Return to No Frills NZ Literature home page.
Two of the finest New Zealand novels of the twentieth century were first published overseas and within just a few years of each other: The God Boy in America in 1957 and The Scarecrow in Australia in 1963.(1) Both novels were debut publications for their authors and both were told from the point of view of young male protagonists. Typically of the period, both novels examined life in small New Zealand towns. On publication, furthermore, both of these books had somewhat troubled receptions, although their troubles came in different forms.
The God Boy suffered, above all, from its remarkable success. Its author, the then unknown Ian Cross, had written his earliest version of the book while a Nieman Fellowship student at Harvard University. Harcourt, Brace & Co of New York was the first publishing house Cross approached with his manuscript and the novel was accepted immediately. Soon it was receiving a warm and lengthy review in The New York Times.(2) Unfortunately, however, such rapidly garnered American praise for the book meant that Cross was seen as something of a parvenu by the anglophile literary establishment in New Zealand, which was mostly grouped around the magazine Landfall. This attitude was to culminate in a personal attack at the PEN Writers' Conference in Wellington in 1959, when the short-story writer Maurice Duggan complained that Cross had ridden to success on the backs of other New Zealand writers.(3) To make matters worse, trade restrictions in favour of Britain meant that The God Boy could not be imported into New Zealand from the United States. In Cross's own country his novel was famous but virtually unobtainable until it was accepted for publication by Britain's Andre Deutsch and, almost a year after success in America, British copies of the book began to arrive. Thereafter, copyright difficulties prevented any New Zealand publication of The God Boy until 1972.
Ronald Hugh Morrieson offered The Scarecrow to the publishers Angus & Robertson in Sydney and it was accepted quickly.(4) Like Ian Cross, Morrieson was an unknown New Zealand author who had jumped directly into the publication of a novel without an apprenticeship spent producing short fiction for literary magazines. The Scarecrow appeared to enthusiastic reviews in Australia and Britain, but the reviews in New Zealand were decidedly more mixed.(5) Landfall ignored the book. In contrast to the more cosmopolitan Cross, Morrieson had spent his entire life in the small Taranaki town of Hawera as a bandsman and a music teacher, and thus his hometown's reaction to his venture into authorship meant everything to him. Unfortunately, however, in Hawera The Scarecrow and its author met with the sort of dog-in-the-manger reception then characteristic of the wider New Zealand public's attitude towards local writers. One of the town's two bookstores allowed Morrieson to sign copies on the premises; the other refused to have any involvement.(6) After some time Morrieson was interviewed in Auckland for an ABC radio programme broadcast in Australia, but the programme never appeared on air in New Zealand.(7) Starved of publicity, The Scarecrow did not sell. It soon dropped out of sight and, though now frequently in print in New Zealand, it continues even today to struggle for literary status. Although the novel was made into a popular film in 1981, The Scarecrow has often been regarded as more of a comic oddity than a mainstream, serious work.
1. Jimmy's Book: The God Boy
The New Zealand literary establishment's merely grudging acceptance of The God Boy was all the more unexpected because, on its appearance in 1957, the novel was plainly at the peak of a long-standing, social-realist tradition in the country's literature. The social-realist style of writing, critical of society, had first grown to strength in New Zealand in the 1930s with the short stories of Frank Sargeson, and it had thereafter found its most cogent expression almost entirely within short fiction. Thus The God Boy was by far the best-realised version of a novel that many New Zealand authors, including the short-story writer Maurice Duggan, had tried and failed to produce.(8) It was of a type instantly recognisable to its New Zealand readership. To that extent, Duggan's complaint about Cross having ridden to success on the backs of other New Zealand writers, though jealous and unkind, was not entirely inaccurate. Produced by a literary outsider, The God Boy was, nevertheless, the high-point of a style of New Zealand writing which was about to come to an end. Unsurprisingly then, Cross's novel has survived its initial reception to become a staple of the New Zealand canon.
One further reason for the continuing reputation of The God Boy is clear only in retrospect: it seems, in the best sense, very much of its time. The novel effectively portrays the New Zealand of the mid-twentieth century, a grey, intensely physical, limited world. All this is conveyed in an appropriately spare prose. Within this narrow world, people of a certain type--practical, active, non-reflective, the sort of people praised in New Zealand as 'ordinary'--might expect to live comfortably. In contrast, life could be unhappy for anyone who did not fit into this category, notably people who were sensitive or artistic. Jimmy Sullivan, the protagonist of The God Boy, is a person who should normally succeed in New Zealand society. He is not a natural misfit. Jimmy is physical, cheerful, unexceptionally intelligent and--unlike Morrieson's slightly older protagonist--still too young to feel much adolescent confusion about sexual relations.(9) Nevertheless, pressure from tragic circumstances forces Jimmy into an extreme sensitivity and, when nothing comes forward to allay these pressures, into psychological collapse. (One might add that it is interesting how Jimmy's stresses are eventually to be relieved through the--for him--unlikely artistic endeavour of writing his own book.) Thus The God Boy is, above all, the story of a community signally failing to look after one of its own kind. In a curious way, the failure of New Zealand society to accommodate Jimmy Sullivan neatly mirrors the failure of the New Zealand literary establishment to appreciate his book--even down to Jimmy and his book prevailing, at last, over adverse conditions.
For The God Boy is very much Jimmy's book. It is told from Jimmy's point of view and it reflects his sentiments and opinions.(10) At its time of telling, Jimmy is thirteen years old and living in the countryside in a convent for orphans, where he recalls the shattering events which occurred in his family two years before. When tragedy struck, Jimmy was too young to do anything about the troubles around him and his powerlessness forced him into the largely passive role of an observer. At one point in his story he notes, 'All I could do was see, and that is what I saw'. Now at thirteen, however, he has begun to desire some sort of record of what he saw, and this leads him to unburden himself. In the first chapter Jimmy says, 'I'll tell you how I used to care just to show you. [...] I don't mind talking, though I never have before'. This rather implies that Jimmy's story is as much told to the reader as written down, and how his story makes its way onto paper is unclear. But the resulting artefact, the book, plainly reflects Jimmy's mode of telling.
Jimmy focuses his story on a narrative present of three days, plus flashbacks, in mid-winter. This brief period, Monday to Wednesday, was directly prior to his father's death at the hands of his mother. The story, which is almost a series of vignettes, unfolds at a slow pace. This deliberateness of pace acts to emphasise the tragic sense of inevitability in what occurs, as (through Cross's contrivance) ways in which disaster might be evaded are steadily closed off. Jimmy goes into everything over these crucial three days in almost obsessive detail: at the start of chapter 9 he even pauses in his narrative for two long paragraphs that describe all of the furniture in the family's dingy living-room. It is curious, however, that what ostensibly prompts Jimmy's focus on these vital three days is not their immediate proximity to his father's murder: it is, rather, that Jimmy received a gift from his father of a new bicycle at this time. Indeed, Jimmy's book of his own life offers a peculiar and wholly negative view of bicycles. Bicycles punctuate Jimmy's thinking. He even begins describing his perception of the conflict between his parents by situating it with: 'that was just after the bike business'. Though more usually associated in literature with freedom, acquiring a bicycle seems unavoidably connected in Jimmy's mind to the transition from boyhood to adulthood. Thus, for Jimmy, a bicycle is a highly desirable object that also brings troubles in its wake. It is perhaps significant, in Jimmy's version of events, that his elder sister Molly's troubles also seem to have started as she made the crucial transition to young adulthood. In chapter 7 at the age of fourteen--this is the same chapter in which Jimmy notes that his sister is developing breasts--Molly makes a serious attempt at suicide by drowning. Growing up and losing one's innocence, in Jimmy's book, is not a pleasant experience, and for Jimmy it originates with a gift from his father.
Jimmy's memory of his bicycle is smothered in guilt. He worries that having been given a bicycle somehow heightened the tension between his parents and led to his father's death. (There is actually some small confusion as to the origins of this guilt, because Jimmy also recalls how greedily he wanted a bicycle, and remembers thinking: 'I would be as happy as anybody else if I had a bike, no matter what was going on between my parents'. Jimmy appears, in fact, to have been inclined to blame himself and feel guilty for the failure of his parents' relationship even before he received his gift.) But in any event, whether imposed on Jimmy from without, or generated from within him, a burden of guilt seems to have attached itself firmly, in Jimmy's view, to his bike. Two years after the murder, as a thirteen-year-old narrator, Jimmy professes: 'I've grown out of liking bikes, don't you worry', but his book is evidence in itself that he has not yet managed to free his mind from a lasting sense of culpability. At the close of the book he still wonders 'why on earth I had ever wanted a bike'.(11) In this way, vital to the novel, Jimmy's sense of guilt in The God Boy remains all of a piece and at the core of his character, regardless of his age. The critic Joan Stevens has usefully pointed out that the novel exploits the use of a double perspective, so that 'we see double all the time, aware both of what Jimmy knew and of what Jimmy did not know', but even two years after the murder, Jimmy's guilt-ridden motivation for examining the affair remains essentially unchanged from the time when it occurred.(12) Jimmy, as Stevens notes, is 'haunted still', and in the convent he tries to work out what happened while, as he says, 'this good memory of mine goes into action making me lie awake for hours and hours'.(13)
The God Boy is divided into twenty three short chapters, and these over-frequent divisions do not quite seem to match the slow pace of the action. However, this somewhat naive approach to form only serves to emphasise that The God Boy is indeed Jimmy's book: a thirteen-year-old, would-be author, writing a 'real' book, would likely divide it rapidly into 'real' chapters. Furthermore, Jimmy can occasionally be self-aware about the telling of his tale while he gets himself started. After bringing up the topic of bicycles and becoming distracted, he notes: 'Anyway, there I lost the story, which should have started up with Dad drunk and our going straight home after that'. At such moments Jimmy may appear intent on laying out an impartial reportage of what he has observed, but he also makes it clear that he wishes to offer conclusions. He comments: 'I've got a lot of ideas about parents [...] and I think they could be described as scientific'. These ideas are then carefully summed up in a paragraph, near the very end of the book, which begins: 'A child should have plenty of sleep, I think, three meals a day, with a soft drink now and then in between if he feels like it [...]'. With its humane tone and directness, this paragraph in particular feels as if it may speak for the author, Cross, as well as for the novel's first-person protagonist.
Jimmy's perspective in his own book is necessarily limited, and this in turn forces the reader to do a lot of imaginative work. Through the sort of efforts at detection already familiar to readers of Modernist novels by the time of the book's publication, the attentive reader discovers that: the Sullivans live in an isolated, rundown and rented house in a small town named Raggleton; they are too poor to own a car; Mr Sullivan is a tally clerk in the local harbour board office; and Mr Sullivan's left arm is permanently damaged--probably from being kicked by a horse, and not from fighting in the First World War as he likes to claim. Crucially for the story, it also becomes clear that three years prior to the book's narrative present Jimmy's mother has had an abortion. It occurred when she was at the age of forty (Jimmy was then aged eight). Furthermore, this termination so increased the tension at home that the resulting argument made Jimmy genuinely aware of his parents' mutual hostility for the first time. As the narrator he can recall the argument, but he still does not understand its cause. Rather, he remembers it as 'the first time I felt queer'. In addition to this, there is much else in the book that Jimmy observes but simply cannot understand. It is for the reader to infer that the unpleasant fat lady whom Jimmy encounters in chapter 4 is the abortionist who performed the illegal operation on his mother. Cross has to contrive giving the abortionist a memorable girth just so that Jimmy will easily recall her later in his story. Thus, in a typically Modernist fashion, the position of the reader often mimics that of the novel's confused and inquiring protagonist. Jimmy wonders, for example, on Wednesday morning when he wakes up, why he should find his mother in her 'Sunday clothes', and why she should then walk quickly ahead of him into town with 'her feet going pit-pat, pit-pat, in short little hops'. But the reader gradually understands with horror that Mrs Sullivan is going to confess the killing of her husband to the local police, and that, true to the contradictions of human nature, she is reluctant to proceed with her shocking task and yet wants to appear before the law looking at her most respectable.
Because the reader is confined to Jimmy's perspective, however, many matters in the book must go unresolved. It is never clear how the impecunious Mr Sullivan manages to obtain his son's bicycle. Perhaps he has put the family into further debt. Perhaps, as the story seems to hint from the opening of chapter 11, when Jimmy notes at some length how his father has stayed out much of the night and how in the morning he has 'that fox terrier look about him, you know', Mr Sullivan has obtained the bicycle from a woman friend through some sort of sexual connection. In the same way, it is never completely clear whether Jimmy's sister Molly actually wrote Mrs Sullivan a letter, as first mentioned in chapter 8, suggesting that Jimmy should go to Wellington and stay with Molly's friends for a few days. After looking for the letter at night, Jimmy concludes that 'Mum had been telling fibs', although his utter determination to reject any notion of going away from home renders this judgement somewhat suspect. Furthermore, because only Jimmy's point of view is available, it is difficult to know what to make of Molly's sudden marriage to a thirty-five-year-old Australian man at the close of the book. According to Jimmy--and Jimmy can merely repeat Molly's words--the Australian is a man who 'runs a whole airline', who is 'the most wonderful man in the world' and who is 'building her a wonderful house by some beach'. Nevertheless, whether Molly has successfully escaped her home environment or is naively repeating her mother's mistake is impossible to gauge. These factors remain forever beyond the novel's purview.
Another unresolved matter, peculiar in a novel which is so careful to be internally consistent, is the question of precisely in which year The God Boy takes place. Cross offers remarkably little textual evidence. Mr Sullivan's statement that: 'We've cleaned up Hitler so we might as well wipe the floor with Stalin while we are at it' locates The God Boy in the period after World War Two and before Stalin's death in 1953, and, since this statement is remembered by Jimmy from sometime in his childhood, it seems that the novel's narrative present occurs during the mid-1950s. Critical consensus has generally accepted this as the case. There are some complicating issues, however. Jimmy, for example, mentions seeing the fat abortionist when aged eight and thinking that her clothes might split 'because only the week or so before I had been to the pictures and seen a dam bursting the same way'. This is quite possibly a reference to the war film The Dam Busters, which was not in fact released overseas until May 1955, thus placing the novel's narrative present sometime after the publication of the book. But this, if it amounts to anything at all, is little more than a quibble. Far more important, though, is how Mr Sullivan's several explanations about his damaged arm as a combat wound and about his financial failures can make any sense in the novel's chronology. Mrs Sullivan is forty years old at the time of her abortion (and thus forty three at the time of the murder), so that if the novel occurs in the mid-1950s she would have been born just prior to, or during, the First World War (1914-18)--at the very time when Mr Sullivan claims to have been wounded in combat. Despite this, there is no suggestion in the book that Mr Sullivan is a lot older than his wife. Furthermore, the Great Depression, in which Mr Sullivan claims his fortunes failed, gradually came to an end in New Zealand after the election of the first Labour government in 1935; this was more than twenty years before the mid-1950s, which was itself a time of economic prosperity. Mr Sullivan then muddies the novel's odd time-frame still further by explaining away his non-participation in the Second World War with: 'I wouldn't mind getting into that fight myself if I wasn't too old', and by telling Jimmy that 'your old man owned a couple of racehorses in the twenties'. Perhaps Mr Sullivan actually is a man in his mid fifties, a dozen or so years older than his wife. Or perhaps these discrepancies are indications of his mendacity--not least because Mrs Sullivan laughs at the claim that her husband's arm was damaged in combat in World War One, and then says: 'It's a lot better than being kicked by a horse [...] even a racehorse'.
Over and above this, however, one even more intractable, time-related issue remains: Jimmy himself claims to remember his father's behaviour in the Second World War. He says: 'Even during the last war, when I was only a kid, I can remember him getting excited and talking about it as though it was a wonderful thing'. Whether Jimmy's age is reckoned at eleven or even at thirteen, then if the novel is set in the mid-1950s he seems too young to be credited with remembering a war which finished in 1945, although he has no motive for lying about this. Certainly, the narrative is stretching even a child's definition of 'kid' rather too far. The common feature of all these discrepancies is that they attempt, under cover of vagueness about dates and times, to incorporate events from earlier in New Zealand history into the novel's narrative present and the experience of its characters. This is what may happen when a novel appears at the very end of a long literary tradition. Perhaps the chronological confusion results from a certain historical camouflaging on the part of Cross the author, who is seeking consciously, or unconsciously, to insert The God Boy into an older, already established pattern of background events for this type of writing. These events are not those of the mid-twentieth century but are rather those associated with New Zealand social-realist fiction as exemplified by the stories of Sargeson, whose classic work is set mostly in the Great Depression and the privations of the early years of World War Two. This is a case of Cross ensuring that his novel gains verisimilitude through its feel rather than its facts.
Ultimately, the extent to which the reader believes that The God Boy is a fully unified work by thirteen-year-old Jimmy Sullivan is testament to the skills employed by Cross, the controlling author. One of those skills is certainly Cross's power of unobtrusive contrivance. At thirteen Jimmy as narrator can say unequivocally of his mother, 'I know she killed Dad', but the fact of his knowing this is kept by Cross from the reader until the end of the novel, so that the narrative of chapters 18-22 can detail Jimmy's incomprehension, his gradual realisation that his father has died and his discovery that his mother is somehow responsible. Jimmy may say at the start of his book: 'I'll try and get everything into order, make a story out of it sort of, so you can see', but The God Boy displays a level of narrative sophistication beyond anything a thirteen-year-old could convincingly manage when making a record of events. Jimmy cannot believably create such a literary effect as the foreshadowing that occurs when he watches his mother washing the dishes and then ominously concludes: 'she reminded me of a picture in a history book of the executioner who killed one of the kings'. Jimmy's book, too, is carefully structured: it depicts three days in his life at age eleven in Raggleton, framed by opening and concluding chapters in which Jimmy writes of himself in the convent at age thirteen. The God Boy even divides neatly in half at the end of chapter 11, where Jimmy's father is ascendant. Having given his son a new bicycle, Mr Sullivan has then triumphantly pushed Jimmy's mother off the kitchen steps. This small action--it is the only violent exchange between his parents actually described by Jimmy in the book--is reversed at the end of the novel's second half, by which time Mrs Sullivan has succeeded in carrying out her threat: 'If you don't stop that I'll kill you'. At the novel's close it is Mrs Sullivan who has achieved the most awful kind of ascendancy in the battle between husband and wife. Such narrative tidiness is plainly impossible from a thirteen-year old boy, even if Jimmy insists repeatedly on his intelligence. It is certainly a remarkable leap from the eleven-year-old boy who so transparently and naively lies about his own parents to the Waters family in chapter 10. Nevertheless, The God Boy does not feel contrived, and no critic has ever suggested that it might be. One reason in particular why The God Boy reads like Jimmy's tragic history, rather than Cross's clever fictional concoction, is the utterly convincing timbre of Jimmy's language throughout the book.
