estates. They use these demeaning anecdotes to stir up public opinion. Perhaps they even believe this mythmaking, as legend-building appears to be their natural territory in any case. By demonising estates they attempt to take the attention off their own often unethical behaviour.

Note that Salinger is on the list of supposedly rude and obstructive 'estates'. He had been so depersonalised - as are the other great authors - that they couldn't even wait for him to die, let alone for his copyright to expire.

Anyone who tries to prevent an author's private life and work being exploited and miscontextualised is portrayed negatively, as in this article. I bet the literary estates have their own horror stories to tell too, of theft and lies and misrepresentation and misquotation on the part of unscrupulous career-builders.

Honestly your hair would stand on end at the lengths some of these people go to. Many of them do not respect an attitude of cooperation either, as I discovered personally. Their peers sneer at them apparently, if they are believed to be cooperating with an estate. Standard practice seems to be to attempt to manipulate or deceive, and some particularly unpleasant people take it further, and have been seen to bait the estates gratuitously, as is well known to have happened with the Plath Estate. In some cases, it becomes a kind of sport, and as for the obsessed scholar who has so identified him or herself with 'their' author - then it becomes a kind of madness I think.

And if my negative portrait of some academics astonishes and alarms anyone who reads this, then you need to ask yourself whether you are just as astonished and alarmed by their own attempt to assassinate the character of the major literary estates, or whether you are willing to just swallow their propaganda whole.