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(This essay first appeared as an appendix in A Reader's Guide to the Stories of Maurice Duggan, Lonely Arts Publishing, Wellington, 1998: 194-5.)
Upon receiving the original typescript of 'Along Rideout Road that Summer', Brasch expressed reservations about a passage towards the end of the story in which Fanny suddenly became very articulate. This, he felt, did not mesh with Duggan's earlier presentation of her character. Indeed, throughout the story, Fanny is seen entirely from Buster's point-of-view, and prior to her speech in this late passage she speaks directly only in the famously laconic 'crumpy conversation'. Duggan rewrote the passage Brasch objected to, the scene where Buster and Fanny part company for the last time. In the published story this rewritten scene occupies the paragraphs: 'Later, along the riverbank[...]' to 'starlight pricked out the hour: one.'
The carbon copy which Duggan used to alter the scene between Buster and Fanny, and from which the story was eventually typeset for Landfall, is among Duggan's correspondence with Brasch in the Landfall papers of the Hocken Library, Dunedin. The earlier version, crossed out, is clearly visible, and is recorded below, along with the sentences which precede and follow it.
[...]Hoping; it gets to be a habit, a bad habit that does you no good, stunts your growth, sends you insane and makes you, demonstrably, blind. Hope, for Fanny Hohepa
[Space indicated on typescript]
Later, along the river bank, Fanny and I made our way separated by a distance not to be spanned by an arm's reach.
No, further on. I can see in the dark.
Dark water, dark lush grass underfoot, dark girl, the drifting smell of loam in the night.
Buster, you're going away, aren't you?
No one. I just know.
What else is there to do? Anyway the money's not enough and I'm fed up with the place, these bloody paddocks, myself, everything.
Me too, eh?
I didn't say that. I'm not ready for all this, I suppose. I want to get where there's a bit of life, not a dump in the backblocks.
The place is all right, I think. Buster, why do you get so angry? You're always frowning and glaring as though you're making up something cruel in your mind.
There you are. What's wrong in it if I say I love my father and this place?
So what? I don't love my father and I haven't found a place yet. What the bloodyhell's that got to do with it, anyway? No one's trying to kidnap you, are they? You said am I going and I said yes. Now go ahead and giggle on that if you want to.
I only giggle because you frighten me.
That's lovely, eh? Let's go back before I strangle you, then, eh?
No. Buster, I don't want to quarrel. We don't have to fight. I don't want to go back just yet.
Who the hell's fighting, anyway?
We are. Don't let's. Can't you sit down for five minutes.
No. Look Fanny, let's go back.
All right then. Go back. You go back. I don't care.
[Space indicated on typescript]
In the end I left old STC in the tractor tool box along with the spanner that wouldn't fit any nut I'd ever tried it on[...]
Brasch's initial observation of the whole work, that 'if the brio is not sufficient to itself, then the story collapses' is certainly applicable in this case. The tone of the passage is almost like something from a different story entirely. Without his prodigious command of language Buster does not appear at all the sympathetic character he seems in the rest of 'Along Rideout Road that Summer', and at no point does Duggan appear to have the comic control of Buster's and Fanny's voices that he exhibits in the 'crumpy conversation' which begins their relationship. Too much information is being put into the dialogue, and certainly the passage is far too explicit on a number of areas which the rest of the story has dealt with only indirectly--Buster's restlessness and unhappiness on escaping his parental home; Buster's attitude to Puti Hohepa's farm and his job there; Fanny's attitude to Buster; and Fanny's situation as part of the Hohepa farm. The quarrel, too, distracts attention from Buster's guilt over the nature of his quarrel with his father, and confuses the reasons for Buster's eventual departure.
Duggan wrote to Brasch: 'the conversation, which I agree to be uncharacteristic, must be redone. In fact I think this must go altogether'. He recognised that the passage was a weak link in the story, and his revision was to make it one of the strongest. At the heart of the problem was the fact that Duggan had chosen to present the scene between Buster and Fanny as dialogue. Dialogue is the most objective form of prose and allows the reader to watch characters interact, largely uninfluenced by narrative point-of-view, as if on stage. From dialogue readers can judge for themselves relationships and attitudes. Duggan was acutely aware of this, and used the technique to good effect in Immanuel's Land with works such as 'A Small Story.'
In his rewritten narrative version of Buster's and Fanny's parting Duggan chose to return the incident to within the rich material of Buster's mind. This allows Buster's recollections to direct the reader's view of the scene. Events are obscured by the brio, so that the couple is only seen at some considerable distance, at the same time allowing Duggan to bring out the pathos of their relationship without fear that he might lapse into sentimentality. Buster and Fanny do not quarrel. The nature of the conversation between the pair is deliberately blurred. It is described in detail only in terms of what it is not, as: 'Unrecorded the words between us: there can't have been more than six, anyway, it was our fated number. None referred to my departure or to the future or to maculate conceptions. Yet her last touch spoke volumes.' Just beforehand Buster's tender holding of Fanny's head has had him 'tumbling down upon her the mute dilemma my mind then pretended to resolve'. The silent, physical gestures emphasise the genuine compatibility in the relationship and what is being lost.
In the revised version Duggan has been able to leave a great deal understated, about both the relationship itself and the characters' views of the Rideout Road and Rose Street East communities. The actual moment of parting is scarcely described at all. After the gestures of physical tenderness Fanny and Buster become excited and make love for the last time, an act condensed to a mere classical allusion and a discreet ellipsis. In a sense, as in Buster's confrontation with his father towards the story's centre, the action of parting is being repeated. At the last minute Buster and Fanny emerge from beneath the combination of verbiage and silence in the snatch of dialogue right at the end of the passage, a brief echo of the 'crumpy conversation' with which their relationship began. Like that first conversation, the rewritten dialogue gives little away to the reader beyond a certain comic nonchalance. It is as if the ramifications and nuances of their parting had somehow already been explored, earlier in the scene. The wordier, revised passage is perhaps a triumph of reticence, but it is certainly a revealing triumph of technique.
1. Charles Brasch. Letter to Maurice Duggan. 9 Oct. 1962. (Hocken Library, Dunedin. Landfall collection, MS 996.)
2. 'Along Rideout Road that Summer.' Collected Stories: Maurice Duggan (ed.) Stead, C.K.. Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1981: 198.
3. 'Along Rideout Road that Summer.' Collected Stories: 208-9.
4. What appears to be an earlier version: 'Of me too, Buster?', is also crossed out.
5. What appears to be an earlier version: 'Shit. Do you see that in the dark too?', is also crossed out.
6. What appears to be an earlier version: 'Don't ask me', is also crossed out.
7. What appears to be an earlier version: 'I'm going to stay here a while', is also crossed out.
8. Charles Brasch. Letter to Maurice Duggan. 9 Oct. 1962.
9. Maurice Duggan. Letter to Charles Brasch. 12 Oct. 1962. Misdated 12. ix. 62.
10. To some extent, as the story is a first-person narrative, this presupposes that Buster is attempting to recollect an actual event and not consciously making a work of fiction of his own. His early, ambiguous statement that 'unfortunately there have to be some facts, even fictional ones' [Collected Stories: 196.] calls this into momentary doubt, but to pursue such a line of inquiry is quickly to reach reductio ad absurdum.
11. 'Along Rideout Road that Summer.' Collected Stories: 208.
Copyright Ian Richards, 2008
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