From the time of the book's first appearance commentators have praised Jimmy's language, often pulling out specific examples of Kiwi idiom.(14) Nevertheless, while sounding recognisably of New Zealand, Jimmy's language is not soaked in Kiwi expressions, nor, when unpacked in detail, is it particularly consistent. Jimmy is not beyond using grown-up, formal expressions such as 'as it were' and 'so to speak' although, admittedly, these are few. However, they sit oddly among the gaucherie of describing Molly's breasts as: 'her thingumabobs standing out like nobody's business with bits of orange peel on top', or with the flat colloquialism of: 'Boy, he was drunk'. Jimmy is also remarkably fond of the Americanism 'darn', although he shows himself aware of more forthright Kiwi vernacular like: 'There wasn't a blasted thing'; 'you bloody bastard'; or even 'all that shit'.(15) Jimmy's age, between boyhood and adolescence, helps to broaden the range of language he might use and to explain many of these inconsistencies. Jimmy is not so young or so uneducated that his language needs to be manipulated into something approximating the obtuse in order to be credible. Jimmy is noticeably more articulate, for example, than many of Sargeson's narrators. Moreover, Jimmy is already old enough to know about, and knowingly use, different registers of language. He gleefully relates how his friend Joe Waters got the strap for telling Sister Francis at school, 'it looks to me as though it will be pissing with rain', and then notes with approval Joe's comment that 'nobody could say he was using stuff from a weather report'. Jimmy is even aware (in a moment that could have come from The Scarecrow) that people sometimes use absurdly heightened language for humorous effect, as when he reports his father happily leading him out to his new bicycle with the words, 'Let us go hence'.
Nevertheless, something more than a clever use of vocabulary and idiom helps make Jimmy's language appear convincing. The language works in part because it never carries any particular burden of abstraction that might make it seem over-literary. Despite resorting occasionally to motifs, The God Boy does not really advance through the use of metaphor or symbol, activated by language cues. Jimmy narrates his story with the matter-of-fact, confidential manner of a mostly unselfconscious young boy: he does not perform for the reader with the sort of bookish or allusive admix which characterises Buster O'Leary's narration in Maurice Duggan's short story 'Along Rideout Road that Summer', which was also published at about this time.(16) Cross takes care to convey his literary effects with the utmost simplicity. An example is Cross's Hemingway-like use of repetition for emphasis, such as when he wants to show that Mr Sullivan is drunk and rambling. Mr Sullivan hears Jimmy singing, which is part of his son's protection tricks, and says, tragically mistaken: 'You are happy, Jimmy, old boy, old boy. That's why you sing, because you are happy. Your old Dad has made you happy with that bike, and don't you worry, your old Dad is going to do lots of things for you, old son, old son'. Beneath the plain, circling language the passage is also lightly charged with irony, not least because the drunken incompetence of Mr Sullivan's utterance highlights his inability to improve Jimmy's lot and his tendency to make matters inadvertently worse. This sort of writing is an instance of The God Boy succeeding not just through what it does well, but also through what it does not overreach itself by trying too hard to do.
Jimmy sometimes makes simple comparisons from within the range of his own limited experience to describe his feelings. On the book's opening page he compares, at some length, his attitude to all that has happened with 'going to a dentist, at least the way I feel when I go to a dentist'. But Jimmy seldom develops such imagery and his language never strays into the arrestingly poetic. His terse description of entering the family home as being 'a bit like going to school on the day of exams' is more typical. Nevertheless, there is an intense physicality to most of Jimmy's perceptions. Not long after the novel's publication the critic E.H. McCormick noted Cross's 'extraordinary sensitiveness to physical appearances and impressions'.(17) Indeed, vividly detailed descriptions often serve to develop indirectly Jimmy's feelings and their implications, as when he goes to school on Monday morning and registers a strong sense of alienation from his environment.
Even Joe Waters, in many ways my best friend, looked strange at the next desk, with his hair sticking up like a hedgehog, and his ears sticking out and that grin on his face that was there even when he was serious, his teeth were so prominent. Even Joe, with all those features, looked so strange that when I realised that I knew his name it was an enormous relief to me, as it would be a terrible fix to forget names of people you know.
The immediacy of Jimmy's description, and the concision for which it aims so successfully, easily overrides any concerns at how a thirteen-year-old might so casually use words like 'prominent' and 'features' or write such long sentences. The God Boy is completely consistent in this respect of immediacy. Whenever the tensions in Jimmy's mind reach breaking point, it is the near-hallucinatory descriptions of what he recalls seeing that convey his mental state, rather than any complex, Proustian self-analysis. Furthermore, Cross excels at this type of writing. An example is when Jimmy faints at school, moments after literally seeing red, a colour which often seems to predominate when his thoughts reach fever pitch.
I closed my eyes and the terrible eyes of Mum looked at me, and then the dog's head flopped over, so I opened them again and stared at the clock with the red second hand that was on the shelf above Sister's desk. The hand jumped away from the face of the clock and began to swell and it ticked around in a bigger and bigger circle, fattening out like a big red balloon and getting nearer and nearer. All this was probably God creeping up on me, but I didn't care. I wasn't frightened. I sat there holding my hands together and thinking that no matter what happened I wasn't going to yell or scream. Or if I couldn't stand it any longer and had to cry out, as the red balloon got closer and closer, it would be, 'You bloody bastard'. Then there was nothing but a warm floating red all around me and I lay back and drifted as though I was going off to sleep.
The passage manages to draw on Jimmy's memories of his mother and a dead dog, to mention his complaint against God and also to suggest parallels with his attack on the 'Hindu' (Indian) fruiterer; but what propels the writing is Jimmy's view of the second-hand on the classroom clock, an object which is not symbolic or even otherwise significant in the book, except as something Jimmy focuses on at this unhappy moment.
The extended description of Jimmy's mother when she falls, after being pushed by Mr Sullivan, onto the gravel path at the close of chapter 11 is another tour de force in the use of language. Cross--working through Jimmy's eyes--deliberately slows the pace of the story down at this point, describing the action in minute detail and further drawing it out through repetition.
There was a scrunch as she landed on her knees and hands on the loose gravel. Right on her hands and knees with a smack. Dad kept on leaning against the wall, his face red, and his suit coat swelling in and out. She stayed there on all fours, her head down as though she wasn't sure where she was. Then she twisted her head around and looked up at me. Her eyes were wide and terribly bright, and for a moment I thought she was going to cry out and crawl up the path. But she pulled out one leg under her body and pushed herself up to her feet, not taking her eyes off me, smacking her hands together. She was white as chalk. Her mouth opened and closed a few times and all the while now she was looking at me, and then she brought her hands up to the sides of her face and pushed her hair back round the side of her head, and it seemed as her hands went back they stretched her mouth into the funniest smile she had ever given me.
Mrs Sullivan's actions seem strange not because of anything she does, nor even because of her look at Jimmy, which remains ultimately vague, but because the reading experience takes so much longer than the event. Everything seems to unfold over an unnaturally long period of time. In contrast to this, on the rare occasions when Jimmy becomes reflective and, rather than merely reacting to what he sees, he tries to infer something from his perceptions in order to explain himself, the language stalls and seems uncomfortably literary. One such case occurs at the end of chapter 6, where Jimmy explains to the reader why it is he listens to his grown-up friend Bloody Jack's advice about his parents but then discounts the man's words as useless.(18) Jimmy reflects: 'You mightn't understand that, how I liked hearing him talk, without going much for what he actually said. I remember thinking that if he talked nonsense about himself, what he said about me and my parents was probably nonsense, too'. Suddenly, but briefly, on display is the false and self-consciously obtuse type of writing frequent in social realism, and in the worst imitations of Sargeson.
All novels, to some extent, begin by instructing the reader in how they should be read. From the opening paragraph it is Cross's plain but effective use of language that serves to involve the reader of The God Boy. The book opens with Jimmy insisting over-frequently, in a refrain that will recur throughout the novel, that he does not care about what has happened to him. No reader is likely to miss what this means. Undoubtedly, Jimmy does care very much, and he is not good at lying about it, unlike, for example, Maurice Duggan's Buster O'Leary. In 'Along Rideout Road that Summer' Buster O'Leary employs his extraordinarily complex language precisely to obfuscate what happened to him at the Hohepa farm; but Jimmy Sullivan's language has a clarity which, as Joan Stevens notes, promises 'a transparency that enables the reader to penetrate to the adult interpretation of what Jimmy saw'.(19) The novel's second paragraph then suggests to the attentive reader that Jimmy's determination not to care derives, at least in part, from his sense of toughness at having come through a trauma, as if he had been in 'a war or a gangster fight'. Thus Jimmy's toughness gives him both a means of coping and a source of self-respect. The critic Roger Robinson has observed of Jimmy at the book's opening that 'we see how sensitive and hurt he is, and understand that some personal damage is impelling him to violence'.(20) Next, almost as if on cue, in the third paragraph a glimpse is offered of Jimmy, the troubled child, fighting furiously with another convent boy. It is a case of displaced aggression that appears to come directly from a psychology textbook. Indeed, psychology was a comparatively new and fashionable science in the 1950s, when The God Boy appeared, and Cross's language is plain and transparent precisely so that the reader can interpret Jimmy's actions through a basic understanding of the boy's drives and motives. Thus, at least in its most accessible and popular form, psychology provides a ready-made procedure through which the reading of the book can operate. For the reader, it works to clarify much in Jimmy's behaviour which remains mysterious to Jimmy himself.
The psychological interpretation of The God Boy invited from the reader enables the novel's language to achieve a simple but useful irony. At the close of chapter 3, for example, Mr Sullivan becomes angry and turns back for the house because he thinks Jimmy's mother has said they cannot afford to buy a bicycle. Jimmy's subsequent anxiety about this prompts him into a chapter-long flashback on the awful fighting that followed his mother's abortion. Next, at the opening of chapter 5, Jimmy returns to the narrative present with: 'I went on to school, of course, and it was one of my funny days there'. The naive word 'funny' is weighted with ironic resonance for the reader. The psychological connection between problems at home and the problem schoolchild is obvious--moreover, it was part and parcel of views at the time of the book's publication, when children were often seen as innocent indicators of larger social problems. Similarly, after Jimmy's happiness on receiving his new bicycle is dashed by Mr Sullivan pushing Mrs Sullivan onto the gravel path, a displacement of anxiety leads Jimmy into an aggressive bicycle race with Legs Hope at the end of chapter 12. It finishes with Legs crashing his bicycle. Jimmy then concludes about his rival, unconscious that any irony in his words might reflect on himself, 'if he hadn't been so messed around by his previous experiences I daresay we would have ended up by having a fight'.
The physical focus of Jimmy's perceptions and the ease of their psychological interpretation also help Cross to solve a major technical problem in The God Boy. Cross must find a convincing way to convey Jimmy's parents' accumulated history of anger and mutual violence within the short, three-day time frame he has allowed himself, and further, he must indicate that their fights have reached a murderous pitch during this crucial period. In chapter 2 near the start of the book, Cross briefly shows, through dialogue, Jimmy's recollection of his parents arguing about going out together to 'a husband and wife affair'. At the centre of the book he places the incident of Mr Sullivan pushing Mrs Sullivan off the steps onto the path. But these, and other glimpses, seem far too mild to be persuasive in themselves. Instead, Cross succeeds through an interesting and perhaps even radical indirectness: not by depicting the Sullivans' fighting, but by concentrating on Jimmy's responses to his parents' arguments. Jimmy is an ordinary boy forced by his parents into what he terms 'protection tricks', and also into aggression, into religious fantasies and even into an ugly attack on the Hindu fruiterer. The barely repressed hysteria of Jimmy's reactions all through the story--he evinces extreme reactions even to quite small tensions between his parents--suggests by implication the profoundly dangerous heights to which troubles in the Sullivans' marital relationship have been driven.(21)
Molly's apparently suicidal behaviour in chapter 7--apparent, because Jimmy's non-comprehension means that this, as well, needs to be inferred--also works to corroborate for the reader the sense that something is deeply wrong. Molly's attempt at drowning both herself and her brother is all the more shocking since both she and Jimmy are Catholics, for whom suicide is a sin of despair. Indeed, it may be the very magnitude of this sin that compels Jimmy not to understand his sister's otherwise obvious motives. The reader is left to assume that Molly is living out her own sad reactions to the family tragedy somewhere on the margins of Jimmy's book, and that she could perhaps write a 'God girl' variation on the novel to describe her own life. Even Sister Angela's concern for Jimmy, when expressed in chapter 13 ('these last few weeks, what a worry to me you have been'), serves further to reinforce the reader's impressions. The transparency of Jimmy's language, then, and the way this type of language assists a ready-made mode available for its interpretation, combine to render The God Boy technically a very compact book. Roger Robinson rightly calls it 'a deceptively modest masterpiece'.(22) In fact, both the book's appearance of modesty and the uneasy complexity this conceals make it seem strikingly representative of New Zealand mores in the mid-twentieth century, as well as being the equal of its social-realist models.
Psychology also frames the reader's view of Jimmy's delinquent behaviour. It is only after some carefully placed causal factors, such as Jimmy's disappointment on receiving his new bicycle, his failure to explain himself to Father Gilligan at confession and his realisation that he did not really see God earlier in the morning, that Jimmy goes on the rampage. In chapter 15, narrating his rage in recall, Jimmy observes with typical candour: 'there was something eating me. And I began to lose my temper in a way that was new to me'. Jimmy's misbehaviour rises to a new pitch as his self-control deserts him. He throws stones at strangers, breaks the window of the Hindu fruiterer's shop and even attacks Bloody Jack. Aggressive behaviour offers Jimmy relief from the pressures bearing upon him, and after terrifying an elderly woman he admits, 'I felt great about the way I had roughed her up'. Along with the era's popular interest in psychology, the 1950s was a period when juvenile delinquency itself became recognised as a social phenomenon. New Zealand's notorious Mazengarb Report, enthusiastically describing teenage immorality in the Upper Hutt, appeared in 1954. Thus Jimmy's behaviour is very much connected to the social issues of the novel's time.(23)
As an example of juvenile delinquency, then, Jimmy's case is contrived so that its causes can be easily recognised psychologically; but it is noticeable that when Jimmy's delinquency reaches its climax, Cross has his protagonist's thinking appear to border momentarily--but quite genuinely--on something like the psychological definition of insanity. Staring at the Hindu fruiterer's shop window before breaking it, Jimmy suffers the first of the stress-induced, hallucinatory visions that will predominate in the later chapters of the book. He looks into the glass at a creature and gazes at 'the little black marks in its cheeks, the big red-hot holes of its nose, the steaming red lips and coal-black hair, and then into its hot red-and-white eyes'[112-3]. Jimmy sees the Devil. Unable to distinguish between reality and the emanations of his own imagination, Jimmy reacts violently as if his fantasy were real. After he runs away and calms down, he then rationalises this unbalanced behaviour by imagining himself among the brave soldiers who defeated their enemies in the Second World War--while at the same instant he is attempting to deface the town's war memorial. Next, with Bloody Jack, Jimmy transfers his rage onto another person. He assaults his friend, screaming, 'I hate you and I'm going to kill you'. When Bloody Jack later demands an explanation from Jimmy for his actions, Jimmy is completely incoherent. He can only offer, to the reader: 'What I had done was so bad that I couldn't really believe it had anything to do with the actual me'. Child-psychologists might well agree. At such times psychology not only explains but also usefully works to excuse Jimmy's anti-social behaviour in his own book.
Above all, psychology in The God Boy provides the reader with a secular basis for understanding much of Jimmy's religious behaviour. Jimmy suffers from what he usefully labels 'fits', fainting spells brought on by moments of high tension between his parents--and in particular any type of loud argument. As early as in chapter 1 Jimmy introduces for the reader his repetitive 'protection tricks', which are coping mechanisms that enable him to fend off an impending fit. These protection tricks, which typically involve washing his hands and reciting a Hail Mary, immediately seem to the reader like a parody of Catholic rites, but they are also intensely personal rituals created by Jimmy in response to his own powerlessness. Thus Jimmy notes that singing a secular song will do just as well as a prayer, but only if the song is sung by him in a ritualistic manner. The frequency and severity of Jimmy's fits seem to increase as the book goes on and pressures rise: in chapter 4 Jimmy has his first fit outside of the home and feels 'as if I hadn't eaten for a week', and in chapter 18 Jimmy feels the onset of a fit even though he notes that he had never felt that way before 'alone in the house with either Mum or Dad'. In chapter 21, when Jimmy accidentally overhears Sister Angela and the official woman in 'the brown sack costume' (presumably a social worker) discussing his father's death, he perceives them--erroneously--as shouting at each other like 'a radio going full blast' and this immediately brings on a fit which is 'the worst ever'.(24) Jimmy then scalds himself while obsessively washing his hands. He is dragged away from the boiling water in the bathroom by Father Gilligan, whom Jimmy at first mistakes for the Devil. In a cruelly arranged paradox, this is the only time in the story that the priest, the mainstay of organised religion, is of any genuine help to him.
Jimmy, quite reasonably, wants his religion to sustain him in his hour of greatest need. On Tuesday morning, after he has received his new bicycle but watched his father push his mother onto the gravel path, Jimmy goes to school and, in chapter 13, experiences 'the most religious time of my life'. In a retrospective fantasy, he gazes at a picture of God on the classroom wall and then becomes convinced that, when his parents were scuffling earlier that morning, he saw: 'God was standing near by watching them, one hand clutching at his bleeding heart'. This conviction that God is about to intervene and restore domestic happiness gives Jimmy tremendous hope and also strengthens his religious faith to an almost desperate degree. At this point Jimmy then announces to Sister Angela (whose name ironically underlines her eventual failure as Jimmy's guardian angel), 'I'm a God boy, Sister [...] You don't have to worry about me, I'm a God boy'. This outburst, which gives the book its title, thoroughly disconcerts Sister Angela. But Jimmy's words are both accurate, since he has never been more sincere about his religious faith, and also deeply ironic, since Jimmy's motivation for his speech, located in his temporal troubles, has never been on clearer display for the reader. Jimmy's language also unconsciously echoes some discomforting words, and even their cadence, that he has heard from his mother the previous day. On Monday evening, after reminiscing about her own past, Mrs Sullivan looks at Jimmy in a manner inscrutable to him but which perhaps offers the first strong hint of her criminal insanity. Mrs Sullivan then announces: 'You are a good boy, Jimmy, to want to do something for your mother. You are a good boy'.
