Monday, April 25, 2011

War and Peace: an ANZAC Day memory

WW1: soldiers leave for the war in Europe
(A Frame family farewell at Dunedin Railway Station)

Janet Frame on the outbreak of the Second World War:

"Had I been a city, the shock of war would have torn apart all buildings, entombing the population, or as after a volcanic eruption there might have been an overflow of numbness, like lava, preserving all in a stone mask of stillness and silence. I had never felt so shocked, so unreal. I knew that war happened in history and in places far away, in other nations; that my father had ‘been to war’; that some of the stories I most loved featured young soldiers ‘on their way to the wars’ or wounded old soldiers coming ‘home from the wars’. I had relished Miss Lindsay’s reading of ‘Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington’ and the battles of the time of Arthur: ‘So all day long the noise of battle rolled . . .’ And year after year in the School Journal I had read:

In Flanders field the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below . . .
 In the Anzac Commemoration at the Waitaki Boys’ High School Hall of Memories I had heard Mr Milner proclaiming the British Empire’s glorious deeds in battle and sung, feelingly, without translation of the scene into one of undue horror:

O Valiant Hearts, who to your glory came
Through dust of conflict and through the battle-flame;
Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved,
Your memory hallowed in the Land you loved . . .
I knew of the pacifist belief of Mother’s religion, that two of her brothers had been conscientious objectors in the First War and imprisoned for their refusal to kill. I tried to imagine the people I knew in Oamaru – the Walsh boys, the Easton boys, the Luxons, even Jack Dixon, becoming characters in this new story and with knapsack or kit bag setting out cheerfully for the war. I had honestly believed that the days of war were over."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"A spurious diagnosis"

Critics of Sarah Abrahamson #12

 I spoke to Janet Frame's family doctor this week, the General Practitioner who attended to her health in the last years of her life. He knew her quite well of course, as she had the brace of health problems you can expect from a first world citizen in her late 70s: diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, cataracts, hearing impairment, heart trouble. And then of course she was diagnosed with the leukemia that ended her life.

Janet's GP, unusually, has a Bachelor of Arts as well as his medical qualifications. He of course knew "who" his world famous patient was, and he discussed her past medical history with her.

When Abrahamson's article first appeared in 2007 I discussed it with him, and when I saw him again the other day, I asked him for his formal permission to state publicly what he had said to me at the time. He gave me that permission, in the light that as Frame's legal executor I can choose to reveal the medical opinion of her own doctor.

"You can tell them it was a big surprise to me that such a spurious diagnosis had been made," he said.

With this post "Critics of Sarah Abrahamson #12" I complete for the moment anyway, my marshaling of the evidence for a widespread critique of Dr Sarah Abrahamson's posthumous diagnosis of Dr Janet Frame Clutha with high-functioning autism. (Or of Sarah's idea about Janet, that she first got by watching Kerry Fox play 'Janet' in the movie.)

It was a defamatory letter about me written by Sarah Abrahamson and printed in the current issue of North & South (May 2011) that has spurred me to action. She claims that I have been applying "considerable pressure" on her to try to force her to "retract" her opinion, including sending her "extensive material". But I have not corresponded with or directly addressed Abrahamson since we had a brief email exchange after she published her viewpoint article in October 2007. (NB: Apart from the exchange of letters in October, apparently I wrote to Abrahamson again in January 2008, to ask her not to compromise my daughter's privacy.)

I have also not "disowned" any member of my family and I have not persuaded anyone else to do so. There is no "rift" among the Frame cousins, in fact there is no such fairy tale entity as "the Frame cousins" (and if there were it has no rational bearing on any questions about the author Janet Frame, whose estate is safely in the hands of an autonomous charitable trust and not subject to the vagaries of any resentment and envy in the wider Frame family).

And it is libellous for Abrahamson to say that I refuse to communicate with anyone in the family who disagrees with me. Honestly some of the claims Abrahamson makes about me are actionable. She seems to have been genuinely overwhelmed and surprised that a "scholarly" article published in a peer reviewed journal should have attracted criticism.

Anyone who wishes to publish academic "research" should know that stringent well-argued criticism is part of the process of seeking after truth, and if you can't take it, you have to get out of the kitchen. There is no rational place for the "ad hominem" methods that Sarah has been using against me.

Tales from the Tribe

Amidst the wider story of Bill Pearson, a NZ writer and academic who stayed in the closet in order to preserve his status and lifestyle in the face of homophobia, this book also contains a couple of rare and remarkable insights into the social life and relationships of Janet Frame, an author who moved in some of the same social circles, and whose own story intersects and contrasts with Pearson's.

No Fretful Sleeper (Auckland University Press 2010) is a careful study of a writer who allowed the narrowness of his times to stifle his literary expression. Bill Pearson's censoring of his own fiction in the face of oppressive attitudes towards homosexuality contrasts with Janet Frame's courage in valiantly pursuing her ambition to live as a professional writer despite a society that was every bit as punishing towards single women who did not conform to expectations of their behaviour. In Frame's case it seems the choice was either to marry or to teach, and she did neither. She chose to write. To this day the masculinist popular narrative of Frame (such as is conveyed in the reprehensibly patronising 'biography' currently displayed on NZ's official online encyclopedia) is that her abandonment of an unsuitable teaching career was a "failure", rather than the triumph it really was, of a brave dedication to her literary vocation. The Te Ara bio (written by Patrick Evans, ironically himself a former highschool teacher) even insultingly subtitles the article about Frame with the definition "schoolteacher, writer" thus defining her by a career that she never really started, and that she decisively abandoned for positive rather than negative reasons.

The sexism of this definition of Frame as a "schoolteacher" is cringe making, especially when the parallel Frank Sargeson biography doesn't similarly demean his purity as a writer by labelling him as a "lawyer", despite the fact that he before he started scribbling he did qualify in the law.

Frame chose to abandon teaching in her probationary year, to pursue her writing, a decision which led directly to institutional punishment that still did not deter her from her literary goals, which she reached despite all the hurdles she encountered.

It would be good to see some feminist research comparing the discourses about Frame compared to the way her male contemporaries are cast in a much more positive light despite their addictions and other weaknesses, and to 'reframe' Frame as a role model who managed to escape the "puritan straightjacket'. And to survive "as a person" as well.