Alas, it is at this hour of greatest need that the organs of the Catholic church most noticeably let Jimmy down. Jimmy's outburst that he is a God boy is--it must be admitted--prefaced by Sister Angela expressing her concern for Jimmy and at the deterioration of his behaviour, but she does so merely by suggesting that the Devil may be winning the battle for Jimmy's soul. Indeed, the work of the Devil is her only explanation for what is going wrong in Jimmy's life. Cross has contrived his story to have Sister Angela say this at the moment of Jimmy's strongest faith, but also to suggest for the reader how insufficient her understanding is of Jimmy's character. In fact, it is church doctrine here that actually seems to be interfering with Sister Angela's ability to understand. Jimmy then responds with his own explanation of what is happening to him, and in truly Biblical fashion he uses a parable, citing: 'the captain of a football team who sees somebody that might fit into the team pretty well. He doesn't let on at first, and even makes the going tough for the boy he's got his eye on'. Both Sister Angela's argument for the independent existence of a corrupting evil in the form of the Devil, and Jimmy's for being somehow tested and strengthened by God, are legitimate theological explanations for the problem of undeserved suffering--in this case, Jimmy's troubles--in a universe governed by God's benevolence.(25) As possible solutions to this problem of the origins of suffering, both are important examples of what is termed 'theodicy', or the vindication of God's goodness in the face of evil. However, despite her own prior adherence to church doctrine, Sister Angela does not engage with Jimmy's argument. Instead she avoids it, and rather than proceeding to any sort of useful communication with Jimmy, her only advice is to suggest he avoid reading and 'concentrate on sport'. Here the novel descends rapidly into bathos, and Jimmy frankly admits: 'I was disappointed'. Jimmy then rejects the idea of telling Sister Angela about his religious vision, though with the benefit of hindsight he notes, as his thirteen-year-old self, that if he had told her it might have saved him 'from blowing up' and resorting to violence against the Hindu fruiterer.
Even worse, in chapter 14 which follows his talk with Sister Angela, Jimmy sees Father Gilligan, who has come to conduct the weekly confession, and Jimmy then feels 'the religion leaked out of me'. In the past, at least, Catholic priests were typically more intellectual than nuns, because better educated, but Father Gilligan is merely intimidating. He is 'big and black in his suit' and with a long jaw and wild grey hair, so that, in a remarkable and awful coincidence, he bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Morrieson's Salter the Sensational in The Scarecrow. Jimmy imagines himself getting 'a dressing down for telling terrible tales on my parents' if he should confess the truth. At length he is reduced to rambling through a string of half-made-up confessions and, significantly, the only one which earns the priest's attention is sexual. Father Gilligan demands immediate clarification of exactly how many naked women Jimmy might have seen when peeping through a hole in a women's changing-shed. The priest then loses all interest as he finds that Jimmy actually saw none--though Jimmy has still, technically, committed a sin in his heart. Sister Angela's compliance with church doctrine has prevented her from breaking through to any understanding of Jimmy on a more worldly level; in contrast, Father Gilligan's worldly concerns seem to prevent him from breaking through to an understanding of Jimmy by means of church doctrine.
Nevertheless, Father Gilligan does perceptively see through Jimmy's delaying tactics at confession and, in the moment of intimacy that follows this perception, Jimmy plucks up the courage to state the real cause of his troubles. He says, with a bluntness likely to shock the reader: 'My parents hate each other'. At this point, Cross has to contrive things at his most Hardyesque and have Father Gilligan fatefully not manage to hear. But when Jimmy restates the problem in a milder manner, Father Gilligan has once again lost interest. Receiving the priest's mumbled benediction, Jimmy understands above all that 'my having seen God that morning was only my stupid imagination. Everything was going to be as bad as it had ever been'. After realising that the church is not going to help him, Jimmy goes on the rampage and his actions appear to have the ineluctable quality of tragedy.
Jimmy's anger at God over his own undeserved suffering now begins to replace his previous acceptance of his troubles as part of God's testing and strengthening of those whom God loves. In a lecture delivered on The God Boy in 1962, Cross made it clear that Jimmy's willingness 'to accept pain as a kind of atonement for the sins of his little world' is part and parcel of Jimmy's view of himself as a God boy and of his occasional identification with Christ in agony on the cross.(26) Furthermore, although Jimmy does not say so explicitly, his initial attempts at an acceptance of suffering have also allowed him some relief from what he perceives as his guilty role in his parents' unhappiness. However, after the failure of the church to offer assistance, Jimmy's new rage at what he now perceives as God's unfair treatment of him forms another aspect of his book which is very much of its time. Many mid-twentieth-century writers, most notably Samuel Beckett, seemed to reject the premises of theodicy without ever quite dismissing the existence of a God who could be remonstrated with. Cross's own published memoir makes it clear that his childhood Catholicism had lapsed before writing the novel, though it may be wrong to assume that Jimmy's stand against God is something Cross completely endorses.(27)
A perhaps significant comment on theodicy, something outside both Jimmy's view of suffering as a test and Sister Angela's of suffering as resulting from an independent evil, appears in chapter 6 of The God Boy, when Jimmy is discussing punishment with his friends Joe Waters and Sniffy Peters. In the previous chapter Jimmy has received the strap from Sister Angela for being distracted during the lesson at school. In the light of what the reader knows of Jimmy's troubles at home, this seems an unjust punishment meted out by an unfeeling system of authority. Furthermore, Jimmy notes that, perversely, Sister Angela does not even really want to hit him and that he also rather welcomes the attention. In discussion, Sniffy Peters suggests that to get strapped fifty times you would have to murder somebody and Joe Waters, in a neat piece of foreshadowing, says, 'If you murdered somebody, they wouldn't give you the strap. They'd hang you or put you in jail for always and always at least'. However, Sniffy then responds, 'What's the use of Jimmy saying Sister could give him fifty bangs if there isn't nothing she could give him fifty bangs for?'. Despite Cross's careful use of the double negative, Sniffy is suggesting that what to humanity seems undeserved suffering cannot, at its most horrible, be explained as God's punishment, because there is no human sin--not even any original sin--which could justify such divine wrath. Suffering cannot therefore redeem us as proceeding from God's righteousness. Sniffy rejects any contingency to suffering; in his view it just happens. This view is also a rejection of conventional Catholic doctrine. Certainly, it no more follows that Sniffy is a mouthpiece for the author of The God Boy than Jimmy is--but a moment later Sniffy enlarges on the significance of his words by adding: 'I just mentioned murder as a metaphor or simile or one of those figures of speech [...] Nobody would be fool enough to think I really meant it really, if you know what I mean'. In the Bible Peter was the disciple who famously denied Christ, and the novel hints here that Sniffy Peters's words should indeed be interpreted for their wider, religious meaning. As part of the book's argument with the church, Sniffy is momentarily prepared to deny church-sanctioned thinking and step outside its confines.(28)
In any event, it is clear that towards the end of the book Jimmy loses his faith in the sanctity of the Catholic church. This happens suddenly, at school in chapter 19, after Jimmy has watched his mother march off to the police station to give herself up. By now Jimmy has despaired of God's help and of the value of his protection tricks, and he faints in class, accepting that 'whatever was going to happen to me was on the way'. When Jimmy is brought round and carried to Sister Angela's room, his faith in Catholicism is gone. His lapse from faith is first signified as a physical fall: 'an almighty crash from behind us, and the whole school shook'. Later this crashing sound is explained away as the fat boy, Joseph Kane, falling off a desk, but numerous other hints highlight Jimmy's lapsed condition. In Sister Angela's room Jimmy openly tells her 'I think God's got it in for me' and then will not let himself be comforted. He hears his classmates talking and thinks that 'nothing would ever be the same again between them and I', so that he will have to go to a Protestant school--and a moment later he compares himself to Martin Luther. Jimmy then prays with Sister Angela, since she demands it, and he promises her, 'I'll say my prayers, and I'll do my best to keep up with my schoolwork as well'. But Jimmy also makes it clear to the reader that his prayer is only a pretence in order to please Sister Angela, because he likes her and she reminds him of his real sister, Molly. A short time later, in the car on the way home, he carefully rejects thoughts of himself as Saint Peter or Saint Sebastian and imagines himself as 'like Lucifer getting tossed down to Hell'.
Apostasy, however, is not the same thing as atheism, and it is the lesser heresy of losing faith in the church that Jimmy chooses. Jimmy always believes in God but he rejects the Roman Catholic Church as an intermediary between himself and the divine. Recalling Father Gilligan's failure to help him at confession, Jimmy observes that: 'He and his kind are the in-between men, I think, and my quarrel is with God'. Jimmy's vicissitudes have, in fact, caused him to develop a more personal and adversarial relationship with God.(29) The Catholic church explicitly becomes an irrelevance to Jimmy's complaints about the problem of evil, so that he observes, 'If enough people started a mutiny, not against the Church, mind you, but against God, maybe he will sit up and take notice'. Jimmy's anger at God continues for two years, spanning his life in the convent until he becomes the novel's thirteen-year-old narrator. Time does not lessen his grievance about undeserved suffering, but neither does it lessen his belief. Thus, at thirteen years old, Jimmy mentions how he confessed to a priest 'not so long ago now' that he once called God a 'dirty bastard'. Jimmy is briefly perturbed that he might be expelled from the church in consequence of this. But his misgiving is, nevertheless, worldly in its essence, since the possibility of excommunication mainly leaves him 'worried concerning the future of my education' at the convent.
Even so, no matter what kind of personal relationship he may have with God and no matter how he may feel about the value of the Catholic church, Jimmy has grown up in, and continues living in, a Catholic environment. Catholicism seems to permeate Jimmy's mentality irrespective of his acceptance or refusal of church doctrine. This was rather obviously the case before his lapse from the Catholic faith, as when Jimmy compared himself, on being hit in punishment by Sister Angela, to Jesus 'at the crucifixion'; but it also certainly continues to be the case after Jimmy's lapse from the faith and as part of his quarrel with the divine. Instances of this appear right from the opening of the book, when Jimmy announces proudly that, upon besting God in a fight, 'I'd be Pope, whether he liked it or not'. Indeed, at the convent Jimmy even attempts to use the agency of church ritual to attack God, saying that 'once or twice I have taken communion and bitten the wafer right through with my teeth to try and hurt him'.
Even in his moment of something like insanity, when Jimmy attacks the Hindu fruiterer in chapter 15, his thoughts have been conditioned by his religious upbringing. First, Jimmy stares at various items of fruit and vegetables behind his own reflection in the fruiterer's window and begins to compare them to 'dark, ugly sins in my body, smelling and dirty' behind his own 'tough face'. Next, Jimmy sees his face dissolve until 'in the outline of my body a devil's face slowly took shape [...] a dark, ugly thing with big lips'. The repetition of 'dark, ugly' helps Jimmy manage the transfer of sinfulness from within himself outwards, onto a projection of his own being. Jimmy then sees this incarnation of the innate evil within him 'eyeing me in a friendly way, as though it had been feeding on what was inside me and was trying to show how pleased it was'. In reality, Jimmy appears to be mistakenly gazing at the face of the Hindu fruiterer behind the shop window-glass, but the presence of the shopkeeper is largely incidental.(30) Jimmy strikes out in self-loathing, believing that he is being possessed. This vein of thought has been explicitly inculcated in him by Sister Angela two chapters earlier, when she said, 'Sometimes the Devil peers out of your eyes for other people to see, Jimmy. Sometimes the Devil takes possession of a person'. Such thinking continues to haunt Jimmy even later in the novel as he descends, in chapter 21, into the realm of insanity once more. At the end of chapter 21 Jimmy scalds himself while attempting in his lapsed state to recreate his ritualistic protection tricks--these tricks are now reduced to a parody of a parody--for the final time. As Father Gilligan reaches out through the steam in the bathroom to restrain him, Jimmy believes that: 'the Devil must have his hands on my arms and be pulling me down to Hell'. Jimmy then sees Father Gilligan--at least, he focuses on Father Gilligan's cheekbones and eyes--but he thinks of the priest as 'a Hindu devil'. His next response is to scream, thus reprising briefly his delusion and reaction outside the fruiterer's shop.
The most significant of all the instances of Catholicism influencing Jimmy's patterns of thought arises from the Catholic church's notorious insistence on mea culpa. This seems to have imbued Jimmy with his almost automatic, and characteristic, sense of guilt in response to trouble. Towards the end of the novel, when he is gradually brought face to face with the awful fact of his father's murder, Jimmy denies himself any understanding of events by repeatedly inserting into them his own guilty involvement. This begins in chapter 18, even as his mother is walking towards town to give herself up. Jimmy decides that her evident misery must derive from the injuries he has given Bloody Jack or the Hindu fruiterer, with the unhappy result that: 'it was so bad that she couldn't do anything for me'. In the next chapter, when Jimmy wakes up after passing out at school, he hears the other children talking and thinks 'sooner or later they would find out what I had done'. When Sister Angela prepares to take Jimmy home from school, he decides that she is 'peering into my face as though she was trying to see if there were any signs of my sins there'. In chapter 20, meeting his mother for what will be the last time before she is incarcerated as criminally insane, Jimmy attempts to take the blame for what has happened--Jimmy assumes that it is he who will be put in jail and tries to offer as an excuse, with unconscious irony: 'They can't blame me because I was sick. My brain was all mucked up'. It is only after parting from his mother and when focusing, paradoxically, on the guilty gift of his bicycle, that Jimmy at last accepts: 'It was something about Mum and Dad'.
As represented in the novel, the Catholic church is authoritarian but its understanding of its own members is limited and crude. It is as a result of the church's rejection of birth control that Jimmy's mother is driven to have an illicit abortion, an act which, in turn, fatally damages her relationship with Jimmy's father. Moreover, the Catholic church does not allow divorce, making any separation of Jimmy's unhappy parents impossible. Mrs Sullivan's plaintive justification for her abortion, that it was necessary because: 'I'm forty, do you hear? I'm forty and I've been through enough. I'm forty, it was too much', would have resonated sympathetically among many readers in the mid-twentieth century, since birth control was an area of controversy that ranged well beyond the church. The world view presented by Cross in The God Boy, therefore, has psychology ordering the day-to-day life of the characters on the one side, a largely inscrutable God operating in the metaphysical realm on the other, and the Roman Catholic Church in between, working essentially as a system of social rules that manage to be inadequate to both sides. The church's rules are presented as hidebound, unjust and preoccupied with sex. Thus the mechanism of the Catholic church acts as a useful allegory for what was perceived, at least in artistic circles, as the stultifying and conformist mores of provincial New Zealand society in the 1950s. The church's inadequacies, when depicted and examined in a social-realist manner, can serve as commentary on New Zealand as a whole. Furthermore, anti-clericalism becomes a social critique perfectly contained within the restrictions on authorial presence which Modernism imposes on the novel form. The nearest Cross need come to explicit comment in his book is Sniffy Peters's questioning of redemptive suffering and the words of the old woman at whom Jimmy throws stones while on the rampage: 'That terrible church turning out little wretches like you [...] I'm not surprised'. It is really no wonder, then, that The God Boy seems modest but so effectively representative of its time, nor any surprise that other New Zealand writers were jealous of its achievement in appearing to sum up and round off a literary tradition.
The old woman's word for the church, 'terrible', recurs when Mrs Sullivan tries to justify the act of murder to Jimmy as resulting from pressures beyond her ability to forbear. She tells him, 'It's not my fault. I tried to put up with so many terrible things, things you'll never know, and it's not my fault, God knows. I couldn't stand it any longer, Jimmy, and nobody will blame me when they know'. Without ever offering specifics, Cross repeatedly hints that there may be more to the Sullivan family's misery than Jimmy comprehends. Later in the novel, Molly's justification to Jimmy for absenting herself to boarding school and leaving her younger brother alone at home sounds eerily similar to Mrs Sullivan's words, even down to her use of the word 'terrible': 'Perhaps I had all sorts of terrible things to put up with, things that you know nothing about, although I'm not saying I did--but if I did, that would make a difference, wouldn't it?'. Nevertheless, whatever may have been happening in the family, and whatever Mrs Sullivan may feel she can offer the police in mitigation for murdering her husband, none of this finally deflects blame, for nothing prevents Mrs Sullivan from being confined as criminally insane. Furthermore, it is clear that each of the Sullivan family members feels emotionally isolated, with each of them inclined to insist on having suffered unfairly. However, the question remains as to who, Jimmy's mother or father, is ultimately the more to blame for initiating the violent rift in the Sullivan household. Cross tries hard to be even-handed about this, and as early as chapter 2 he has Jimmy explain, 'Mum was always very bad-tempered and quiet toward the end, and Dad always did drink too much'. Cross also makes it clear that the Sullivans' relationship has been deeply troubled for a long time. Molly's suicidal behaviour at the beach in reaction to her parents' unhappiness, which is preceded by her asking Jimmy, 'Do you like mother or father the best?', is a flashback that occurs in the book as early as three years before Jimmy's narrative present--and thus five years before Jimmy's age as narrator--making Jimmy eight and Molly fourteen when she tried to drown them both.(31)
There are also many hints placed by Cross in the novel of violence, or impending violence, between Mr and Mrs Sullivan, with the suggestion that both are active and equal participants. At the end of chapter 11, when Mr Sullivan pushes his wife onto the gravel path, Mrs Sullivan then stands up, encourages Jimmy to go off to school and says, 'I bet I don't fall a second time'. In chapter 17, on the night of his death, Mr Sullivan makes several vicious threats towards his wife in Jimmy's presence, saying: 'There are lots of ignorant slobs of women waiting to get their clutches on you and when they do they turn their filthy backs on you and what you do is give them a boot in their backsides if you are a man'. To this, Mrs Sullivan responds even more frighteningly: 'If you don't stop that I'll kill you', and Jimmy notes that he 'wasn't even surprised' at what he hears from her. After Jimmy leaves the room for bed that night he overhears Mr Sullivan saying to his wife: 'I've got you, and when I've finished with you it'll be back into the gutter'. This appears to be the prelude to their final, fatal altercation.