Paul Millar does not in this particular volume succumb to the jaundiced masculinist perspective on Frame. His Frame vignettes - drawn from primary material and not the usual hearsay - are unusually fresh and will probably surprise those who know only the myths about Frame. Especially touching is the revelation that Frame was one of Sargeson's most trusted confidantes, and that in his letters to her we see him at his most honest and vulnerable. (Perhaps the more shocking, then, to hear how he refers to her behind her back!)

Fretful Sleepers is an excellent study filling in a few gaps; it makes fascinating reading (although there are a couple of startling errors overlooked at proof stage).

Peter Wells reviewed the book for the NZ Listener, and highlights Millar's chilling summary of Pearson's choice:

"Although he survived as a man when he returned to New Zealand, he perished as an artist."
Of course here might lie one of the sources of the depersonalising attitude to Frame that comes out of male NZ academia (as has reached its climax in the bloodless portrait of her in Evans's fan fiction romance Gifted). Janet Frame did not perish as an artist, so the men assume (and perhaps hope) that she had to pay the price of her humanity, for the artistic choices she made.

One of the first disseminators of this derogatory attitude towards Frame - that she was in the world, but not of it - was her so-called "mentor" Frank Sargeson. We see in Millar's book that by 1963 Sargeson's attitude has so hardened towards Frame that he deplores the fact that her Scented Gardens for the Blind has won the NZ Book Award for the year, thus crushing his hopes that the top honour would be given to Pearson's novel Coal Flat. (The later Sargeson mellowed somewhat, but much damage had already been done to Frame's reputation within NZ.)

In masculinist NZ literary mythology Coal Flat is still mentioned in reverent terms as one of the contenders for the elusive "Great NZ novel". And it is a great novel, but now we learn why it was not truly great. Pearson censored himself. Perhaps the example of Frame's contrasting honesty on the page, leading quite simply to her persecution, was instructive.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I alfabetets utkant

There is a new Janet Frame foreign edition due for publication on 25th April 2011 from MODERNISTA Sweden:

(The Edge of the Alphabet)
translated by Lars Sundh.

Monday, April 18, 2011

True or False? #2

Janet Frame was on hugging terms with Norman Mailer.

True or False?

True or False? #1

Introducing a new series. True or False:

"John Money was Professor of Medical Psychology at John Hopkins University. When he retired he donated his huge book collection to institutions throughout the world & his art collection to the Eastern Southland Gallery in Gore. Michael King met John Money whilst he was researching the life of Janet Frame who lived in the basement of John Moneys Baltimore house for over 30 years."

Friday, April 15, 2011

'Autism Jabberwocky' criticises historical diagnosis

Autism Jabberwocky (November 19, 2010) posted a commentary on 'diagnosing historical figures'.

The blog author mocks 'posthumous diagnosis' by calling it 'post-humorous' diagnosis.

Apparently someone had identified the Biblical character Samson as autistic, using this kind of logic:

"Samson is said to have eaten a swarm of bees and honey that he found in the carcass of a lion. Abnormal eating habits have been seen in children with autism."

It really is hard for me to tell whether the article cited was satirical or not. It would seem likely, but when you consider that an "intensive peer review process" at the NZ Medical Journal gave an imprimatur to Sarah Abrahamson's identification of Janet Frame's special autistic obsession as "poetry", then you have to admit, in the world of pseudo science dressed up as research, anything is possible.

Here are some of the comments the post received from other members of the autism community:

"I hope no autism charity funded this research."

"The people who promote this idea of diagnosing autism posthumously, based on limited (and in this case, fictional) information, don't seem to realise they do more harm than good. It really does make autism look like a joke."

"What you are actually demonstrating is that psychiatric diagnoses in a cultural and historical vacuum are silly and pretty sure to be wrong. Thanks!"

"OMG Thanks for posting this. Is there a disorder for the compulsive need to diagnose dead historical and possibly mythological figures?"

'Autism's Gadfly' criticises celebrity diagnosis

Here is a link to an excellent article written by 'Autism's Gadfly', writer Jonathan Mitchell, who has a "mild autism spectrum disorder":

'Undiagnosing Gates, Jefferson and Einstein"

Mitchell's essay is a careful 'dissection' of the 'diagnosis' of these three celebrities as autistic, teasing apart the many gaps in the arguments.

Mitchell uses methods not dissimilar to the analysis Denis Harold has so usefully begun on Sarah Abrahamson's article about Janet Frame.

Janet Frame Memorial Lecture 2011

JOY COWLEY delivered the 2011 Janet Frame Memorial Lecture.

The lecture, organised by The New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc) as part of New Zealand Book Month, was recorded at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa on 3 March 2011.

There will be a broadcast of the lecture on Radio NZ National on Sunday afternoon 24th April at 4 pm.

Audio of this lecture will be available after the broadcast on 24 April 2011.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Critics of Sarah Abrahamson #10

The Editor,

New Zealand Medical Journal.

Dear Sir,

Re: 'Did Janet Frame have high-functioning autism?'

As a long-term friend of Janet’s, I was surprised to read the above article.

I met Janet in 1959, when I was completing my training as a Registered Mental Nurse at the Maudsley & Bethlem Royal Hospitals, where Janet was an in-patient. As fellow Kiwis, we quickly became friends, & when I returned to New Zealand in 1960, we kept in touch by letter. On her arrival in NZ a few years later Janet soon phoned & visited us in the Waikato, with her sister & family.

Although we were unable to see one another often over the next years, never living in the same area, we corresponded & telephoned regularly. Janet always welcomed my occasional visits & was always interested in my growing family.

In her last years in Dunedin, & my retirement, I stayed with her several times, & we talked often on the phone. I visited her a few days before her death.

I consider ours was ‘a normal peer relationship’, unimpaired, & I know of several other close friends who would say the same.

In all those years I don’t recall any behaviours which suggest high-functioning autism. Initially, in the Maudsley, Janet’s condition was just what one would expect after years of incarceration in NZ Mental Hospitals. As I had spent time as a trainee nurse in a NZ hospital in 1949-50, I know only too well the damaging effect & iatrogenic symptoms which institutionalization produced. Of course Janet’s confidence was severely affected, but Janet still related to other patients & staff well, showing a great sense of humour & amusing us all.

I have considered the list of features of High-Functioning autism carefully, & Dr Abrahamson’s argument for each. I cannot agree with her on any of these. But then I only knew Janet well for 55 years.