Unlike Cross, however, Jimmy himself is somewhat less than even-handed and tends to make excuses for his father. Mr Sullivan claims to have seen his fortunes sink as a result of the Great Depression and says to Jimmy in chapter 3, 'I wasn't always a tally clerk'. Jimmy appears to accept this, even observing that 'The depression was really to blame, I suppose'. Likewise, he also believes Mr Sullivan's peculiar tale of losing the use of one arm in the First World War. Furthermore, his father's drunkenness does not seem to bother him. Mr Sullivan may act violently towards his wife, but Jimmy several times mentions that his father's arm is damaged and that his mother is physically much bigger than his father. Jimmy also denies to Bloody Jack that his parents throw things at each other and says, 'they just talk back and forth, and sometimes they shout'. Finally, Jimmy notes that no physical violence is directed by Mr Sullivan towards Jimmy himself, stating flatly, 'Dad had never hit me'. However, if the degree of violent behaviour hinted at by the author never quite seems to correspond with what is actually depicted in Jimmy's book, Jimmy is less circumspect when recording his father's sentimentalism. The reader can see clearly that maudlin self-pity, brought on perhaps by drink, has had a corrosive effect on Mr Sullivan's character. In his cups on the last evening of his life, Mr Sullivan speaks of himself at the dinner table in the third person, complaining:
They just gave him rotten luck and smashed him up and tied him to a she-devil. They didn't lick him, by God no. They held him down and they'll have to keep holding me down, but he'll not give in, no sir. They'll have to hold him down till the day he dies. And by God I bet they do hold him down, not giving him a chance.
Even though Mr Sullivan's complaints about his wife may appear to the reader as largely a displacement for his own frustration, Jimmy himself offers no opinion about this either here or elsewhere in the book. Instead, his reaction on this occasion is to feel faint, in part because he fears the greater trouble to follow.
Concerning his mother, Jimmy offers fewer excuses or evasions. One reason behind this, simply enough, is that Cross must prepare the way for the extraordinary violence in Mrs Sullivan's act of murdering her husband to appear convincing. But another is that Jimmy does not properly realise that his mother is dangerously depressed--not least because he does not understand the causes of her condition. Thus in chapter 6 Jimmy tells Bloody Jack that his mother has changed since her sickness (which the reader has divined was an abortion), but Jimmy frames his observation only as a complaint. Jimmy says, 'She goes around the house sometimes as though nobody else lives there but her, not even me, and she has a funny look in her eyes [...] She looks as though she picked up sixpence and lost a pound note as they say'[49-50]. The eccentric but worldly-wise Bloody Jack is able to act for Jimmy here in a priest's stead, perhaps because he has suffered as no priest could in losing his own wife thirty years before to 'a fat little bloke with a beard'. But it may be significant, then, that Jimmy records Bloody Jack as not seeming to approve of Mrs Sullivan on the one occasion they meet, since 'he stared at her for a long time, then grunted, and said nothing'. Even when Jimmy and his mother appear to share an intimate moment in chapter 9, as Mrs Sullivan remembers her own childhood, Jimmy feels his mother is peculiarly disconnected from him. Their talk ends with Jimmy mentioning that he does not have a bicycle and his mother then giving him an odd look. This glance is beyond Jimmy's power to describe, and he merely notes: 'I don't know exactly how she looked at me, but I didn't like it'.
In the course of the novel, Jimmy several times mentions his mother looking at him in a strange way, as if this were, at some level, a presentiment of her later criminal insanity. In chapter 8 he notes that he 'can think of three of her' in three pictures, which he then explains in some detail. His first view is of his mother looking at him and tossing him into the air when she is young, happy and healthy. The second view is of his mother as he recalls her appearing in the novel's narrative present, in the days before the murder, seeming drawn and with eyes that 'made me a little scared sometimes, looking very hot and bothered'. But of the third view Jimmy says mysteriously:
The third picture is my business. I'm not sure that I remember it, anyway, because more and more I see her as she was at first. Why isn't everybody and everything the way they were at first? I wonder.
The meaning behind this enigmatic passage is never clarified in the novel, but the answer may lie ten chapters later, in chapter 18, when Jimmy observes his mother's behaviour on what is, in fact, the morning after she has murdered his father. Jimmy suspects that something is wrong and asks his mother several times why his father is not present at breakfast (when his corpse is, presumably, somewhere upstairs in the house). Standing at the kitchen sink, Mrs Sullivan snaps at Jimmy in response and then looks at him.
She looked over her shoulder at me as she spoke and it hit me the same way as when I had a shock off the cord of our electric iron. [...] All my life my mother had always looked at me as though she liked me tremendously--that is, except when she was mad at me over some little thing I might have done wrong, or when she was busy, or, as lately, when she looked at me as though she wasn't even thinking of me [...] When she looked at me most of the time, though, I could see that I gave her a big kick. But the look she gave me now was so different that I stared straight into her queer eyes, I was so surprised, and she turned away from me quickly.
Directed at her son, Mrs Sullivan's gaze is explicitly not a look of tremendous liking, nor anger, nor even depressive distraction over Jimmy's father. Furthermore, what Jimmy thinks of next, by association, is the death-agony he once saw in the eyes of a dog fatally hit by a wool truck. It seems possible that in this passage Jimmy has understood, subconsciously, that his mother at the kitchen sink, having already committed one act of murder through insanity, is thinking of killing him too. If this supposition is correct, then the notion that his own mother thought even for a moment of murdering him is something Jimmy still denies to himself two years later. This would account for the third picture of his mother that Jimmy will not explain although he is recording his own story. It may also, ultimately, lie behind his inability to be even-handed in apportioning blame to his parents.
Jimmy is narrating these awful events in retrospect at the convent for orphans and, just as his sister Molly prefers to style herself Miss Brown after the murder, so too Jimmy may have begun a process of reinventing himself. Naturally, he is still haunted by the horrors of the past, so that he observes: 'I feel almost as I look back at myself then that I'm living two lives at once'. But he is also motivated, as his continuing rage against God makes plain, by a sense of revenge against what became his fate. Jimmy claims he wants to tell his younger self: 'It's all right Jimmy. We'll get even one day'. When he recalls his powerlessness in the past, Jimmy wishes that he could somehow intervene, as if he himself were a version of God, and he comments: 'I feel so sorry for the boy I see, and almost throb with wanting to jump in there beside him to give him some help'. But despite his history Jimmy remains, crucially, immune to the self-pity which did so much damage to his father. For all its flaws, Jimmy's carefully cultivated attitude of not caring is a useful antidote to his father's sentimentality. And once again, such anti-sentimentalism is an attitude notably in accordance with accepted views of literature at the time when the novel was published, as part of the anti-sentimental emphasis of Modernist literature in general and of the tradition of social-realist writing in particular.
Living at the convent, Jimmy is soon attracted by the notion of self-reliance. Inspired, in a curious irony, by what he remembers from the example of his parents and how 'you couldn't keep a Sullivan down', Jimmy determines near the close of his book to be independent from others. He says, 'When they first brought me here I stayed in bed doing nothing but cry for days [...] Then one morning I woke up and it was all over [...] I sat right up in bed hungry enough to eat a horse, and wanting to show everybody that I was as good as anybody else, if not better'. Independence is a particularly New Zealand virtue, but behind this for Jimmy, perhaps, lies an especial desire to be invulnerable to any future vicissitudes. Almost by definition, self-reliance involves acting alone, and partly for this reason Jimmy does not reply to Bloody Jack's letter to the convent. He does not seek to maintain the relationship, because, he says, 'what was the use, anyway'. There is some irony to this because the reader need look no further than Bloody Jack, a man alone and with no family, to see what complete self-reliance might turn Jimmy into. Moreover, a moment after disregarding Bloody Jack's letter Jimmy somewhat contradicts the toughness of this attitude by rationalising the fact that Joe Waters and his other schoolmates do not write to him with: 'they wouldn't know what to say in a letter. Neither would I, so it's better all round that we don't try'. But whether Jimmy's new independence really derives from conscious determination or from imposed circumstance, the end result is the same: Jimmy is concerned never again to leave himself vulnerable through his relationships with others and he seeks, rather, to accumulate a protective shell of personal power. He pursues any fight with the other children in the convent until the bitter end, and he is proud, from the opening chapter of his story, of being 'boss around here and there's no arguments, really'. Jimmy informs the reader from the start that he only maintains good relations with the nuns and says his prayers because: 'I need this place, for the education and all that'. To Jimmy, an education is valuable because it will assist him in becoming even more independent. He feels that he 'would need an education before I took off on my own'.
Jimmy enjoys the power in being clever, partly because it enables him to manipulate other people. Near the end of his book he observes how both he and his mother write to each other and pretend that he does not know that she killed his father. In this way, 'we are both fooling each other, except that I'm not fooled, really'. Indeed, the last two chapters of The God Boy repeatedly show Jimmy taking pleasure in acting in a guarded and manipulative manner. When Molly makes her only visit to the convent, in chapter 22, Jimmy is eager to see her but says, 'I wasn't going to be such a fool as to let on'. He has tea with Molly and the nuns and then endures the polite talk of 'how I was doing my schoolwork well, how good I was, and all that sort of stuff'. But what Jimmy actually notices and admires during this exchange is Molly's facade, or so he interprets it, as she sits 'sipping away at her tea like Lady Muck, looking so darned earnest, really holding up her own end of the stick'.
Later, when Jimmy and Molly walk through the convent, Jimmy is happy to think that 'she trailed along behind as though I was the boss'. At first, he listens in a somewhat distanced manner to Molly's talk of their mother being 'sick in a kind of way that makes doctors keep others away'. As she does so, he interprets Molly's openness as weakness, because she 'wasn't like Lady Muck any more'. But Jimmy's new behaviour is still, and importantly, only a denial of his own continuing fragility--so that his toughness starts to disappear with talk of his mother. Molly is soon attempting to explain to Jimmy that he cannot go and see Mrs Sullivan, despite his frank admission that this is what he most desires. Visiting his mother in a mental-hospital ward for the criminally insane is impossible for Jimmy even though, as Molly reveals: 'That's all you ask her in your letters'. In response, Jimmy loses his temper and then begins to manipulate Molly's pity for him, repeating an obvious lie about his father 'having an accident like that' until Molly looks sad and as if 'she was going to heave up her tea and scones'. Jimmy is seeking to re-establish his own facade of toughness before Molly so that he can begin, as he hopes, 'to feel like her big brother now'. However, what he proceeds to do in actuality, in a manner half disingenuous but also half beyond his own self-control, is merely to expand on his previous lie about his father having an accident by telling Molly at length of how happy their parents were together. Jimmy even borrows from what he remembers Joe Waters saying about his own parents in chapter 10. As he watches Molly accepting these lies purely to placate him, Jimmy thinks triumphantly, 'Really, she looked a proper sap, sitting there. [...] I had Molly licked from then on'. Next Jimmy follows up this dubious triumph by embarrassing his sister with talk about sex 'and whether she had tried it for herself yet'. Clearly, the sense of toughness in the older Jimmy--the toughness that will seem to pervade the novel's narrative in recall--is vying to replace guilt as Jimmy's stock response to stress. The meeting with Molly at the convent is not a pretty performance from Jimmy, but it is a complex and psychologically adroit performance by Cross, the author.
In the convent, therefore, Jimmy appears to be in the process of transforming himself from being a God boy who feels a burden of guilt for his parent's troubles and his own sadness--someone who tries to accept suffering as a form of atonement--into God's rival. As God's rival, Jimmy is developing a shell of toughness around a core of self-reliance, and this is also a form of social alienation. Thus he is fulfilling his vision of himself, on losing his faith, as becoming 'like Lucifer'. It is worth recalling that, moments before Jimmy sees his own reflected face merge with the Hindu fruiterer's into a vision of the Devil in a shop window, he announces: 'I was the toughest person in the whole world'. Jimmy's harshly manipulative behaviour near the novel's close allows him to assume a relationship with other people analogous to what he imagines is God's harsh stewardship of the world. He opens the last chapter of his book by announcing: 'there's not much doubt that I'm tougher and smarter than most boys my age. I don't care what else God is going to try on me, but whatever it is, he had better watch his step'.
The last chapter of Jimmy's book is devoted to an encounter between himself and the elderly and ailing Sister Francis, who is in charge of him at the convent and who appears to be his favourite among the nuns. Jimmy says: 'she's a good old thing, and God can do no wrong as far as she is concerned'. He listens to her explain that he will not be able to see his mother for many years and is immediately proud that 'I didn't blubber or anything like that'. But over and above this feeling of pride, Jimmy also clearly enjoys his sense of youthful, physical superiority over Sister Francis. Nevertheless, he finds himself using this physical prowess to help her when she suggests a walk around the back of the convent. He even holds the artful old nun's hand when she requests it. The month is November, and spring has seen off Jimmy's winter at last.(32) Jimmy walks slowly with Sister Francis and then sits beside her in the grass while she takes a rest and says some silent prayers. He refuses her offer to talk about his mother but he then helps her back to the convent, this time volunteering to hold her hand, 'in case it made her feel ashamed to have to ask me'. Thus, as the pair return together, it has become unclear--on the last page of Cross's finely calculated close to his novel--just who is manipulating and controlling whom. Sister Francis observes that 'God makes little boys stronger than old women in more ways than one', and Jimmy immediately responds: 'I certainly am very strong. You don't have to worry about me'. Jimmy's situation is finely balanced.(33) His accelerating desire for personal strength may make him into a very good man or a very bad one as he grows up, but he is unlikely to be anything in between. The reader, having been guided with the utmost care through a novel where nothing is open to chance, is finally left free to decide towards which extreme Jimmy Sullivan will most probably advance.
2. Neddy's Book: The Scarecrow
Due to The Scarecrow's idiosyncratic style and content, the poor reception given this novel on its appearance in New Zealand in 1963 is less of a surprise than was the case for The God Boy. If The God Boy is a novel that seems designed to fit into a long-standing tradition, then the sheer novelty of The Scarecrow presented its readership with a considerable challenge. The novel's ludic foregrounding of language and its mixing of high and popular culture would have to wait for the advent of Post-Modernism to make sense even to literary-minded readers.(34) But there is no doubt that the book's author, Ronald Hugh Morrieson, intended The Scarecrow to be read as a literary novel. Although, incredibly, almost as little is known of Morrieson's intellectual life as of Shakespeare's, one direct comment by him on his first novel has survived: 'It's kind of a thriller I suppose, but I think it's also a work of art--at least I hope it is.'(35) On publication, however, the novel's strange combining of literary and popular genres discouraged readers from recognising its success in both spheres. To compound matters, Morrieson's originality put him so far ahead of his time that he posed immediate problems for academics who were then developing the New Zealand literary canon. As the critic Peter Simpson perceptively noted somewhat later in 1982, in what is still the only critical study of Morrieson to date of any significant length: 'His novelty is such that he appears eccentric in relation to the perceived tradition; in order to accommodate his work adequately and to ensure its appropriate recognition, the whole history of New Zealand fiction will need to be readjusted'.(36) But unfortunately, no such readjustment has come to pass. Instead, academic intransigence has marginalized Morrieson into a category mostly of one, as Taranaki Gothic, as a primitive or as a cult writer. Or alternatively, he has been placed on the violent fringe of a group now identified by the elastic, curiously vague, but always pejorative term: 'masculinist' writers of the mid-twentieth century.(37)
Nevertheless, prior to the publication of The Scarecrow, a lot of New Zealand writers had been anticipating the appearance of a novel like Morrieson's for some time. It had long been felt that the vernacular style of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn offered the most appropriate model for novelists seeking to create an indigenous literature in a young country. Back in 1934, A.R.D. Fairburn had proselytised for an abandonment of British literary influences because 'from the point of view of the New Zealand writer, Huckleberry Finn is the most important novel ever written'.(38) In the 1940s Frank Sargeson pressed Mark Twain, along with Sherwood Anderson and Herman Melville, upon proteges such as Maurice Duggan and Greville Texidor.(39) Even Ian Cross, in a lecture on The God Boy delivered in 1962, was keen as a 'colonial writer' to claim kinship with American authors, who 'all go back, of course, to Mark Twain'.(40) In practice, however, New Zealand literature before the 1960s remained surprisingly anglophile, at least in looking to England for publication and approval, and surprisingly reluctant to consider American fiction as a possible source for more than realism in the simplest spoken style. Indeed, few in the New Zealand literary scene recognized the vernacular brio of The Scarecrow on its appearance in 1963, although an editor as astute as Charles Brasch was praising just this quality in Maurice Duggan's game-changing 'Along Rideout Road that Summer' as he accepted the story for publication in Landfall in that same year.(41)
Duggan's 'Along Rideout Road that Summer' appeared racy to its readers of the time--there is, perhaps, even the faintest suggestion of fellatio behind the thicket of verbiage which designedly obscures Fanny Hohepa's seduction of the virginal Buster O'Leary during their swim. Morrieson's novel, in contrast, seemed something more than racy. The Scarecrow establishes its magician-villain, Salter the Sensational, by having him recall raping and murdering his assistant, Zita, and then describing his exaltation in the 'sexual power the mad, evil moment granted'. Near its mid-point the novel further features a scene of necrophilia--it is plainly written with as much license as Morrieson thought he could get away with--and finally, through much of the book, the young hero and narrator, Neddy Poindexter, entertains a disturbingly sexual interest in his own sister. But while the tone of Duggan's story never failed to impress upon its readers a sense of literary importance and sophistication, Morrieson's more open, and even blunt, treatment of what his characters can only refer to as 'you-know', along with his seeming lack of immediate literary antecedents, quickly rendered him unsophisticated and a primitive in the eyes of the New Zealand literary community. Even among its general readership in New Zealand The Scarecrow did not manage a succes de scandale; in 1963 the mood of the country was such that the Indecent Publications Tribunal was being set up to keep writing of just this sort from entering society.