T. Westenra
October 2007

[NB: The NZ Medical Journal editor refused to publish this very important letter, and so its author sent it on to Frame's family. Considering that it is an authoritative and enlightening account from a long-time close friend of Frame's who was also a trained psychiatric nurse, one can only wonder at the reasons for its suppression.]

Critics of Sarah Abrahamson #9

Every single family member that I have spoken to, who knew Janet well - and there are a lot of them - she had dozens of cousins - is appalled by the presumption of Sarah Abrahamson's "diagnosis".

A typical response is from Janet's first cousin Frances, who lives in Dunedin and has known Janet all her life.

"How could she have written Owls Do Cry with its astute observations of social interaction, if there had been anything wrong with her?"

I only know of one member of the wider family who agrees with Abrahamson but by her own admission she did not know Janet Frame well, so her opinion is not that of an insider.

If there are other "family members" such as the distant relation named in the North & South article, their opinion hardly rates as 'evidence' if they did not know Frame personally. They are as subject to the myths as any person on the street.

Critics of Sarah Abrahamson #8

Dr Bill Tramposch
(Fulbright in Museum Education)
Former Chief Executive, NZ Historic Places Trust

'Diagnosis by Mail: a response to the viewpoint article on Janet Frame'

NZ Medical Journal

26 October 2007

Bill Tramposch, who was a friend of Janet Frame's, tried sarcasm as his protest at Sarah Abrahamson's article:

'My wife and I knew Janet during the time we were restoring her childhood home in Oamaru. We live in Nantucket, Massachusetts now, however, and I wonder if Dr Abrahamson would do us the same favour of diagnosing us through the mails. If so, I would be happy to send her a list of symptoms that characterise our behaviours (and a picture of us, if it will help.)

As with Janet Frame, I would assume that she would not need to be any more acquainted with us, unless of course she wanted us to write some stories.'

Critics of Sarah Abrahamson #7

Dr Simone Oettli

Lecturer (English and New Zealand literature)
University of Geneva,
Geneva, Switzerland

'Janet Frame and autism? Response from a Frame scholar'
NZ Medical Journal
9 November 2007

'[Abrahamson states] that Frame’s “formal psychiatric diagnosis, however, has not been clear”. On the contrary, her formal diagnosis, given in New Zealand, was not only horrifyingly clear, but dangerously incorrect, and was revoked by a group of psychiatrists at the Maudsley Hospital in London, 12 years later. It seems that Antipodeans are determined to repeat that original mistake, because Abrahamson, regretting that “no alternative diagnosis has been widely canvassed”, now wants to impose “strong autistic features” on Frame, using a (mis)reading of Frame’s Autobiography as her only evidence. It’s like accusing Agatha Christie of murder!'

'I’d like to know whether, in Australia and New Zealand, it is an accepted part of the medical profession to make a diagnosis without examining the person concerned. Here in Europe, that is out of the question. And anybody who has the slightest idea of how literature functions knows that one can’t confuse a text with the person who wrote it.

Moreover, Abrahamson’s ‘analysis’ of the Autobiography is blatantly unconvincing. She uses a literal reading of the title of the first volume To the Is-land as proof of hyperlexia, revealing thereby that she is not acquainted with figurative language and failed to pick up the play on multiple meanings that Frame so obviously exploits.'
(Simone Oettli is the author of a scholarly monograph on Frame: Surfaces of Strangeness: Janet Frame and the Rhetoric of Madness (2003) which involved a close analysis of Frame's autobiography)

Critics of Sarah Abrahamson #6

Anonymous Psychiatrist

Personal Communication
20 January 2011

'As regards the 'autistic' affair my advice that it was a poor quality paper best ignored I'm sure was right'

(I first contacted this psychiatrist - who had in the past written scholarly articles on Janet Frame -  in late 2007 with the hopes that he would speak publicly to support me.

I wanted a right of reply to a Christchurch Press article which I believed had libelled me, but the newspaper refused to give me a hearing unless I could find a medical professional to back me up on my criticism of Sarah Abrahamson's article.

I also had hopes that some reputable NZ medical professional would write to the NZMJ in defence of Janet Frame's hard won freedom from misdiagnosis. (Fat chance, as it turned out.)

The psychiatrist read the Abrahamson article but considered it too poor to warrant his comment. He also let me know in no uncertain terms that the NZ Medical Journal was not taken seriously "in the field" anyway.

He also cautioned me that whoever criticised the autism diagnosis would be vigorously attacked and an attempt made to destroy their reputation in order to neutralise their opposition (I guess he had noted this sort of academic phenomenon in the past), and that was another reason he was not willing to put himself on the line.)

Critics of Sarah Abrahamson #5

NZ Listener
Issue 3522
Published on November 10, 2007

'Autistic licence'

By David Cohen

'Idle speculations that characterise autism as a fashionable accoutrement of the artist do a disservice to a serious malady.'

'Barely a generation ago, autism was thought to be so rare that clinicians did not even have a name for it. It is now widely recognised as a genetically based malady affecting language, behaviour, imaginative ability and empathy – but there are still people keen to invest this spectrum of disorders with their own unscientific narratives.'

'My own view, as the parent of a severely autistic child, a lover of books and a journalist who spent the better part of four years looking at autism around the world, is that idle literary speculations deserve a lower billing than serious scientific investigations or concrete proposals for fine-tuning what public awareness there is, not least within the literary set itself. Janet Frame is dead. The envoy from the mirror city is no longer with us, but the inhabitants of the autistic city remain everywhere – bafflingly, mysteriously, alone.

(David Cohen is the author of A Perfect World - a study of autism.)

Critics of Sarah Abrahamson #4

Sunday Star-Times
20 October 2007

Frame of Mind' 
'Iain Sharp

'Most New Zealanders are familiar with the sad saga of Janet Frame's earlier years. In 1947, when she entered Seacliff Mental Hospital as a voluntary patient, the 23-year-old was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic. During the next eight years she was subjected to electric convulsive therapy more than 200 times. She narrowly avoided being lobotomised in 1952. Five years later, when she travelled to London, a team of high-powered psychiatrists at the Maudsley Clinic formally rejected the diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Now, three years after Frame's death, there are fresh battles over mistaken analysis. The latest issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal contains an article by an Australian, Sarah Abrahamson of the Queen Elizabeth Centre in Victoria, arguing that Frame suffered from high-functioning autism. Startlingly, Abrahmson suggests that the world-renowned author, regarded in her later years as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, had language problems, severe communication difficulties and "no imagination".'

Critics of Sarah Abrahamson #3

Hilary Mantel
Man Booker Prizewinning author of Wolf Hall


In 2009 Hilary Mantel had this to say in her Introduction to the Virago Modern Classics edition of Faces in the Water:

'Despite the other things she could do, distinctive and remarkable things, Janet Frame remains subject to categorisation. She was put into the mad category, saved at the last moment for the artist category, and is sometimes put back into the mad category by people keen on classifications and unable to explain her genius except by defining it as an abnormality. An arid reductionism still haunts her. In 2007 a paper in the New Zealand Medical Journal suggested that she had an autism spectrum disorder. It is time to subdue the urge to pathologise, and see Frame as the highly conscious artist she was.

Frame's inner geography is complex, her psyche contains elaborate structures. She had the artist's ability to make strange associations and imaginative leaps; along with this ability goes, not infrequently, a certain social awkwardness, a deep reserve and a tendency to withdraw from small talk. Social situations are difficult because an artist like Frame sees and hears so much more than the average person; the subtext of every human negotiation is written in large type and cast in a brilliant light.'

Critics of Sarah Abrahamson #2

New York Times
May 14, 2009

'The Visit' by David Gates

'Someone is bound to seize on [Towards Another Summer] as further evidence that Frame was not merely a gifted novelist but a “high-functioning” autistic. Sarah Abrahamson, a rehabilitation physician at Australia’s Queen Elizabeth Center, made this “diagnosis” in a 2007 article for the New Zealand Medical Journal, based on a reading of Frame’s autobiographies. “From an early age,” Abrahamson wrote, “Janet developed a strong interest in poetry, which was to become a lifelong interest. This appears to have been sufficiently intense to be considered an autistic ‘special interest.’ ” Poets and novelists, who persist in the obsessive-compulsive pursuit of those “interests” of theirs, may seize on that terrifying passage as further evidence that shrinks want to pathologize genius. (And who is Abrahamson to “Janet” her?)

Like every writer worth remembering, Frame exploits — or creates on the page, to be absolutely puristic about it — her peculiar sensibility, her private window into the universal. Has anyone not felt the strain on those hawsers connecting the self to its various social impersonations? A writer’s neurochemistry may matter to physicians, biographers and general-­purpose gossips, but it’s not the reader’s business. Frame’s sad, slyly comic fish-out-of-water story needs neither explanation nor excuse, and Grace’s aloneness isn’t a medical condition — it’s a human one.'

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You Are Now Entering the Human Heart

One of the best titles, ever! Now to be published in Dutch translation from De Geus.

Selected Stories by Janet Frame.

Sarah Abrahamson’s Pursuit of Janet Frame

Sarah Abrahamson’s Pursuit of Janet Frame
Part One: The Article

by D Harold
(Janet Frame Literary Trust trustee)

Janet Frame lacked imagination – she said so herself. This is the exciting discovery of Sarah Abrahamson, rehabilitation physician in Ballarat, Australia.

Sarah read Frame’s autobiography and found this revealing admission, strangely overlooked by Frame readers, critics and academics.

'no imagination'

 I thought this was ground-breaking research on Sarah's part, so I checked the autobiography and sure enough I found that Frame definitely admits to a lack of imagination, in fact not once but a number of times. This is what Sarah wrote in her peer-reviewed study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal in October 2007:

She did not feel that she had imagination, in common with many people with autism. To compensate for this deficiency she analysed poetry to determine how she could seem more imaginative and artistic.

Spot on. And here are further admissions by Frame in her autobiography:

I looked with interest and envy at this girl who had the poetic attributes I longed for. I wanted to be a poet, and I knew that poets must be imaginative, dream great dreams. No one had ever called me imaginative or poetic, for I was a practical person, even writing poems which were practical, with most never failing to mention some new fact I had learned or giving lists of people, places, colours.
I began to collect other words labelled ‘poetic’ – stars, grey, soft, deep, shadowy, little, flowers . . . some having begun as my words in my poem but being used, in the end, because they were the words of ‘poetry’, and because poetry emphasised what was romantic (dim, ineffable, little, old, grey) I felt that I was well on the way to becoming and being known as ‘poetic and imaginative’, although I was wretchedly conscious that I had none of the disability esteemed in poets: I had not even a parent dead.
I remained uncomfortably present within the word of fact, more literal than imaginative. I wanted an imagination that would inhabit a world of fact, descend like a shining light upon the ordinary life of Eden Street, and not force me to exist in an ‘elsewhere’.

Sarah is right. Janet Frame does bemoan her lack of ‘imagination’, and in the movie of the autobiography, which Sarah also perused in her study, Frame's lack of and longing for ‘imagination’ is even more graphic: Janet Frame’s classmate Shirley sits in the class, dreaming, and the teacher calls out to her, 'What a dreamer you are, Shirley! Always lost in your poetic world of imagination!' The Janet character in the movie 'looks across at Shirley, with envy' (as stated in the screenplay by Laura Jones, Pandora: London, 1990).

'significant childhood language difficulties'

 Sarah astutely gleans insights about Frame’s inner life from Jane Campion’s movie based on the autobiography – for example Frame’s 'significant childhood language difficulties'. In the autobiography, Frame is not yet four years old and tells a story to her siblings:

the bid bodie came out from behind the hill and ate up the hawt

In the movie this scene is enacted by an actor who is at least twice the age Janet Frame was when she told her story:

The big bogie came out from behind the hill and ate up the hawk

A much older child acting the part of a three year old is odd. Sarah has admitted she got her ‘insight’ into Frame’s supposed ‘language difficulties’ from watching the movie. Sarah finds evidence that Janet Frame had 'very likely a language delay. She mispronounced many words.'

Frame, in reality, had no early language difficulties whatsoever. This is easily verifiable from all the available material.

To comprehend Janet Frame’s actual age at the time she told her story about the ‘bodie’, you need to read the autobiography closely. It is also surely a good idea, rather than to rely on a movie for factual information, to refer to other sources. The biography of Frame, Wrestling with the Angel, by Michael King, is very useful as it correlates events, places and dates with some precision. In 'Did Janet Frame Have High-Functioning Autism?' (NZMJ Oct 12, 2007) Sarah nowhere mentions having read the biography.