As early as 1971 C.K. Stead wrote in a brief essay, with withering praise, that Morrieson 'enjoys telling a story and tells one at least as grippingly as any novelist we have had. I suspect, even, that he is only fitfully conscious of doing more, and that all the rest happens largely by instinct'.(42) Primitivism has remained a component essential to negative critical views of Morrieson's work, since it underpins the argument that Morrieson frequently and maladroitly loses control of his writing, with the result that 'images of the unconscious seem constantly to buckle the surface of the narrative'.(43) However, because Morrieson's methods of composition are unknown, the case for his actually being a primitive tends to rest on several unfortunate assumptions: that Morrieson lived all his life in a small town, that he was uneducated and, above all, that he was an eccentric in thrall to the dark side of his own creations.(44) Morrieson's isolation in Hawera need have no special bearing on his artistry--the rest of mid-twentieth-century New Zealand was scarcely more metropolitan by world standards--though it certainly hampered any chance of his public success. In Living in the Maniototo, a Post-Modern novel of alternative realities, Janet Frame is clearly referring to Morrieson in her character Peter Wallstead (and perhaps also referring to Stead's comments on Morrieson) when she writes with obvious irony: 'Why hadn't he come to live in Auckland, the cosmopolitan city, to get experience, to keep his art alive and in the swim?'.(45) Similarly, Morrieson's lack of a university education merely places him amongst the majority of New Zealand writers of his generation. Morrieson, in fact, grew up in a family that valued music and literature, and his Aunt Doris seems to have run a lending library from the family house which gave him easy access to books.(46) Finally, Morrieson was without doubt socially marginalized, unmarried and alcoholic--again, qualities he shared with many other New Zealand writers--but his failure to condemn explicitly the sex and violence he depicts in The Scarecrow, particularly in the more Gothic passages, speaks not of his own vices but rather to the ubiquity of these darker urges in human nature as Morrieson seems to have viewed it. For any unwarranted enjoyment of sex or violence in the text, such a view implies, is likely to be as much and as uncomfortably the reader's as it is the author's or his characters'. And at times the reader is supposed to be shocked. As for the author himself, Morrieson seeks to condemn his novel's dark acts and desires in more implicit and, ultimately, sophisticated ways than the sentimentalism or intervention that many critics have demanded.
Arguments for Morrieson's primitivism also rest on the uneven opening pages of The Scarecrow. Certainly, there is no primitivism on display in the very competently filmic opening of chapter 2 of the novel, where 'A watery solution of mist and sunlight grudgingly included Smythe Street in its early morning tour of inspection'. Morrieson has the dawn slowly illuminate the abandoned scrap in the Poindexter-family back yard and then the facade of the building across the street, until at last the light is sufficiently clear for the inscription above the doors of the family shed to be legible. But in comparison, the famous single sentence which accounts for the first paragraph of chapter 1 of The Scarecrow, 'The same week our fowls were stolen, Daphne Moran had her throat cut', appears forced and stagy. It is a curious fact that this sentence has been praised by many critics as one of the most arresting hooks in New Zealand fiction when it also seems so noticeably artificial. For Morrieson the author, the distinction between the everyday world and the shockingly violent embodied in this sentence may eventually prove thematically useful, but this is Neddy's book, and as preliminary information provided by Neddy the narrator, the opening of The Scarecrow is almost irrelevant. The story of the stolen fowls does not reappear for another four pages, and Daphne Moran herself is only tangential to the novel, a 'young theatre usherette' raped and murdered by the villainous Salter before his appearance in Neddy's town. The very start of chapter 1, with its superficial bravado, seems designed to showcase the opening of a work of literary fiction at its worst.
However, the attribution of The Scarecrow's first sentence is a key factor in explaining Morrieson's strategy at the novel's start. For whatever Morrieson the author's achievement with his opening sentence may amount to, Neddy the book's narrator quickly claims it as his own invention. At the same time Neddy also makes clear its imitativeness. Neddy confides that his opening sentence's cadence and structure are actually lifted from: 'The same broadside I lost my leg, Old Pew lost his deadlights', in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.(47) (Behind this, it may be noted, the two halves of Stevenson's sentence, the one half focusing on the remarkable and the other on the mundane, have been quietly reversed by Morrieson in The Scarecrow for greater impact, and the difference between the mundane and the remarkable increased for greater contrast.) Morrieson's aim, then, is to differentiate himself as author from his first-person narrator, the grown-up Neddy writing in recall, and to establish that narrator by having Neddy write badly at the beginning of the novel. Neddy's first sentence is poor literary fiction, although it is successful as the start of what Morrieson also called 'kind of a thriller'--in fact, so alarmingly successful that critical praise has almost derailed Morrieson's original intentions.
Thus, immediately following the novel's brief first sentence-paragraph, the second paragraph proves a genuine compendium of bad prose.(48) The second paragraph's long opening sentence contains a peculiar mix of registers. The sentence's first half, with its elaborately artificial clauses, contains colloquial language such as 'Big dunce', 'quite good' and 'a keen reader', while the more natural grammar of the sentence's second half is offset by the artificial literary diction of 'I now presume to set myself up', 'chronicler' and 'hour in the limelight'. The paragraph's otherwise fluid second sentence has an ungrammatical phrase jammed awkwardly into its centre, 'just like I have heard said', where 'like' is used as a conjunction to replace the more formally correct 'as'. (Such a slip, completely convincing from the over-eager Neddy, would have been more obvious to readers schooled in grammar minutiae in Morrieson's time.) The third sentence contains a grating mix of metaphors, with Neddy first 'biting off more than I can chew' and then 'tackling the job'. The next offers a rhetorical question as to who could possibly know more about the novel's events than Neddy, which Neddy himself immediately answers with: 'But nobody!'. Finally, and somewhat redundantly, Neddy asks almost the same question all over again and then responds with a hideously over-literary construction: 'Echo answers whose!'.(49)
After the second paragraph this overstrained prose largely disappears from The Scarecrow, but in chapter 1 Neddy's book continues to start and restart, with each new paragraph offering a topic notably disconnected from the paragraph previous to it. Neddy self-consciously delivers the patter of a would-be raconteur, often addressing the reader directly and with a noticeable inconsistency of tone. He says: 'The name is Poindexter', as if formally introducing himself, and soon afterwards he announces, redundantly and as if starting into a radio broadcast: 'This is the voice of Edward Clifton (Neddy) of the Poindexter ilk and I should know'. A little later he demands: 'Chord in E minor, please, maestro', as if fronting some sort of stage show. Neddy is evidently feeling his way into the book. At length the narrative blunders into a concatenated story from paragraph seven onwards. Significantly, it is not a story about stolen fowls or murder but rather about a Poindexter-family member, Neddy's awful Uncle Athol Cudby, whom Neddy notes 'had a more degrading influence on our household than any other factor'.
After the opening Morrieson goes on playfully mixing language registers throughout the novel. He describes, for example, the successive Poindexter-family homes as each having windows broken in domestic fights, with a new pair of broken panes appearing 'in the early autumn of this memorable, nay, unforgettable, year'. But with his narrator now established and in control, such shifts are managed artfully and for comic effect. Neddy does continue, though more successfully, to adopt the manner of a raconteur on occasion, as in chapter 14 when he makes a cheerful aside to the reader concerning 'our old shed where we had not ventured (well not to speak of anyway, oo-hoo that applejack) since the brush with the Lynchites'. In addition Neddy frequently displays genuine wit. As early as the middle of chapter 1 in the novel he announces: 'it is my contention that the auctioneer used the term "pullets" the way a drunk would yell out "Hi girls" to a busload of grandmothers on a conducted tour'. The remainder of The Scarecrow, then, confirms that the opening pages are far from being the product of an incapable author. Instead, the opening suggests precisely what Simpson has noted: 'a conscious and highly deliberate artist behind the artless and unsophisticated persona through which he speaks'.(50)
Ian Cross takes considerable pains never to challenge the illusion that The God Boy is Jimmy Sullivan's book as monologue, written out somehow while spoken by its narrator in the passion of recollection only two years after the events described. Because it is a first-person narrative, The Scarecrow is every bit as much Neddy Poindexter's book as The God Boy is Jimmy Sullivan's, but it is also much more of a written artefact. Ostensibly, The Scarecrow can show artifice because its narrator, Neddy, is writing much later in life and with less compulsion than is the case with Jimmy. Neddy aims to record not just personal events but also local history, as his hometown enters its 'dark hour'. Thus, despite the initial claim that his is 'a genuine blow-by-blow account', The Scarecrow becomes something more like Neddy's novel than Neddy's book. Like The God Boy, however, The Scarecrow takes place over a strictly limited period of time: from 'early autumn' until the end of the May school break. Like The God Boy its older narrator also recalls the events of a crucial period of adolescence: Neddy, aged approximately forty in the early 1960s, writes of adventures twenty six years before, when he was a fourteen-year-old in 1936.(51) Also like The God Boy, the action is confined to a small town. Neddy's Klynham, clearly based on Morrieson's Hawera, is 'two hundred and fifty miles from the city'. (Amusingly, this distance to 'the city' could indicate either Wellington or Auckland, an ambiguity which probably matters little to residents of Klynham.) Finally, in both books the plot builds towards a violent climax. In The Scarecrow's case, this is Hubert Salter's rape and murder of Klynham local, Angela Potroz, and his subsequent abduction of Neddy's sister, Prudence. But whereas for the success of his narrative Cross must be deeply concerned to maintain verisimilitude through control of point-of-view, psychological fidelity to character and a convincing coherence of language and tone, Morrieson is concerned with none of these things in presenting Neddy's story. Instead, in The Scarecrow each of these features provides opportunities for virtuosity rather than verisimilitude, and thus each tends to bring the controlling author behind Neddy's book into the foreground in a way that Jimmy's book does not.
Nevertheless, The Scarecrow has an obvious and even conventional structure. Like The God Boy once again, The Scarecrow is twenty chapters long and divides in half. Salter arrives at, and commences insinuating his way into, the town in the novel's first half, until he appears among the Poindexter family in chapter 10. At this mid-point in the book, Salter's menacing of Prudence by means of hypnosis and the display of a knife plainly foreshadows his abduction and near-murder of her in the novel's second half. Indeed, the number of very short chapters near the end of the book effectively speeds up the pace but it also rather suggests Morrieson somewhat arbitrarily cutting up his action to make his chapters work out to an appropriate number. But the novel also divides into two parts in other respects. In each half of the novel Neddy and his best friend, Les Wilson, follow the episodes of a movie serial, first 'The King of Diamonds' and then 'The Fire God's Treasure'. In the first half of the novel, the Lynch gang, a local group of schoolboy thugs, make an attempt to ensnare and rape Prudence in chapter 7; then once again they attack Prudence, together with Angela Potroz, in the novel's second half in chapter 16.
In a similar manner, the openings of both halves of the novel are roughly parallel, since both seek to introduce Klynham as Neddy's world. In the first half Neddy describes the town in a lively but distanced tone as having a good eastern end and a bad western end. Soon he slips into a cynical digression on the town's many pubs, the Federal, the White Hart, the Commercial and the defunct Jubilee, which are presented as being in Klynham's back streets and yet somehow ubiquitous. Chapter 11 opens the novel's second half by reintroducing the town and its characters, but, in contrast, the pervasive tone is an elegiac nostalgia, particularly on display in passages such as: 'After Easter and the first deep frosts, the days were clear and cold as a mountain stream, and the distant scream of the big saw at the mill became a part of our lives. Otherwise the town dreamed on in silence'. A few months have undoubtedly passed since the autumn of the novel's first half and the narrator is using the chronological gap to review what has happened in the interval, but it is also clear that the grown-up Neddy is here describing memories of a time he feels is long gone. This allows Morrieson to develop his presentation of Klynham by showing it from more than one perspective without needing, in this case, to step beyond his protagonist's point of view. Some slight textual evidence suggests that Neddy still lives in Klynham as an adult. He says of the cinema: 'the building has had a great face-lift recently, but I recall it fondly the way it was', and there is a minor confusion of tense when he mentions that 'Across the alley is the Federal Hotel'.(52) In chapter 11 Neddy's nostalgia for the Klynham of his youth is conveyed by his description of himself as a boy with a dog wandering about the town--the dog seems briefly acquired to accomplish this tone. While observing his surroundings, Neddy reflects appropriately: 'A love for a place that one can never lose can strike up through the soles of one's bare feet, I am sure. No matter how unhappy one may be, the love for the earth itself fairly soaks up through the soles of a person's feet until it reaches the heart'.(53)
Morrieson is careful to make his novel and its world internally consistent. The incidental details of Neddy's age, his family background, and the novel's setting and chronology all cohere with the thoroughness of conventional realism. Morrieson takes especial care over times. 'This was Saturday morning' he has Neddy note as prelude to meeting the Lynch gang in the street, so as to explain why the encounter is not taking place at school. Morrieson also includes references to popular culture of the 1930s, such as the song 'Roll Along, Covered Wagon, Roll Along', the 1931 film 'Palmy Days' and 'a new craze' for roller skating. He has Neddy mention the song 'There's a War in Abyssinia, Won't You Come?', which refers to the Italian invasion of Abyssinia of 1935-6, and thus further helps to fix the novel's time frame. Anachronisms are rare. One occurs when, arriving in Klynham in chapter 4, on a moonlit autumn night, Salter mutters, 'The wolf bane is blooming again'. Though perhaps a reference to an ancient poisonous herb, this more likely comes from a so-called 'poem' quoted in the film The Wolfman in relation to diabolic transformation: 'Even a man who is pure in heart/ and says his prayers by night,/ may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms/ and the autumn moon is bright'. Unfortunately, this horror classic was released in 1941--but the small slip can be explained away as arising from the adult Neddy narrating in recollection.
On occasion, instances of apparent clumsiness in the text derive from what is, in fact, Morrieson's idiosyncratic sense of narrative value. In chapter 6 Constable Len Ramsbottom describes the theft of the Lynch family's fowls in detail to Neddy and Les Wilson, without realising that in this case Neddy and Les are the crime's perpetrators. The exchange is carried out in a lengthy passage of dialogue and descriptive narrative, even though each scrap of this information has previously been revealed to the reader. Most authors would have disposed of such a redundancy quickly in reported narrative. But Morrieson seems more interested in the comedy of having Ramsbottom patiently explain to a worried Neddy and Les what they already know; and therefore, in order to add immediacy to the boys' sense of nervous patience, Morrieson has the reader's experience mimic Neddy and Les's situation. This involves a comedy of errors which is even reproduced at the level of language, in a misunderstanding over Ramsbottom's use of the word 'miscreants'. Ramsbottom is referring to the thieves who stole the Lynch family's fowls, but the expression is mistakenly taken up and used by Neddy and Les when referring to the fowls themselves.
For Morrieson, dramatising and adding immediacy is always more important than any apparent clumsiness of plotting, especially when seeking to develop a theme. This is nicely evident when the local undertaker, the reprobate Charlie Dabney, visits the Poindexter house in chapter 5. Dabney, Neddy's father and Uncle Athol take turns in leaving the family and 'going to the washhouse to knock over a bottle which the alcoholic mortician had smuggled in under his coat'. However, only a few pages later Dabney produces another bottle and the three merely consume it before everyone in the kitchen. But the location of the alcohol, always paramount in the minds of the drinkers, moves from private to public in a way that mimics Dabney's lustful behaviour in front of the Poindexter family. Dabney's inebriated friskiness moves from a private and harmless mood--it results in a comical mix-up where Dabney mistakes Neddy for some 'loveliest flower' in the darkened family bedroom--to an ugly and open appetite for Prudence, which Dabney expresses in the kitchen by repeating the obscene phrase 'Stiffasaboard' before her and everyone else.(54) A similar drive for immediacy occurs in chapter 4. Morrieson has Salter, Dabney and Uncle Athol introduce themselves to each other in dialogue, even though by now their names are all known to the reader. But once again, this serves to dramatise and highlight the way all three, the murderer, the mortician and the amoralist, quickly recognise each other as alcohol-fuelled, kindred spirits. These are the sort of 'lapses' that a critic like C.K. Stead might have been conscious of when encouraging others to read Morrieson mainly for his crude energy.(55)
Despite all this, the change in point of view from Neddy's first-person narration to a third-person narration in chapters 3, 4, 9 and 19 remains a seemingly intractable problem in the book. It is worth observing, though, that academics have been inclined to react with far more antagonism to this flouting of what they themselves term artificial rules of narrative than have casual readers. However, having scarcely got under way as Neddy's narrative, The Scarecrow in chapter 3 opens with a noticeably darker, third-person account of Salter as he gets down from a truck at some crossroads, giving off the sinister 'impression of a scarecrow', and approaches the railway junction at Te Rotiha, just twelve miles (19 kilometres) outside of Klynham.(56) The novel then briefly enters the thoughts of a mystified youth at the station office who directs Salter to a train, and at greater length it enters the mind of a bored little girl, Lynette, who is sitting in the carriage that Salter gets into. Chance has already brought Neddy and his father to Te Rotiha in chapter 2, and they travel back to Klynham in the guard's van of the same train as the other characters. When Salter jumps off the train at Klynham, the narrative, after a gap, reverts to Neddy's point of view as he recalls getting down from the guard's van and unwittingly following 'the sinister scarecrow man up the dusky streets'. Neddy does not properly meet Salter until chapter 10, where he claims to recognise 'the scarecrow-like figure' he glimpsed at the Te Rotiha crossroads, thus further confusing the novel's point of view. Neddy's comparison of Salter to a scarecrow is important enough to supply the title of his book, but, for the reader at least, the sighting at the crossroads which generated this moment of comparison was made early in chapter 3 in the third person.(57)
Chapters 4, 9 and 19 similarly disrupt the 'rules' of narrative. Chapter 4 is an elaborate third-person account of Salter drinking illegally on a Sunday evening at the Federal Hotel with Uncle Athol and his friend, Charlie Dabney. Much of the chapter's first half is actually told from Salter's point of view and even enters his thoughts, establishing him as a villain. The first half of chapter 9 occurs in the third person and then depicts some of the nastiest incidents in the book: the lonely death of the local music teacher, Mabel Collinson, on falling drunkenly down some stairs; Salter's sexual assault on Mabel Collinson's corpse as witnessed by the local halfwit, Sam Finn; and, finally, Sam Finn's murder on accidentally revealing himself to Salter. Salter has been confined mostly to the background of the novel up to this near mid-point; yet, although Mabel Collinson lives on the good 'dawn side' of town, she is not safe from his mysteriously vague but rising influence as the story's troubles accumulate. Indeed, the terrible events of chapter 9 serve to unleash Salter's genuine menace just before he encounters the Poindexter family, and Prudence in particular, in chapter 10. Changes of point of view in chapter 9 are particularly complex. The narrative sums up Mabel Collinson's life and death in a free indirect style and then enters Sam Finn's mind to reveal his obsessive adoration of her and her music. Sam Finn's discovery of Salter and his death at the villain's hands are luridly told and the story then extends for another two paragraphs into a tale of the supernatural. Mabel Collinson's mother in Sydney hears the piano playing in her empty lounge on the night of her daughter's death and later concludes it was 'Poor, silly Mabel come back as a ghost'. The second half of the chapter then returns, via Len Ramsbottom's report of being unable to locate Sam Finn's whereabouts, and without any narrative gap, to Neddy's point of view once again. Finally, in chapter 19, details are offered in the third person of how Neddy's older brother, Herbert, finds Salter hiding in Dabney's funeral parlour. There is a confrontation and Salter is killed.