Sarah’s ‘analysis’ of Frame reads like that of someone who viewed the movie, skimmed the autobiography, and ignored the biography.

'extreme difficulty with most social interactions'

After dealing with Janet Frame’s relationship with language when she was a child, Sarah goes on to analyse Frame’s 'social inadequacies'. According to Sarah, Frame, on leaving London after living there for almost seven years, 'had become such a loner that she had to ask a neighbour she barely knew to see her onto the boat, having no close friends.'

Actually this ‘neighbour’ was Janet Frame’s ex-flatmate and good friend Mildred Surry.

In the biography, there are 12 entries after Mildred’s name. For example: 'Her flatmates came from Kentish Town, and she formed a closer relationship with one of them, Mildred Surry, the librarian.' And later: 'Every two months she went to North London to visit the librarian friend, Mildred Surry.' And later: 'she was seeing rather more of Mildred Surry'; then: 'Frame accompanied Surry to her parents’ home in Bury, Sussex.' And later: 'She had Mildred Surry to dinner' … And so on.

This whole rich history of friendship is reduced in the autobiography to four discreet references, and Sarah misses all of them. In the movie there is only one: the 'librarian' is rendered as barely an acquaintance, who replies to Janet Frame’s greeting with the formal 'Miss Frame'.

Frame in her autobiography evokes the 'brief self-pity' she felt on leaving London. She exaggerates her solitude by downplaying the friends and acquaintances she had made there. She admits that she is being selective in telling her story:

There were many people I knew whom I do not describe here; they are living and I have tried to restrict myself to my own story without presuming to tell the stories of others.
In her autobiography Frame used pseudonyms for many of her friends to preserve their privacy. For example 'Mildred' became 'Millicent'. (King explains this in the biography.) A close friend who willingly takes a long lunch time to farewell Frame at the docks becomes for Sarah 'a neighbour she barely knew'. Sarah does not even mention the other longtime friend who also farewelled Frame, her literary agent Patience Ross.

When Sarah was criticised by Frame’s literary executor for the demonstrably untrue suggestion that Frame was a loner who could not make long-term meaningful friendships, Sarah replied that it was insulting to suggest autistic people could not have friends. Sarah has a wonderfully flexible way of developing an argument.

'autistic tendencies' everywhere you look

Intelligent analysis requires thorough research. One cannot expect a memoir to provide all the information that is relevant, and though an autobiography such as Frame’s aims to be truthful it is also selective. One needs to correlate it with other evidence, and in this case the Frame biography by King is a good start. One cannot take a movie adaptation at face value, either. A movie, particularly one as creative as Jane Campion’s An Angel at My Table, is redolent with the director’s own fascinations. For instance Campion’s treatment of Frame’s parents in the movie is arguably refracted through her attitudes to her own parents. These are issues that any sensitive reader/viewer soon learns to keep in mind; a superficial reading and viewing of a topic only leads to one creating one’s own fiction.

The movie highlights several touching scenes between Janet Frame and her father. He seemed, according to Sarah, to have autistic tendencies. Janet Frame, according to Sarah, came to understand her father more than her siblings [did]. Yet, neither in the movie nor the other texts is there any indication that Janet Frame had a ‘closer’ or more ‘different’ relationship with her father than her siblings. Almost every point Sarah makes about Janet Frame is skewed by her agenda, everything is interpreted in the light of her ‘insight’ and what does not fit, what counters her theory, is disregarded, or not even ‘seen’. The Irishman Janet Frame meets and socialises with in London also, according to Sarah, appeared to have autistic tendencies.

'strong special interest'

Having an obsessive special interest is another 'autistic tendency' Sarah discovers in Frame. For Sarah, Frame's autistic special interest is 'poetry'.

autistic autopsy

The biography by King covers 76 years of Janet Frame's life, and thus gives much more of a whole context for her life than do the autobiography and movie, which cover only the first 40 years. If you were attempting to analyse someone, surely you would engage with their whole life. If you intend a diagnosis surely you need the person to be alive, and to meet them; otherwise the undertaking smacks of an autopsy. The simple truth, vouched for by her many friends and close relatives, is that Frame did not have the 'autistic tendencies' that Sarah attributes to her. But Sarah did not ask one of us for our opinion. I was a friend of Frame during the last 15 years of her life, and find the claim that she was on the autistic spectrum objectionable, not because there is any stigma to autism, but because the claim is not true.

Is Sarah Abrahamson saying to all of us who knew Janet Frame well, that we are liars?

List of foreign language editions

At last, The BIBLIOGRAPHY page on the Janet Frame Literary Trust website has been updated.

The page now has the current list of Janet Frame foreign language editions (as of 7 April 2011). This is a work in progress as some early editions, sublicensed editions and reissues are still being identified.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Diagnosis: Poet

Further to the the incorrect statement in the April 2011 issue of North & South that "Frame's mental illness was never diagnosed", see above a copy of a highly authoritative letter written on this very topic by the UK psychiatrist who led the investigation into the misdiagnosis of Janet Frame (Clutha) by the New Zealand medical system.

Professor Cawley states in no uncertain terms:

  "She has been seen by a number of eminent psychiatrists, all of whom agree with me that she has never suffered from a mental illness in any formal sense."

Here is a transcription of the full letter:

To whom it may concern

     Miss Janet Frame Clutha has told me that a number of literary scholars and editors of anthologies are publishing biographical statements which refer to her previous state of mind as sick or disordered. I understand that some are going as far as to suggest that her creative ability is in some way related to a history of mental illness.

     Miss Clutha was under my care between 1958 and 1963, and I saw her frequently during that time; she and others have kept me informed about her activities since then. She has been seen by a number of eminent psychiatrists, all of whom agree with me that she has never suffered from a mental illness in any formal sense. She went through a long period of considerable unhappiness before making various decisions about how to spend her life.

I have told Miss Clutha that in my opinion any writer who publishes comments referring to her "disordered mind" or "mental illness" is running two risks. One is of public ridicule at the hands of scholars more knowledgeable and informed about these matters. The other is litigation.

R.H. Cawley PhD, MRCP, FRCPsych. Physician
The Maudsley Hospital

29th April 1974

So, all the eminent psychiatrists who examined Janet Frame and knew her well for many years, were unanimous that she had never had a mental illness; the diagnosis was overturned and it is incorrect to claim either that Frame had a mental illness, or that she had one that was never diagnosed.

Michael King reproduced this letter in his biography of Janet Frame, so any researcher claiming to investigate Frame's "mental state" is either negligent or dishonest if they do not acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that the issue of whether Frame had any mental illness had been thoroughly and professionally investigated and answered, in the negative.

Not apparently, to the satisfaction of the journalists and literary critics of New Zealand!

And ignorant lay people "know" the truth about Frame, with the fervour of fundamental religious faith. They have acquired their beliefs during pub gossip, through classrooms infected by the official myth, and by watching the telly.

It's wonderful that so many mildly autistic adults are "relieved" to acquire a diagnosis and finally have an explanation for their "difference".

But it's an imposition on Frame's integrity and agency to claim that she too would be "relieved" by the posthumous label that has been so violently and ungraciously applied to her.

She was not searching for another label, as the letter above clearly shows.

She knew why she was "different". She was a writer, a fish out of water in a judgmental provincial conformist small pond.

Diagnosis: poet.

Letter to North & South

An edited and abbreviated version of this letter to the editor has appeared in the Letters column of North & South May 2011 pages 14-15.

Dear Editor,

I'm writing to challenge a false claim that was made about Janet Frame in your April 2011 issue (page 46) in the article 'Different Strokes'. It is incorrectly stated that "Frame's mental illness was never diagnosed". This deceitful proposition is akin to propaganda of the "have you stopped beating your wife?" variety. The wording leads us to presuppose, because her misdiagnosis of schizophrenia was famously overturned, that Frame must thus be in need of yet another psychiatric label applied by so-called 'medical experts'.

These are the same 'experts' exposed by Frame "who over the years as my ‘history’ was accumulating, had not spoken to me at one time for longer than ten or fifteen minutes, and in total time over eight years, for about eighty minutes; who had administered no tests, not even the physical tests of E.E.G. or X-rays (apart from the chest X-ray whenever there was a new case of tuberculosis, a disease prevalent in the mental hospitals then); the experts whose judgment was based on daily reports by overworked irritable nursing sisters." (Quote from An Angel at My Table.)

Of course medical science has clearly progressed since the 1940s. You don't even need to meet the person for ten minutes now, before you give them a label. You just need to watch a TV docudrama about their life.

The New Zealand medical authorities failed Frame the first time and it has been disappointing to see how keen they are to fill the apparent vacuum with another misdiagnosis. She was in fact given a final diagnosis by a world class panel of psychiatrists in London who made a careful and professional examination of Frame herself and of her medical history, and determined that she had never had a mental illness, as is made quite clear in Janet Frame's autobiography and in Michael King's biography Wrestling with the Angel: a Life of Janet Frame.

Your journalist mentions that a 2007 New Zealand Medical Journal article "surmised" that Frame "had high-functioning autism, or Asperger's". This misleading reference should be qualified by the further information that the article was an opinion piece only and was not evidence-based ('Did Janet Frame have high-functioning autism?' NZMJ 12 October 2007). The author, Sarah Abrahamson, a Kiwi medical doctor working at the time in an Australian rehabilitation facility, used highly visualised anecdotes apparently derived from mythologised popular accounts of Frame, to illustrate her thesis. That article, by the way, is also one source of the patronising claim that Frame never secured an adequate psychiatric diagnosis in her lifetime.

Given that Frame had numbered among her many close friends at least one each of a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, a psychiatric nurse and a psychologist, (as well as the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers), and that the diagnoses of 'high functioning autism' and 'Asperger's' were available for many years prior to her death in 2004, if such a diagnosis had been a relevant one for Frame she would have recognised and embraced it.

In fact Michael King had told Frame that some in the Asperger community were claiming her as "one of them". She discussed the concept with her confidantes, considered it, and discounted it, based as it was on the myths about her rather than the real her. King clearly stated in an interview in September 2002 that Frame was not autistic. (Not, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, that there is anything wrong with that.) So it is simply scandalous for Abrahamson to arrogantly assume that she "knows best". Without ever having met Frame and without having consulted anyone close to her or even Frame's family doctor, Abrahamson went ahead and published her 'viewpoint' article, ostensibly asking a harmless and a subjective question. But the news of Frame's so-called diagnosis of autism was reported around the world as having been determined by 'experts' and Abrahamson has subsequently vehemently defended the 'diagnosis'. But by definition, posthumous diagnosis relies on caricatures and exaggeration; and the temptation to overlook the counter-evidence has obviously been irresistible.

I note in closing that 'Different Strokes' introduces us to a young man who is the son of a second cousin of Janet Frame. Given that both Janet Frame's parents came from families of 11 siblings, and that from the marriages of the 20 or so aunts and uncles she consequently had so many dozens of cousins she hadn't met them all, and probably hundreds of second cousins, I'd guess that the pool of 'third' cousins is starting to become rather large, and I'd wager that the statistical distribution of people with autism amongst that population is likely to be the same as that in the general population. Of course your magazine wisely did not draw an explicit link between the lad's diagnosis and the disputed opinion about his famous distant relative. But the reader is left with the idea. That's the way scuttlebutt works best, slyly, and in ways so subtle it is almost impossible to refute.

Pamela Gordon,
Chair, Janet Frame Literary Trust

Monday, April 11, 2011

Writers and Their Cats

Janet Frame near the end of her life,
 with her last cat.

Anyone who knows Janet Frame's poetry knows that like so many other writers, she was a cat lover.

"The cat of habit
has the place marked,
the joint cased."

"You know you were my favourite purr-being"

There's a wonderful collection of snapshots of famous writers and their cats,
at this link:

Poison Pen Letters

Ever since I spoke publicly in October 2007 to challenge a posthumous "diagnosis" of Janet Frame as autistic, I have been hounded, publicly and privately, and around the internet, by a person or persons who are deeply offended by my stance. These people claim to be associated with the autism "community" and place me as an enemy of this community because I have refused to agree with their opinion that Janet Frame must have been on the autistic spectrum.

My opinion is actually informed by a thorough knowledge and understanding of the latest research on autism, but more importantly than that, it is based on a close personal association with Janet for 50 years, as well as an extremely good working familiarity with all of her published and much of her unpublished work. I happen to know that the person they are "diagnosing" has no resemblance to the real Janet. 