Like his critics--and perhaps in response to them--Morrieson also seems to have been made anxious by his novel's confusion of point of view. Peter Simpson has noted a sentence that forms 'part of a new ending to Chapter 2 which Morrieson wrote for the first reprint of the novel, a paperback edition published in Sydney in 1967'.(58) (Later editions have kept the altered ending.) The sentence, coming just before the change of point of view in the next chapter, has Neddy explain that: 'Much piecing together has been necessary--and not a little guesswork--to compile what follows'. This claim by Neddy that he is the author of what might be termed 'recreations' in the third-person chapters is meant to buttress Neddy's earlier plea for artistic licence, carefully placed at the novel's very opening, that: 'some extra elusive bits and pieces may force me to use my imagination'. Similar hints occur throughout The Scarecrow, and some are more convincing than others. In chapter 19, for instance, it is made clear that the events surrounding Salter's death are being retold by Neddy himself. This is revealed in the course of the chapter, when Neddy interrupts the third-person account to explain in his own voice: 'Herbert told me that he now received the biggest fright of his whole life. I am sure I am the only person he ever confided in'. But Neddy's knowledge of the circumstances of Sam Finn's death in chapter 9 is accounted for only as something told by 'a timid housemaid at the Federal' to Prudence, who has then informed Neddy. This information about Sam Finn's murder in an alley does nothing to explain how Neddy as narrator might divine Sam Finn's thoughts. In addition, the basis for Neddy's knowledge of Salter's sexual assault on Mabel Collinson's corpse is murky at best. Similarly unconvincing is Morrieson's contrivance in chapter 9 of the 'hysterical letter from Sydney, signed by Mabel Collinson's mother and addressed to the Mayor of Klynham', which explains how Neddy can include his tale of a piano-playing ghost. Certainly, this does not account for Neddy's claim that Mabel Collinson's mother used to tell the story of the piano 'on many an occasion from then on'. However, it does appear that this approach to reading The Scarecrow, where the occasionally bizarre third-person passages are Neddy's somewhat fevered recreations of events, was what Morrieson intended for his book--at least when he conceived of the structural system that would contain it.
Peter Simpson has supplied a careful analysis of the third-person sections of The Scarecrow as passages written by Neddy. It forms a significant part of Simpson's argument that the novel's mix of high and low elements constitutes a 'comic fugue'.(59) Simpson observes that Neddy has only the most limited direct contact with Salter, and thus 'when Neddy does describe him directly he is forced to abandon his first-person narrative and move into the third person'.(60) Neddy's third-person narrative, then, can be presumed to reveal as much about its creator, Neddy, as about its subject, Salter, because 'the Scarecrow is largely a product of Neddy's imagination'.(61) Simpson's view is broadly in line with an essentially Modernist approach, predominant at the time Morrieson was writing, which is inclined to see language in a narrative as a product of, and therefore as indicative of, a character's psychology. Simpson diagnoses the presentation of the villain and villainous events, written out by Neddy in the third-person, as 'projected from an imagination steeped in the stereotypes of evil and villainy from literature and films'.(62) This helps explain some of the patently exotic touches in the third-person chapters, such as the description of the light in Dabney's funeral parlour as being like a Gothic 'will-of-the-wisp'.
Since Neddy is not an alienated but rather a typical inhabitant of his community, Simpson is able to expand on the notion of Salter as 'a nightmarish intensification of what Neddy fears about himself'.(63) Simpson suggests that Neddy's vision in his own book of Salter as the personification of evil ultimately derives from a malaise within the community as a whole, so that the novel's villain 'personifies the repressed sexuality and violence of the cosy little town of Klynham'.(64) Thus it is a straightforward matter for Simpson to interpret the moment in chapter 4, when Salter first enters Klynham and sees his own face reflected in a puddle in the main street--a puddle that 'had nothing to do with rain, but owed its existence to subterranean forces, seepage, impermeable strata and so on'--as a symbol purposefully embedded by Morrieson the author. The novel's mix of the comic and Gothic, of the good influence of Neddy's mother and the bad influence of Salter, of formal language and slang, Simpson claims, are of a piece with Neddy's mixture of first-person reportage and third-person fictionalising.
Simpson's reading is undoubtedly useful. It meshes the third-person passages into the book as Morrieson would have wished. It certainly makes sense out of Neddy's habit of gathering any sort of direct information, such as when he records Prudence's comic confession to him in chapter 13 of being called 'a hard lot'. This mistaken expression retrospectively explains a passage in chapter 12 where Prudence was angrily called 'a harlot' by her suitor, Len Ramsbottom. This, in turn, happened after Ramsbottom had disturbed Prudence being sexually harassed by her employer and had himself been mistaken in his outburst. Thus Neddy's natural tendency to include such bits and pieces of information allows the joke to work. One further problem that Simpson's reading adroitly solves is historical: the fact that serial killings did not happen in New Zealand in the 1930s. The maniacal Salter--on the evidence of the text he murders four characters: Zita, Daphne Moran, Sam Finn and Angela Potroz--would have been one of the most notorious killers in the entire country for decades to come. Reducing him to an exaggerated psychological projection, or to a symbolic or mythic figure, increases his plausibility in the novel.
Difficulties remain, however. One is that Neddy is writing his book in recall as a grown-up, which would make any psychological projection onto Salter as much a comment on an adult and his community in the 1960s as on a boy in a small town in the 1930s. A second difficulty is that, since Neddy does not claim to have written a work of complete fiction, then in Klynham Salter really does commit a series of unbelievably heinous crimes--abduction, rape and murder--which are openly acknowledged as horrific by the whole community and even by the police from out of town. Moreover, the psychological realism underpinning Simpson's reading is only ever rather approximately adhered to in Neddy's book. In chapter 2 the fourteen-year-old Neddy quite appropriately uses references he knows and understands to describe his family's relative poverty. He depicts his family in terms of tyre types, as bald and unreliable 'five-fifty twenty-ones', in contrast to the 'six-hundred sixteens' of 'the people on the other side of the wall'--though this is done at a length and with a panache of which only the adult Neddy could really be capable. But Neddy at the same age is far less likely, when being interviewed by the police in chapter 5, to speak using an expression such as: 'Was claimed by the arms and legs of Morphia'--even though he is mistakenly referring to narcotics when intending to allude to the embrace of Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. This comic stab at erudition then begs the question of how the adult Neddy-as-narrator can concoct such a speech and still insist that he wishes to piece together a record which is as true as possible. Furthermore, Salter's seeing his own face in a puddle on arrival in the town may suggest a somewhat heavy-handed symbolism--perhaps the same is true with the over-excited schoolchildren, before Angela Potroz's funeral, appearing reflected in the puddle as a Salter-like 'shock-haired, scraggy bunch'--but such symbols are mostly absent from the novel.(65) There are motifs aplenty in The Scarecrow, but Morrieson seems little interested in developing them into anything larger.
However, the most significant objection to Simpson's reading is that, if the third-person sections of the book represent the work of Neddy's imagination, then it is not a very pleasant imagination that is being presented. When Morrieson has Neddy write in chapter 9 of Sam Finn lusting for Mabel Collinson and following her on the street, 'pointing her out to people', this may indeed be Neddy's report of common knowledge in the town. Nevertheless, the reader encounters a passage immediately afterwards, supposedly the work of Neddy's imaginatively entering the mind of Sam Finn, where Sam Finn follows Mabel Collinson in the rain and then, Neddy relates, 'that night he had taken off all his clothes and lain in the wet grass behind the gate and let the music of her piano, and the fine rain which still persisted, fall on him like a benediction'[94-5]. It is not enough to say that there is a little of Salter's sexual mania in the pubescent Neddy. The sort of thing the adult Neddy-as-narrator seems to imagine Sam Finn doing and relishing, in such a reading of the text, is anything but healthy. In fact, it is precisely this psychological-realist approach to reading the novel which causes critics to enter Neddy's book in such a way that they must, inevitably, see passages of this type in a negative fashion. Critics must ultimately conclude that the writer's own unconscious is buckling the a smooth flow of narrative, tied to the protagonist's mind, and then pushing through in an uncontrollable predilection for sex and violence.
Rather than merely being the dark fruit of the protagonist's imagination, however, or being an unfortunate eruption from the author's unconscious, such a passage can be the product of a further source. This type of passage results from Morrieson momentarily leaving his protagonist, Neddy, behind and then stepping outside of his conception of his own novel. Immediacy is the paramount aim of Morrieson's writing in The Scarecrow--he is even prepared to distort point of view in order to present his villain, Salter, as vividly as possible. In the passage where Sam Finn takes off his clothes to lie in the grass and let the rain 'fall on him like a benediction'[94-5], Morrieson has let the reins of his writing go free, and done so consciously, to maximise the vividly Gothic effect which the content of the passage is already moving towards. The writing is simply following its own track as a piece of Gothic discourse. The content of the first half of the sentence ('One dark afternoon when a fine mist-like rain was falling he had followed her up and down the main street pointing out her silk-sheathed legs, wobbling on high heels, to grinning shoppers') has created the content of the second half with Sam Finn naked in the wet grass. For this brief passage The Scarecrow is not Neddy's book, nor even Morrieson's book, but something new, at least in New Zealand fiction: a book urgently in pursuit of its own nature. Here Morrieson is writing as a primitive only in the narrowest, and best, sense of the term. When seeking immediacy he sees no reason to conform to the sort of limitations established by 'rules' of narrative, despite working in an era that saw scrupulous constraint as a vital component of narrative sophistication.
The tendency of the writing in The Scarecrow to follow its own track is thus part and parcel of Morrieson's own willingness to distort his novel in search of a narrative effect. He is not afraid, on occasions, to make such distortions very large. It is not really the exercise of Neddy's imagination which accounts for why the third-person narrative in chapter 3 should contain such a drawn-out encounter between the twelve-year-old Lynette and the demonic Salter on the train into town from Te Rotiha. Mrs Breece, Lynette's aunt who is accompanying her, falls asleep and leaves Lynette first to observe the dozing Salter and to then talk to him as he takes a gulp of the alcohol he calls 'mer medersin'. Lynette remains almost completely unafraid of Salter during their encounter--she is only frightened of him when he is asleep--and thus the chapter reproduces a stock horror-film scene: the small child who encounters the monster but is protected by her innocence. Since Morrieson is still working to introduce his villain into the book, he adds immediacy to Salter's monstrous condition by having Lynette think of him as a zombie. He contrives this possibility because she 'had recently seen not one, but an entire series of films about the walking dead'. The child appraises the monster, confirming and considerably intensifying everything about his phantasmal monstrousness that has hitherto only been suggested in the novel, and he proves so fantastic that she is left afterwards wondering if the encounter was 'all a dream'.
But Morrieson also goes on to tweak this horror-film convention. He has Lynette panic Salter when she innocently puts beside him a newspaper with a photograph of the dead Daphne Moran. For in yet another shameless piece of contrivance, which also exists solely to create an effect, Daphne Moran is Lynette's second cousin. Salter reacts guiltily to the sight of the newspaper--it is the reader's first intimation that he has perpetrated the murder--and he flees the train. All this Morrieson is prepared to do in order to create an elaborate, and remarkably Post-Modern, parody of a film cliche and thus to dramatise his theme of man-as-monster. Lynette's view of Salter is influenced by her experience of film--this foreshadows the way popular culture influences Neddy's view of his own world--and the narrative mimics this in turn, in a chapter where the reading experience is of life being forced into the pattern of lowbrow art. Finally, Morrieson ends chapter 3 with a thematically useful parallel. He has Salter and Neddy enter Klynham together. This is achieved even though it has required still further contrivance by Morrieson, through introducing Klynham as his setting in chapter 1 and then immediately moving his protagonist off to Te Rotiha in chapter 2.
In fact, such contrivances matter little to Morrieson because his entire novel is organised around a system of thematic development, rather than through contingency of plot. Morrieson seems to have conceived of The Scarecrow as a story of growing up, a bildungsroman depicting Neddy's evolution towards a well-integrated, normal personality. The other characters in the novel can be measured in terms of their success or failure at having attained a normal state in adulthood as well, so that, like Klynham itself, each person in the town tends to have a good and a bad side. In Neddy's case early adolescence, the period when 'puberty was only just marshalling its forces', is thus a crucial time of life for the novel to focus on; Neddy has the potential to grow successfully towards adulthood or to become derailed. Neddy's sexual development--the novel also focuses to a lesser extent on the examples of Prudence and Les Wilson--is the primary indicator Morrieson uses of his protagonist's advancing maturity. It is to be hoped that Neddy will eventually become the sort of person for whom sex is 'like bluebirds flyin' outa yuh backside'. This colourful and positive description of the act originates from someone Neddy calls a 'mute, inglorious Milton', but who is most likely the author himself.(66) The novel opens, right from its first sentence of stolen fowls and a cut throat, to indicate two spheres of action, 'the one so trivial and the other so diabolical', into which Morrieson will introduce dangers to beset the young Neddy as he grows to sexual experience. Instead of following a linear plot, the novel's comic tension of trivial and tragic forms of jeopardy is to be played out in thematic variation. Since Morrieson worked for much of his life in music, it is certainly possible for the reader to find something musical in this approach.
Chapter 1 focuses on the trivial sphere of action in the novel, with Neddy and Les Wilson stealing fowls from the Lynch family home at night in what is, in fact, a mistaken reprisal. The affair winds down with Neddy and Les washing their clothes in a trough, but afterwards, while sitting naked on a pile of soft lucerne hay, Neddy becomes sexually aroused. Significantly, Neddy acknowledges this arousal as 'a feeling too delicious by far to be anything but evil'. It is something which may possibly damage his development, and he lights a cigarette, a further form of guilty pleasure, to distract himself. (Smoking as a guilty act that may stunt one's growth is a motif that will then run through the book, and Neddy is notably concerned that he should grow up to be 'a six-footer'.) The next chapter offers a counterpoint to this early, and still mostly harmless, foreshadowing of the novel's later, and more serious, sex-fuelled danger. At the start of chapter 2 Neddy is still such an innocent that he can enter the 'washhouse', which is also the family's toilet, and calmly slick down his hair with water while Prudence is urinating. For a writer who has been accused of an unhealthy fascination with sex, Morrieson handles this scene with remarkable delicacy, since the complete unconcern of brother and sister is precisely the point. In fact, it is Neddy, and not Prudence, who ends up complaining 'Mind yuh own business' in the course of the scene, in response to what he perceives as an undue interest from his sister in his own activities. (In chapter 7, by way of contrast, Prudence strenuously objects to Uncle Athol allowing her to walk in on him while he is using the toilet, 'when all anybody has to do is yell out'.) Thus from the start of the novel, as Peter Simpson has observed, 'Neddy veers between consciousness and unconsciousness of sex'.(67) In a similar vein, Neddy shows an excited awareness of Josephine McClinton's presence at the cinema, and yet he remains uncomprehending of the implied insult to his father when a drunk says his sister can only be pretty because 'someone come over the wall'.
In chapter 2 Neddy allows Prudence to join him and Les Wilson in the shed behind the Fitzherbert house, where the boys like to meet. This happens in part because Les has a secret crush on Prudence. But when Neddy and Les watch Prudence swinging upside down from a beam with her skirt off, the narrative seesaws once again towards danger. Neddy suddenly notices Prudence's legs as 'gorgeous, full, curving, dusky'. He acknowledges: 'Because she was my sister I was a real skeleton at the feast, but I began to get the same feeling I experienced sitting naked in the lucerne hay the night before'. Clearly, Morrieson is suggesting, a potential for future harm lurks within Neddy's burgeoning but as yet undirected sexuality. Still later in chapter 2, Neddy indulges in what seems a more appropriate sexual interest by furtively admiring Josephine McClinton, 'whose smooth and shapely legs propelled a new bicycle down Smythe Street twice a week'. But then Neddy displays an innocent confusion when his father shouts the 'one word that was completely taboo at home' after a tyre on Mr Poindexter's truck bursts at Te Rotiha. The unspecified word is, presumably, 'fuck'.(68) Neddy can only respond, 'I was not too sure what made it such a terrible word but my eyelids went on the flicker'.
When viewed, therefore, as variations on a theme, Neddy's book seems much less random than it does at first sight. Just as the first two chapters of the novel are concerned with the sphere of the trivial, so chapters 3 and 4 focus on the diabolical. Salter, the central character in these chapters, is a monster but, crucially, at his core he is also a human being. Salter frightens Lynette in chapter 3 when he is at his most human, sleeping 'in the grip of a nightmare' which is most likely prompted by guilt over his murder of Daphne Moran. Certainly, a guilty horror on seeing Daphne Moran's picture in the newspaper causes Salter to desert the train at Klynham, and it is a guilty fear which turns him pale in chapter 4 when he hears how Sergeant Smith in Klynham once assisted at an execution by swinging 'on a man's legs to break his neck'. Establishing Salter's remaining shreds of humanity is important in the novel, because Morrieson wishes to show that this villain is a man who has been made into a monster by giving himself over wholly to his appetites. Salter is an alcoholic and a 'sex-oh' who relishes rape and murder, having been set on that road by the excitement he discovered in murdering his assistant, Zita. Most importantly of all, as a man he has been utterly possessed by an evil that may therefore also possess others, wholly or in part. The title of Neddy's book suggests that Salter is a particularly perverted specimen, a case so far advanced as to be an effigy that should serve to frighten others from following down his dreadful path.
Salter the monster is the end product of a person becoming, as Hamlet comments to Horatio, 'passion's slave'.(69) In The Scarecrow Morrieson applies Classical (or, at least, pre-Romantic) standards of moral judgement to his characters in seeing the active restraint of animal passion as the mark of human virtue. Any religious commentary on this is largely absent from the book--absent, as it is so often in Shakespeare, through the discreet assumption of religious values rather than their denial. Nevertheless this notion of virtue in restraint, infused perhaps with a Freudian view of psycho-sexual development, is the fundamental world view Morrieson offers in the novel. Thus Cross, whose writing in The God Boy appears conventional, is concerned with calling for greater personal freedoms, while Morrieson, a writer often accused of being too much in thrall to the shocking passages of his own work, is in fact an old-fashioned moralist.(70) Morrieson does not need explicitly to condemn any act of sex and violence he depicts in The Scarecrow because he everywhere implicitly reproves it; on the evidence of The Scarecrow, at any rate, he was perhaps the most moral New Zealand writer of his time.
All the bad or even shifty characters in The Scarecrow are enslaved in some degree to passion. Arriving in Klynham on a Sunday evening, Salter soon insinuates himself into some illegal drinking at the Federal Hotel. There, although a stranger, he immediately fits in with Uncle Athol and Charlie Dabney, who are clearly alcoholics. Dabney even chillingly suggests he and Salter go into the funeral business together, because: 'We gravitate to each other like a boiled carrot to a hunk of corn brisket'. They can both promote 'The dignity of death' with Salter's magic hokum. Later in the novel in chapter 10, when all three men appear at the Poindexter family home in a drunken state, their language and behaviour are so similar as to make them almost indistinguishable from each other. (Even thereafter, in chapter 14, Charlie Dabney refers drunkenly to 'ole team AtholnCharlie'.) Dabney and Uncle Athol are not the only patrons at the Federal Hotel who encounter Salter in chapter 4 on his first arrival; it is implied that there are several others. When performing a magic trick in return for drinks Salter gives his handkerchief to an unnamed 'man standing nearby', and it is possible to view this man, like the 'mute, inglorious Milton' of chapter 18, as Morrieson briefly inserting himself into his own novel. In any event, Dabney and Uncle Athol are by far the greediest characters in the room. They always watch anxiously for an opportunity to cadge another drink, so that Uncle Athol is even initially suspicious of Salter as 'a rival'.
Neddy's father, Mr Poindexter, is to a lesser extent enslaved to alcohol, and Herbert, Neddy's older brother, entertains an unreasonable passion of his own for snooker. Herbert eventually makes the mistake of playing 'for money with a guy that carries his own chalk in his pocket' and thus gets himself hopelessly into debt. Even the decent Mrs Poindexter, who is sufficiently detached from passion to complain of the others: 'Nothing but booze, booze, booze [...] nothing but a wretched slave to the bottle'[101-2], is herself a prey to flattery. Flattery, at length, causes her to welcome the inebriated Salter, Uncle Athol and Dabney into her house in chapter 10 and to accept a drink from them. So adept is Salter in his artful and seemingly high-class apologies to Mrs Poindexter for 'influctuating on yer like this' that Neddy is left reflecting on how Prudence's ingratiating paramour, Chester Montgomery, 'was only a novice' in comparison. Following this, it is significant that Mrs Poindexter's speech later in chapter 10 takes on the same comical air of overreaching itself as does the conversation of the drunken men. Furthermore, when at last Prudence appears and is menaced by Salter, Mrs Poindexter seems deprived of the power to protect her daughter and can manage to say nothing but Prudence's name 'feebly'. However, Mrs Poindexter recovers quickly from this almost mute state after Herbert faints--she concludes the cause of his collapse is hunger--and she makes a long speech, replete with dramatic irony, on how: 'This is a judgment on all of us for sitting about, taking alcohol in a raw state on an empty stomach'. (Morrieson then contrives to have Mrs Poindexter enter the pantry to get food in order to counteract the alcohol's effects on everyone--thus conveniently absenting her from Salter's very worst attempts to fascinate and seduce her daughter.)
In The Scarecrow, an enslavement of one's passions to alcohol is particularly inclined to lead to even greater acts of immorality. Uncle Athol is known to attend 'a scared ceremony like an Anzac Day parade just for the booze he can get out of it'. Indeed, Mrs Poindexter blames the boozy Uncle Athol for leading her husband 'into increasingly evil and drunken habits'. After Herbert faints in chapter 10, Dabney refuses to let the young man have any of his brandy as a medicinal tonic, saying 'Over my dead body', and relents only when remembering that it is profiting from death, through the funeral business, that funds his own perpetual drunkenness. In the same chapter, alcohol is even presented for a moment as a form of evil in itself, separate from its evil effects. This occurs when Dabney manages a debased version of one of Salter's magic tricks, after Salter has been thrilling and frightening everyone with his gleaming knife. Dabney then produces a bottle from his coat, explicitly in the same manner as Salter, and puts it on the table. There, the bottle is described as catching 'the light in the same way the big knife had'. Finally, at the end of his book, having successfully flown by the nets to growth that are flung in his way, Neddy concludes for his brother, 'Yuh better lay off the booze, as well as smokes, or yuh just gunna be Uncle Athol the second', and in the novel's penultimate paragraph Neddy renounces the dipsomaniac Athol Cudby forever and resolves 'never to address him as "Uncle" any more'.
But the lowest animal passion on Morrieson's scale, a desire often facilitated by alcohol, appears to be lust.(71) Prudence (who is as aptly named as the villainous Salter the Sensational) is often, but by no means exclusively, the object of menacingly lustful male passion. Numerous characters make fools of themselves over her budding allurements. In addition, Angela Potroz is killed as a result of lust. She is the victim of a sexually-motivated attack by the Lynch gang which leads, quite naturally in the logic of the book, to her falling into the ultimately fatal clutches of the sexually hideous Salter. Sam Finn dies from his passion for the alcoholic Mabel Collinson (who, in turn, 'died of everything'). The reverse case--sexual passion failing altogether to generate itself and collapsing into an arrested development--proves just as dangerous, as evinced by the spinsterish Miss Fitzherbert. Driven mad after her father's death, she fires the house and is rescued with her head 'flung back, the long scrawny throat arched back, her mouth foaming'. When Prudence describes for Neddy her near-seduction by the insurance agent in chapter 12, Neddy concludes: 'Wine! You-know! Pru! With those eyelashes! Sometimes I think passion can be compared to a magnifying glass with a lens in direct ratio to blood heat, or specific gravity, or whatever it is that nature has evolved to ensure the propagation of the species'.
Chapter 5, opening with the statement that the Monday dawned 'tongue in cheek', returns The Scarecrow from the diabolical to the trivial, but continues the momentum of the novel's thematic development. Les Wilson suggests to Neddy that, if they could discover a corpse like Daphne Moran's, of 'a young lady, in the nood', this might distract the police from their interest in the Lynch family's stolen fowls. Speaking of the killer, Les says that in Klynham 'yuh don't meet real bad sods like that', a statement crammed with dramatic irony since the actual killer has recently arrived with Neddy in the town. But next Les begins to relish describing the naked dead girl and he reports naively of hearing that the killer 'has inter something with sheilas when they're conked'. Neddy at first fails to understand and then soon objects that the idea makes him sick. But despite Neddy's exhortation to 'Snap out uv it', Les's enthralment seems only to deepen--he is succumbing to abnormal desires--and at last he suggests deviant sex, mostly in fun, by announcing: 'I'm conked [...] Root me'. Homosexual acts were not decriminalised in New Zealand until 1986; but it is somewhat unfortunate, in view of the more tolerant attitudes that were to prevail after the book's publication, that homosexuality should be presented by Morrieson in The Scarecrow as a dangerous deviancy.(72) In Morrieson's defence it might be argued that he does not seem quick to condemn consenting homosexual acts as such, but his novel does plainly present homosexuality as another dangerous passion on the path to otherwise normal male sexual development. At length Les Wilson's suggestion about rooting is sublimated by the boys into the manly activity of wrestling. As a result they part from each other as 'just a couple of good pals'--though the necessity of such a final, defining statement remains as the faint indication of a now dispersed homoerotic undercurrent.
The Lynch gang, introduced at last in chapter 7, are clearly slaves to passion. They try to coerce Neddy into an arrangement where they can meet with Prudence and induct her into their gang. Any such induction undoubtedly involves plans for her gang rape, another form of deviance. Indeed, the gang's activities in the novel can be viewed as a version of Salter's in a minor key. Furthermore, lust, combined with a dash of vanity, has even perverted the gang members into 'practising' on Peachy Blair 'for the great day when they could procure the genuine article--girls'. Neddy comments that 'to me, Peachy Blair represented the depths of depravity'. The details of the gang-members' homosexual relations with Peachy are described very early during the introduction of the gang in chapter 7, and this seems a deliberate strategy on Morrieson's part. In this way he can avoid letting Neddy's account of the gang appear the least bit quaint or sentimental. Morrieson aims to shock the reader before having the gang members talk to Neddy about his sister precisely so that Neddy's comment on his childhood enemies, 'These guys were bad. But bad', will carry weight. Their threat to Prudence is to be taken seriously.
Neddy criticises the Lynch gang's homosexual relations with Peachy several times in chapter 7, indicating, perhaps, that the possibility of this temptation remains somewhere in the back of his own mind. Nevertheless, when he sees Don Butcher with one hand down Peachy's trousers, Neddy notes, 'My sitting-in-the-hay feeling gave a violent kick and then expired altogether'. Neddy's comment seems to indicate his simple rejection of homosexuality--though ultimately it remains ambiguous, since it could also be read as indicating some sort of initial excitement, perhaps at the proximity of sex, which is then repressed. But in any event, Morrieson quickly turns the gang's transgressive behaviour into a grotesque comedy by having the overexcited Peachy ask for mental-arithmetic problems to solve so that he might calm himself down until he is 'O.K. now for Prudence'. The chapter ends with something like a passion-induced madness as the gang wait and Prudence fails to appear. Peachy begins to leap 'all over the shed smacking himself on the backside' in a feral manner. Free-associating from the word 'Samson' to 'SIMPSON' in a form eerily reminiscent of the linguistic collapse of the child-explorers in Janet Frame's 'The Reservoir', Peachy then imitates the sex act with a fowl, and the dangerous inability of the gang members to control their appetites is reaffirmed.(73)
The danger to Neddy's own sexual development increases considerably in chapter 8, when he discovers masturbation. Confined to bed after a beating by the Lynch gang, he confides that 'my speedometer clocked over', and he is aroused by the sight of Josephine McClinton's 'leg show' until his blood 'was simmering like an Irish stew'. It speaks for the determination Neddy shows on his discovery of masturbation that he manages his autoerotic activity despite having several broken ribs. However, Morrieson makes it clear that it is not masturbation as such but the resulting sense of guilt which could damage Neddy's growth, and Morrieson focuses on that guilt, having Neddy confess hysterically to his older brother, 'I'll go blind, I'll die'. Morrieson keeps Herbert's subsequent reassurance of Neddy almost wholly serious--perhaps because it was in contradiction to church teachings and social attitudes of the time--and he has Neddy comment at some length that:
I was a lucky boy to have asked a pimply-faced character like Herbert whose only God was a hundred break. One kid I heard of was so stricken with grief and worry he asked a minister and a week later he hung himself in the washhouse. The kid, I mean.
Unfortunately, this approach makes the narrative seem surprisingly coy about what is happening and, despite its comic potential--the same topic was to be brilliantly managed in Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint six years later--the passage is one of the weakest in the novel. Partly it fails because Morrieson seems too aware that, as he is creating the story of a young boy growing up, he must therefore include this aspect of Neddy's discovery of sexual pleasure in the narrative, even if he does not intend to treat it as comedy. The result feels awkward in a novel that handles far more risque material with comic panache. For once, Morrieson has let the structure of his novel impose itself heavily on Neddy's book, instead of giving the freest possible rein to theme and language.
The diabolical chapters 9 and 10, leading to the centre of the novel, present Salter at the height of his dark powers. In chapter 10 he is brought by Uncle Athol and Dabney into the Poindexter family home and proceeds to control everyone in the house. Even Neddy becomes enslaved when Salter begins the transformative triumphs of his magic act in the family kitchen. Neddy describes Mr Poindexter and Herbert as 'ignorant yokels' for not hurrying into the house to see Salter's tricks, and when his father introduces himself to Salter as an antique dealer Neddy, most uncharacteristically, approves of this puffed-up appellation with: 'I guess he was right at that'. Salter also manages briefly to transform the language of the novel itself. He alters 'mystic East' into the expression 'mistykeist', which no one understands, and which then appears in its own right from the mouths of others in later parts of the story.(74) Magical mysticism, subverting reason, seems to be associated in the novel with the passions which enslave, and Salter's mastery of magic plainly enables him to spellbind others. Thus the novel's negative depiction of magic's mysticism--it is every bit as partial as Jimmy Sullivan's view of bicycles--seems to underlie Neddy's comment earlier in chapter 8 about 'the shadow of the sick-bed lending me mystical insight;. Indeed, a part of this insight involves Neddy beginning to comprehend Prudence's attractiveness to men through a Salter-like understanding of the darker human desires. Furthermore, immediately after this questionable moment of insight Neddy describes his own masturbatory reveries of 'you-know' with Josephine McClinton in terms of a mystical state, involving spiritual projection through 'astral powers'.
The encounter between the innocent Lynette and Salter in chapter 3 is now paralleled in chapter 10 by an encounter between Prudence and a much stronger and more menacing Salter. Prudence is described by Neddy as wearing a skin-tight woollen dress that 'gave one's imagination a back wind and downhill slope', and her sudden appearance in the kitchen during Salter's performance seems to sexualise the chemistry of the room. Salter produces a knife, and in doing so replaces Herbert as the most sexually potent male in the house--and Herbert falls into a faint. The feat of sword swallowing that Salter then demonstrates is not technically an illusion of magic but rather an impressive and genuinely dangerous display of skill at suppressing the gag reflex. In a similar way, moreover, no one seems capable of gagging at Salter's intrusion on the house--Salter's dominance is at its peak, and an insistence by Uncle Athol that he, too, will swallow the knife merely elicits from Neddy 'a certain admiration'. In an especially intricate example that follows of Morrieson using a motif to construct his narrative, numerous references are made to light, with the blinking of the projected, 'new-fangled' neon sign for Dabney's mortuary described, then Salter's extended attempt at hypnotising Prudence, with his eyes 'glittering', and then Salter showing Prudence his glinting knife while talking repetitively of 'the lights dancing'. But this attempt at stupefaction is soon broken when Neddy gathers the wherewithal to cough, and Salter's spell is left 'shattered like a dropped electric light bulb'. Neddy thus rescues his sister, just as he will once again in the last chapter of his book. Lest the reader be in any doubt about the phallic implications of Salter's knife--this is as near as the book comes to the psychological use of symbol--Morrieson belabours his erotic point over several pages. He uses repetition to emphasise menace, as Salter threatens Prudence over and over, even after Neddy's saving cough, by holding the knife against her chin and breasts, and then against her stomach. But towards the close of the chapter the family members gradually manage to break themselves free from Salter's spell. In particular, Prudence laughs at Salter, and she is soon joined in this by Neddy. Salter loathes being treated in this way (he first killed his assistant Zita for 'sneering at him'), and he turns terrifyingly black with anger. Nevertheless, the force of Salter's evil--even at this peak--can be defeated by laughter, and he disappears from the house to be replaced, at the end of chapter 10, by the fat and harmless Chester Montgomery.
By the start of chapter 11 and the second half of the book, after the near-triumph of Salter, Neddy is at a low ebb. Two events show him a prey to evil passion but also reveal the means for him to be free of it, through luck and shame. Luck in particular has already been incorporated by Morrieson into the novel, with Neddy considering himself lucky to have been freed by his older brother from guilt over masturbation, and with Prudence lucky to have been saved from the clutches of the Lynch gang in chapter 7 when she stayed at home for a typewriting lesson. But the themes of luck and shame now move in counterpoint through the second half of the book, foregrounded much as the trivial and the diabolic were previously. The first event fuelled by evil passion has Neddy and Les experimenting together with homosexuality. Significantly, both have already been attempting to imitate Salter's magic tricks and are drunk on stolen 'applejack' (apple brandy). The experiment fails, and the two are left so embarrassed that shame will likely save them from any such further experimentation in the future. The second event, immediately afterwards, has Neddy still in his drunken state beginning to long for Prudence, until he is 'powerless in the grip of that desire'. He plans to expose himself to her in the washhouse. But this time luck saves him when he literally expels the drug of alcohol from his system by vomiting as Prudence appears. Fortunately, whatever the means by which Neddy, Les and Prudence each avoid the dangers of growing up, experience always makes them stronger. Later, at the close of chapter 14, both Neddy and Prudence manage to drink Dabney's brandy with no more ill effect than an innocent 'babes-in-the-wood' hug and a great deal of healthy laughter.
Shame initiates the refurbishment of the family home, when Neddy realises that 'overnight, it seemed I had become ashamed of our tumbledown house' and he feels that the Poindexters have become 'just so much riff-raff'. Neddy understands that Prudence, in her turn, is embarrassed at the ugly condition of her bedroom. This leads to actions which revive the family. First there is the wallpapering of Prudence's room in chapter 13 and then the painting of the house in chapter 14--even if this latter action is undermined, somewhat, by the dangerous negligence of a family member impervious to shame, the drunken Uncle Athol. Shame also helps rescue Neddy in chapter 12 from his astral-projected sex dreams involving Josephine McClinton. Suddenly Neddy imagines Josephine McClinton as a corpse, in a fantasy mysteriously borrowed from Salter's corrupted psyche--it is another example of Morrieson letting the reins of his narrative go free--so that Neddy, to his guilt-ridden horror, feels as if he is 'dying in her blackening arms, falling down a well forever'. In this way shame prevents Neddy from letting his compulsive, adolescent fantasies swell into a Salter-like extremity of obsession. Nevertheless, it is notable that the Poindexter family also accepts the limits of shame as a behavioural determinant when Mrs Poindexter comes to agree, in chapter 13, that Prudence would be better off working as a lowly chambermaid at the Federal Hotel rather than as a more respectable servant in the Quins' upper-class house.
The theme of luck is developed through Prudence's near loss of virginity, when she is pursued by what Neddy terms a 'line-up' of six local young men. These men soon quite literally line up outside the Temple of the Brethren of the Lamb one Sunday morning--they are overcome with passion for Prudence to such an extent 'that the strains of the organ meant nothing to them'. Neddy describes Prudence's happy and erotically-charged response to their attentions by making complaints such as: 'My own sister, and I had to find out in the street that she had hair under her arms'. But Neddy does this in an extended paragraph imitating a tone of gossipy moral outrage at what he witnesses, so that the tone of his language somewhat undermines the possible sincerity of his complaints and rather hints at baser motives of over-protectiveness and perhaps even jealousy. At the start of the novel's second half, Prudence, like Neddy, is at a low ebb. She is enslaved now to a passion of her own: vanity. Such vanity is perhaps a natural legacy of her mother's weakness for flattery, but after her unchanging behaviour as an ingenue in the novel's first half, Prudence is now aware of her sexual allure and wants to exploit it with 'people that make me feel I am somebody'. Her passing interest in Chester Montgomery has stemmed from the way his politeness burnished her realisation of her own attractiveness. When meeting the young men outside the Temple, Prudence climbs into the glamorous sports-car of the insurance man, Norman Bryant--his vehicle is much more flattering to her vanity than the 'bug of car' driven by her usual suitor, Len Ramsbottom--and Bryant then takes an action appropriate for Prudence, and for the narrative, by leaping into the car without opening the door. They drive off together. Prudence's eventual confession to Neddy of the sexual liaison that follows is: 'I let him. But nothing happened. Don't ask me why', which makes it clear that only luck saves her from seduction.