Pamela Gordon with Janet Frame: a fifty-year friendship

My argument is not with autism itself.

My argument is with the description of Janet Frame that is used as the base for their posthumous diagnosis of Frame. It is patently wrong.  Their delusions about Frame include such especially outrageously incorrect claims such as that she had "extreme difficulty with most social interactions" (Dr Sarah Abrahamson, speaker slide, Victoria Autism Conference 2010).

There is a host of possible evidence from a multitude of sources including Frame's autobiography, the biography about her, and even her whole oeuvre of literary work taken in context, that this myth of Janet Frame is not just an exaggeration or a matter of scale; it's completely off-track. Numerous people who knew Frame have put on record her extraordinary verbal and communicative facilities, and her ability to relate with ease to anyone from the Prime Minister to the Queen of England to the family next door, from gang members to the artistic elites of New York.

The evidence they cite for Frame's 'social and communicative disability' is taken largely from Frame's fiction, and also from selective readings and misreadings of her memoir, which in itself was a selective document in which Frame told her story, not the story of her relationships, because she didn't want to intrude into the privacy of those who were close to her.

They do not know or describe the real Janet Frame, so how can they possibly diagnose her?

The caricature they describe is based on hearsay, provincial ignorance, malicious gossip, cultural myths, a fictional portrayal, and a poor understanding of the literary genres Frame employed. And it suffers from vast omissions of all the counter evidence to a diagnosis of autism.

I have sustained the most vicious and unkind personal attacks on me from people who seem to think that because I am "in denial" as they term it, about my aunt, that I must have a poor opinion of anyone who is on the mild end of the autism spectrum. According to them, that can be the only reason I do not agree with them. They have drawn a portrait of me as an autism hater.

I am nothing of the sort, and I sincerely hope that this is obvious to any reasonable observer. But the defamatory attacks on me continue to this day.

Almost anywhere there is mention of me or Janet Frame on the net, these internet "trolls" come in with derogatory and defamatory comments about me specifically in an obvious attempt to discredit me. I have tried to ignore it and to "rise above" but the trouble is, this sort of mud sticks.

I have never said anything disparaging of any autistic person, no matter what end of the spectrum, and I have known many people who genuinely fall along that spectrum, from one end to the other. But I am often quoted by my attackers as saying that the only reason I don't like the autism diagnosis of Frame is because I am supposed to take it as some sort of "slur" on her character.

If she had been autistic, I would not see it as a slur. I don't think it is a slur on anyone to say that they have any degree of autism. The reason I speak up against a false diagnosis of my aunt, is because I prefer the truth, and their diagnosis is based on a whole bunch of lies.

The suggestion that Janet may have had high functioning autism is a satisfying one to those who believe the myths about her, but I can't help preferring to point out that the person the diagnosis-hounds think they are talking about just did not exist. But they want their poster child and they don't care who they will slander and try to destroy in order to secure their cultural property.

Because it is known that my daughter has classic autism, my detractors claim - repeatedly, although I try to explain that they are wrong - that I must just ignorantly not realise there are two ends of the spectrum. They patronisingly tell me, over and over, and say of me, that high functioning autism manifests differently to 'classic' autism.. They think I confuse HFA with the severe type that they believe my daughter to have.

I do not have a negative opinion of any kind of position on the autism spectrum - not of one end or the other. Some of my detractors apparently have a low opinion of those who like my daughter are located nearer the severe end. They seem to have a horror of any association of autism spectrum disorder with "retardation" or even of 'mental illness". They put words into my mouth and then slander me for their own terror of any possible "dark side" to an autism diagnosis.

They seem to be the ones who fear any association of high functioning autism or Aspergers with intellectual disability or mental illness! In fact they seem to be the ones with a deep disrespect: for people with mental illness and severe autism.

Perhaps they are are afraid they will be given these labels themselves? In fact they seem to be shopping around for the coolest geeky label they can find, and "genius-autist" is the label du jour.

I've had to put up with abusive emails and texts, with toxic poison pen emails and vicious blog comments including those casting aspersions on my own love for my daughter and even cruelly suggesting that I might be ashamed of her.

It's incredible to me that anyone who claims to speak for the "autism community" should so horrifically attack a mother who has supported and loved a family member with autism for nearly 40 years, but there you go.

And in attacking me, these so-called "autism advocates" are attacking someone who, for many years before autism was a well-known condition, advocated for human rights for people with autism and belonged to and served in a voluntary capacity in organisations publicising autism. And I also was studying issues of communication in people with autism less than ten years ago, when I was enrolled for a PhD in linguistics. Yet these people say of me, "she must have issues with accepting her own daughter's autism and that's why she rejects the truth about her aunt".

Generally I just delete the toxic attacks but not until I have saved them and saved the IP information identifying where the person was when they posted the comment to the internet. In case I ever decide to sue these people to try to stop the slanders once and for all. I do have plenty of evidence, including facebook posts and radio interviews, and the libellous messages these people send to my associates and family members, signing their own names.

The below "anonymous" comment was made on a blog post I wrote in September 2008. The blog post was about the fact that Frame was a lone twin: her twin died in utero:

Here's the anonymous comment that was made:

"Mrs. Gordon - noone agrees with you on this, except perhaps for a few people with no idea about autism and some autists in denial. Any of us with autism will know she exactly describes the mental state in so many of her books, especially the ones which are definite autobiographies or very thinly veiled, and the biography. I don't think you know how little most respect your opinion on this, how most people who meet you think you are a stuck-up bitch with a very boring public speaking style, and how much of a laughing stock you are among people with some idea about autism. You don't even have any friends or colleagues who can be bothered posting any comments supporting you (maybe you need to make some up?) And by the way noone is fulled by your A Customer Amazon posts: can't you even try to sound like a normal person not a literary wanker? And the biography clearly documents your daughter has a severe mental retardation issue, not just autism, so that doesn't really make you an expert on that, apparently. JF said herself anyway that despite this she could identify with her! Have a good hard look at yourself woman. Little hope of this I know but whatever, you've annoyed and offended lots of good people, and the autism community, without it appears feeling any "empathy". Maybe you should just try even meeting one or 2 non-retarded autistic people, but oh no, Pamela knows everything.

Love an autistic non-fan"

Tracking software indicates the above comment originated from Victoria in Australia from a medical server

I did compose a reply that went more or less like this:

Dear "Anonymous",

I have to concede that my speaking style isn't scintillating; I have never felt that the role of literary executor really called for a high level of entertaining delivery. Believe it or not, I'm not doing this extremely challenging job for my own personal glory. I'm here because of the loving personal relationship I had with my aunt, and out of a sense of duty to her hugely important literary legacy. And because she asked me to do it. She knew I had the qualifications, including a post graduate degree.

Sorry but I don't know what you're talking about with the Amazon comments, I have never in my life posted anything on Amazon or any of the other places I'm accused of posting. This blog of mine is where I have my say. It sounds like you've encountered a genuine "literary wanker".

Or, perhaps, as has happened several times on Wikipedia, somebody has impersonated me just for the purpose of attacking me, because they have been unable to cope with my silence there.

And the reason my friends and colleagues and other experts don't "rally to my defence" is not because I don't have support - it's because your position and your methods, are beneath contempt and do not warrant their effort or even their comment. And because they think I'm doing a good job anyway.

Oh and by the way, if you want to be an effective health advocate, it might be a good idea not to call somebody with an intellectual disability "retarded" - that's incredibly insulting.


Posting my response just led to a further stream of abusive comments and I became tired of the negativity and just took it all off line.

But I don't like the idea of being bullied into silence by these stalkers, so I have posted the material here for the record.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Having the the Time of her life

Here's another terrific portrait of Janet Frame in her prime, taken by Henry Grossman for the TIME magazine review of Intensive Care (1970).

In a New York state of mind

For Bill on his birthday

Bill Brown and Janet Frame, April 17th 1992, Palmerston North

I took this photo in Janet's back yard in Palmerston North at Dahlia Street. I was staying with her for several months while she was recovering from surgery for ovarian cancer.

Her dear friend Bill had come for a visit from the States to spend time with her.

There's Janet giving instructions about where to find the button on the camera.

Transforming reality into fiction

"We were busy converting her fiction into our fiction"
- Bridget Ikin
cited in:

Film producer Bridget Ikin is describing above the process of adapting Janet Frame's autobiography into Jane Campion's movie AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE. It is interesting that Ikin refers to Frame's autobiography of her early life as 'fiction', when Frame herself insisted that she had told the truth of her life in the three volumes of autobiography. Frame admitted that as a novelist, she used her skills as a fiction writer to tell her story (only until the age of forty), but she didn't invent any of it. Her raw material was her life, which she turned into 'literature' not 'fiction'. A rare achievement.

In any case, the Ikin quote is a very good piece of evidence that the movie version of Janet Frame's life was deliberately fictionalised by its makers. The attitude that Frame's autobiography was 'fiction' must surely have informed the additions and omissions and exaggerations that made up the final filmic masterpiece.

Certain scenes were invented by the film makers and Frame also reluctantly granted them permission to use scenes from her actual fiction, as they insisted they needed them. Frame was afraid that the invented scenes in the movie would lead viewers to believe these things were true about her in real life, and so she was proved correct.

One of the aspects of the film that Frame complained about was that the reasons for her sadness at various times in her life were left out; therefore giving the audience no sense of WHY Frame is so alone, or so distressed on occasion. The viewers then must assume that Frame's unhappiness is congenital and endogenous and they use this belief about the ten unhappy years before Frame found her place in the world as a professional writer, to characterise the other seventy years of her life.

Another significant aspect of Frame that is downplayed in the film is her career as a writer - her ambition, her determination, and her success.

So again, a caution not to read this very beautiful and inspiring film as a documentary of Frame's life. Best to actually read the autobiography and think about the differences between the book and the movie...

Certainly AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (the book and the movie) is in my opinion a not very common example of a great book leading to a great movie. And the success of the movie is partly because the filmmakers were not constrained to be too realistic.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Calling Rugby World Cup tourists

Janet Frame wears her blue-and-yellow Otago supporters scarf

More news from the Janet Frame Eden Street Trust:

The Janet Frame Eden Street Trust has received funding to open Janet Frame's childhood home at 56 Eden St Oamaru during the duration of the Rugby World Cup 2011.

The funding comes from the REAL New Zealand Festival 2011: "a nationwide celebration of all the things we love most about New Zealand, with events and experiences throughout the country."

The aim of the  REAL New Zealand Festival is to enrich the experience of the many Rugby World Cup tourists who will be visiting New Zealand in September and October: "to bring your Rugby World Cup 2011 experience alive with a nationwide celebration of New Zealand arts, food and wine, heritage, culture, entertainment, business and lifestyle."

What a great idea!

And Frame was a rugby fan, supporting her local Otago/Southland team the HIGHLANDERS.

Eden Street chairwoman Carol Berry said the trust was looking forward to welcoming world cup tourists in October, as they sought to "engage with the real New Zealand".

Photo credit: Reg Graham

Monday, April 4, 2011

Eden Street gets a web site

On the weekend the Friends of the Janet Frame House in Oamaru unveiled their brand new web site.

Congratulations to them, and welcome to the internet!

It will now be easier for culturally-inclined tourists to find information about the Oamaru house where Janet Frame spent most of her childhood. They can access contact details, the current opening hours, notice of events to be held at the house or organised by the Eden Street Trust, etc.

Please note that the "Janet Frame Eden Street Trust" which owns and cares for the house at 56 Eden Street, Oamaru, has no formal connection with the "Janet Frame Literary Trust" which is the charitable trust that Janet Frame herself founded in order to manage her literary estate.

Except of course, that the Literary Trust and the Eden Street Trust are friends!

We're united in our admiration and respect for Janet Frame and our wish to protect and care for her legacy and promote her work.

Another misunderstanding that sometimes arises is the idea that members of the Frame family are responsible for the care of 56 Eden Street. I'm often asked if I live there! But the Frame family never owned the house at 56 Eden Street, they just rented it, so the property at 56 Eden Street has no legal connection with any members of the Frame family either.

Although speaking for myself, I'm always deeply moved to visit the house, because of my family connections with it as well as my own awe that it was the childhood home of one of the great writers of the world.

When I visited the house a few days ago, a fantail flew into the house through an open door and stayed for a while, flying from room to room, before finally being persuaded to leave. Beliefs about such an event vary, but many New Zealanders regard such a visitation by a fantail as a deeply spiritual event suggesting a link between one world and the next. It certainly impressed those of us who witnessed it.

A fantail visits 56 Eden Street