Prudence's sexual growth is not examined in as much detail as Neddy's, but it similarly develops through the avoidance of danger. The issue in the second half of The Scarecrow of Prudence's possible downfall and the revival of her fortunes replaces the subplot of the theft of fowls in the first half of the novel. Prudence's story also serves to establish the moral values of the Poindexter family and its friends--and the strength of the mutual support among family members--in opposition to Salter's deadly influence as his powers return to him. For Salter soon reasserts himself briefly in the novel's second half, in chapter 12, before retreating into the background of the book seemingly to gather strength for his murderous assaults on Angela Potroz and Prudence near the novel's climax. The pattern of the first half of the novel, where Salter also appeared early and then disappeared for some time from the narrative, is thus repeated. In chapter 12 Prudence escapes the villain's clutches only because she steps off the footpath onto the road as she passes his lair. Relating this incident later, Prudence explicitly says to Neddy: 'Uh reckon I'm a lucky girl to be here with yuh alive right now'. The incident is laid out in dialogue and descriptive narrative so that Neddy's shocked reaction can amplify the reader's own response.
In chapter 15 Herbert's loss at snooker and his subsequent debt to the hustler whom Neddy nicknames 'Flash Freddy' allow Morrieson to show Prudence having developed to a more mature understanding of her own sexual attractiveness. At this stage Prudence's accumulating experience, such as her near-seduction by the insurance man Norman Bryant, appears largely to have driven off the dangers inherent in her vanity. Now, instead, she is willing to take advantage of her allure for altruistic reasons, and she flirts with the hustler until he forgets Herbert's debt. Her performance in front of Flash Freddy as a gangster's moll--Prudence quite consciously plays a part--presents her, for the first time in the novel, as in control of her own sexuality and thus as capable of controlling the manner of her relationship with an admirer. She is no longer an ingenue. Prudence is also gaining the confidence that will be necessary to fight off Salter in the final chapters.
The reappearance of the Lynch gang in chapter 16 helps to set up what seems one of the most heavily contrived chapters in the novel. There is no explanation, for example, as to where the gang might have been lurking until 'the last Saturday in the holidays'. In the same fashion, Neddy and Les Wilson, having by now grown up sufficiently to display chivalry, fight and knock down the principal members of the gang (with some useful help from Prudence), even though previously in chapter 7 the same thugs beat Neddy so badly that he was in bed recovering for over a week. In chapter 17 Victor Lynch and his gang act mainly as a plot device. Their pursuit of Prudence and Angela Potroz creates the confusion that allows for Angela's abduction and murder. The gang's impulse towards violent sexual assault of the girls is certainly real, though a little hesitant--after tearing Angela's skirt off they are briefly 'immobilized by the spectacle of their prey clad only in stockings, knickers and singlet'--but this impulse finds its genuine apogee not in the gang's attack but soon afterwards in Angela's rape and death at the hands of the more ruthless Salter. The fire which destroys the Fitzherbert house and kills Channing Fitzherbert then contributes further to the novel's atmosphere of wild confusion. It distracts the characters--and the reader--from Angela's disappearance and it heightens the effect of 'Horror upon horror'. In addition, the fire also helpfully provides Morrieson with a second corpse that he can use for comic effect during the twin funerals of chapter 17. Like Dickens, whose naturally expansive comic sense of the novel he shares, Morrieson is more comfortable when opening up a story than when bringing it towards a resolution, and The Scarecrow thus appears to require Morrieson's extra contrivance through a certain artificial tidying up of plotlines as the story nears its final stages.
Chapter 17, in contrast, is an example of Morrieson masterfully using theme and style for maximum impact. The chapter opens with the aftermath of Angela's murder. The narrative adopts a suitably elegiac tone and in the midst of this Neddy notes: 'The recollection of wishing to kiss Angela distressed me. That my shell could have ever harboured even a distant cousin of the frenzy which had raged in some murderous fiend seemed unbelievable'. Morrieson is explicitly linking Salter's realm of sexually-driven evil with the more harmless world of sexuality in which Neddy has begun to negotiate a path. Peter Simpson calls this 'the darkest moment in the novel'.(75) But in addition, Neddy's statement here highlights his developing awareness of the potential dangers in what is happening to him as he goes through puberty, and thus his words also suggest some positive growth. Despite thinking of the killer as a fiend, neither Neddy nor anyone else in the novel seems immediately to connect Salter to Angela's murder. The reader will most likely do so, however, due in large part to special knowledge of Salter's dark nature supplied outside the frame of Neddy's point of view, especially in chapters 4 and 9. This special knowledge reduces suspense for the reader at this stage in the book and therefore is not consistent with the narrative strategy of a storyteller--it does, though, suit the purposes of a moralist.
As passions run high, Salter's evil act seems to unchain the potential for evil in others: schoolchildren relish the various possibilities in a guilty suicide by Peachy Blair, and the grownups threaten to lynch Angela's killer. At length the town tries to vent its frustration on yet another unnamed character, referred to with perhaps a nod towards Morrieson's own status in his hometown as 'a local eccentric'. Even so, over the course of the chapter these passions among the locals are dispersed by the comedy that arises from pairing Angela's funeral with that of Channing Fitzherbert. Themes of luck and shame still predominate. Luck (whether good or ill is a moot point) leads to a comic mix-up of funerals and even coffins, and chapter 17 concludes with Neddy's exasperated feeling of the 'shame of it all' at his uncle's conviction for being drunk-in-charge of a hearse. The falsely sentimental response to death of a 'slightly mad-looking little woman' present at the funeral--she mistakes Angela's corpse for the town patriarch's and insists that death is beautiful and that: 'All sorrow and evil shall be washed away by the angels'--is soon displaced from the novel through raw comedy. The necessary comic relief is particularly supplied in the 'hilarious last ride of Channing Fitzherbert'--as Uncle Athol and Dabney manage the hearse, their antics, borrowed from vaudeville, make up some of the funniest moments in the book. The children from the local school come for the funeral and laugh at what they see. Their mirthful response quickly blunts the sense of tragedy and serves, once more, to show the power of laughter.(76) In chapter 10 Prudence and Neddy defeated Salter by laughing, and in chapter 17 the horror of death itself is defeated when the children of the whole town laugh, along with many of the watching adults and most probably the reader--and with the reader's laughter to some degree validated by the reactions of the other spectators.
After the first funeral procession, ostensibly Channing Fitzherbert's, the headmaster sternly warns the schoolchildren that, although 'Laughter is a natural function', anyone guilty of further laughter will be punished. The headmaster's dismissal of such mirth involves attempting to reduce laughter to an attribute of the body and takes no account of its social or spiritual effects. But laughter is also subversive and liberating and, significantly, the immediate recorded response to the headmaster's threat of punishment is that the art teacher, Miss McGlashan, merely goes on laughing into her handkerchief. It is only when everyone sees Mr and Mrs Potroz at the second funeral procession that, appropriately, humour subsides into a genuinely sympathetic grief. But the healing work of laughter has been done, with the confusions and tragedies of the previous chapter dissipated by the further confusions of comedy. It does not seem inappropriate for Neddy to speculate, with new insight, that the bodies of Angela Potroz and Channing Fitzherbert may have been transposed, rendering everyone's reaction to each of the passing coffins even more wildly off-key than was first apparent. It does not even seem necessary to challenge Neddy's disingenuous remark that including his account of the funeral in the narrative might be 'in the worst taste', when he has already written unsparingly of necrophilia and incest. Nor does the resumption of physical comedy at the close of the chapter seem out of place, as the hearse in the second procession hits the pillar at the entrance to the cemetery. The drunken culprits, Uncle Athol and Dabney, the two lowest rogues in the community, slumber in the cab but have nevertheless contributed their small part to the comic healing of Klynham.
Along with laughter, love is presented in The Scarecrow as an antidote to evil: both the family love of the Poindexters and also romantic love which, through marriage, draws others into the family circle. 'Looks like we gunna have a cop in the family' is Neddy's comment on the attentions paid to Prudence by Len Ramsbottom. In terms of the Classical morality which Morrieson imposes on his tale, the proper observance of romantic love prevents Ramsbottom from becoming a slave to animal passion. Certainly, Morrieson's sense of sexual disgust and concern for the proprieties of male-female relationships would not be out of place, for example, in the later plays of Shakespeare. When Ramsbottom first meets Prudence, on the day before her sixteenth birthday (which will bring her to the age of consent), he is captivated by the sight of her putting on her first-ever pair of silk stockings. However, these 'magic few minutes' are carefully handled, described in a distanced tone of ironic reminiscence employed by the grown-up Neddy, narrating in recall, rather than in the vividly enthusiastic style of the young Neddy. Partly this serves to veil Ramsbottom's lust--and also Neddy's--but in particular it usefully helps to exclude both characters' reactions over Prudence's attractiveness from any comparison with Dabney's crudely lecherous behaviour towards her, which soon follows.
Ramsbottom's courtship of Prudence, in contrast to the sexually opportunistic pursuit attempted by her other admirers, requires him to overcome tests, as is usually the case with a romantic hero. These tests are presented comically in the novel by having Ramsbottom see Prudence in situations that appear sexually compromising, first with Mr Quin and then with the snooker hustler Flash Freddy. For Ramsbottom, moving beyond these obstacles to his feelings for Prudence causes his stature to increase as the novel progresses, and he develops from being 'like an overgrown boy' into a man capable of rescuing his beloved and becoming her husband. Similarly, Neddy's view of Ramsbottom improves, from seeing him on their first meeting as a policeman and thus 'a fiend in human shape', then later as a man interested in Prudence and therefore 'a prize prick', to an understanding that Ramsbottom is a person motivated by something more honourable than base lust. In the novel's second half Neddy even finds himself encouraging Ramsbottom's relationship with his sister, because: 'Ole Len's a pretty good guy for a cop'. In the same vein Neddy's loathing of the police in the novel's first half, which he shares with Uncle Athol and Dabney among others, changes slowly towards respect in the second half. Neddy's full statement to the city detective in chapter 17, after the murder of Angela Potroz, is something of an act of secular confession, as he tells 'how the Lynchites had beaten me up' and even what he had seen of homosexual activities involving Peachy Blair.
After the various dangers in the novel of incest, homosexuality, guilt and obsession, merely looking at girls in basketball (now netball) uniforms in chapter 16 seems, for Neddy and Les, a rather healthy new stage in their sexual development. It certainly suggests a welcome normalcy of sexual interest. Later, in chapter 18, Neddy and Les meet Marjorie and Beth Headly and both boys are kissed for the first time, thereby reaching another welcome stage in their growth. Neddy actually notes: 'At last we had graduated from the outside-looking-in class'. The Headly sisters then sing a half-remembered snatch of the song 'You'd be Surprised', written by Irving Berlin in 1919. The song is thematically appropriate since in its entirety it concerns a woman asserting that her seemingly inadequate beau, Johnny, is quick to become someone much wilder when sexually excited, turning into a lover with 'a Devil in his eyes'. However, chapter 18 ends with an explicit reminder that even Neddy's older and more experienced brother, Herbert, is still a virgin, and that therefore Neddy and Les have some considerable sexual progress still to make before reaching maturity. Even so, for both Neddy and Les kissing the Headly sisters successfully drives all thought of Prudence from their minds. Indeed, they fail to notice for a time that she is genuinely missing.
In chapter 19, Salter is discovered living on Dabney's premises. He has gone unnoticed partly because Dabney thought Salter had already 'robbed my till and decamped weeks ago' and partly because the townspeople seem to have resisted any acknowledgement of his continuing and largely unwanted presence. Salter must be excised for The Scarecrow to end in a properly comic fashion, but managing this is thematically difficult for Morrieson. If Salter were simply to decamp from Klynham, this would imply that evil in the novel is some sort of external aberration which appears and then vanishes, rather than an internal danger constantly lurking within all human hearts. However, any character who actually eliminates Salter must have grown to be as murderously evil as the novel's powerful villain, if not more so. Salter must be removed--not merely replaced by a new killer. Having Salter attack Dabney, Uncle Athol and Herbert in a feral rage, so that Herbert can hit Salter with a plank in self-defence, is Morrieson's answer to this difficulty. Morrieson is careful to note that: 'Only mad terror gave Herbert the strength to wield the plank', and by making Salter's death accidental, from hitting his head as he falls, Morrieson reduces Herbert's culpability even further. All this, as well as an impression of contrivance in having the villain die so conveniently at the close of the book, may give Salter's death a rather off-hand quality, but it also contributes a thematically useful sense of impermanence to his demise.(77) Prudence has not yet been rescued; it is as though the evil presence of Salter has not really been banished. At first, after knocking Salter down, Herbert and the others do not even believe that he is dead. In fact, the villain is not expelled from Klynham at all but is hurriedly tipped into the city rubbish dump, a place which is 'the stuff of nightmares'. There, Salter may even lie waiting his chance, like the monster that he is, to revive. This sense of the provisional is further reinforced in a rare use of symbol at the very close of the novel, when a downpour of rain clears suddenly after Prudence's rescue, and Neddy observes that the 'rain was not over, not by a long chalk'. Only one yellow gleam of sunlight penetrates from the clouds, although it runs along the length of the town's main street.
Prudence's rescue in the final pages of The Scarecrow needs to be effected by Neddy, the hero of his own book, but also by Ramsbottom, her would-be lover. Thus it is contrived that Neddy should approach Ramsbottom for help. The novel ends with the same sort of frantic, almost farcical behaviour among the main characters with which it began. On finding Salter's bow tie in the back yard of the Federal Hotel, Neddy's sudden deduction that Salter is responsible both for kidnapping Prudence and also for murdering Angela Potroz is remarkable, but it is not inconsistent with the logical leaps of a detective novel--indeed, the sudden rush of information which Neddy supplies through his deduction seems almost a pastiche of the moment of revelation in detective fiction. During the rescue itself Neddy supplies the brains and Ramsbottom the brawn. Both now have the purest of motives, since Neddy's feelings for his sister have been repressed into brotherly protectiveness and Ramsbottom's restrained into the attentions of a suitor. Together they find Prudence hidden in Dabney's funeral parlour, behind a chest of drawers which requires most of Ramsbottom's strength to move--begging the question of how the emaciated Salter could manage to do this. Upon her discovery Prudence says Neddy's name first but it is Ramsbottom who carries her from the building.
Neddy successfully deduces Salter's role in Prudence's abduction by discovering an object at the scene intimately connected with Salter's character: his bow tie. (In a similar fashion, he and Ramsbottom later discover Prudence in Dabney's funeral parlour by noticing Salter's knife.) With the exception of Neddy himself, almost all of the characters in The Scarecrow are delineated in the way Salter is through his bow tie, by means of one or two idiosyncratic features which recur in the text. These include: Salter's bow tie; Dabney's well-chewed cigar and his language motifs, notably 'Great Scott, the lights won't go out all night'; Uncle Athol's glass eye; Chester Montgomery's excessive weight and politeness; Ramsbottom's officious manners; and Prudence's lock of dark hair over one eye. This essentially two-dimensional way of creating characters by means of what are sometimes called signatures is borrowed from Dickens, and it accounts for the prevalence of lively eccentrics in the book. There is, as the critic Terry Eagleton succinctly observes of novels by Dickens, 'a fetishism of appearances by which characters come to be defined'.(78) Indeed, in The Scarecrow Salter's bow tie is an extreme example of this phenomenon. It is an integral part of his fell identity and it seems, at times, even like a talisman possessing something of his power. As he tries to fascinate Prudence in chapter 10, Salter's elbow catches and breaks the ribbon of his bow tie, which then appears to reduce his ability to project himself and helps precipitate Prudence's resistance. Furthermore, Neddy's comments while narrating the event suggest that Neddy himself is consciously aware of all this, despite his maintaining a certain final ambiguity as to the bow tie's efficacy.
Now, instead of being impressive, the bow tie only looked absurd. It was a slender thread for a complete aura of mastery and mystery to hang by, and it had snapped. I am unable to say whether it was seeing the bow tie hanging like that, or whether it was just the abrupt easing of tension, but suddenly Prudence laughed her high-pitched girlish laugh.[112-3]
As with Dickens, Morrieson's two-dimensional minor characters are mostly unchanging and gain their liveliness through variation on the quirks that define them. This variation requires a certain authorial virtuosity to bring off. Furthermore, in Morrieson's case this approach seems motivated precisely by the opportunity to display virtuosity for its own sake, rather than by any Dickensian desire to render characters as objects or isolated creatures. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Morrieson maximises his opportunities for such display. One example is through the introduction of otherwise extraneous characters. Thus Herman 'the butcher boy', who never fails to leap into the air and bang his knees together, seems somewhat like the fat boy in The Pickwick Papers in being the manifestation of a single physical attribute--except that in The Scarecrow Herman appears to be present solely for the purpose of providing comic turns on that attribute. He disappears from the narrative as soon as Morrieson's variations on his essential signature have been exhausted.
In addition to this, Morrieson's sense of elan extends to comic variations on language to indicate character through dialogue. Quirks of speech are frequently employed to operate as Dickensian signatures in much the same manner as physical features. When Ramsbottom speaks he elongates 'i' to 'oi' and adds extra aspirated 'h' sounds ('Hallow me to conher-gratulate you') in an approximation of the voice of authority straining to project its importance. Prudence has a characteristic tendency to add an 'n' before nouns beginning with a vowel ('They wouldn't think any more of me than a nanimal'), offering an impression, perhaps, of naivety. Les Wilson favours the stock phrases 'According to' and 'attall', and Dabney uses a number of overexcited, grandiloquent expressions. Mrs Poindexter is not physically described in any detail in the narrative but she is introduced into the novel with one of her malapropisms ('What yuh lose on the swings yuh get on the rouseabouts'), a feature, indicating confusion, which is not unique to her but for she has an especial predilection. Likewise, Mr Poindexter is introduced in the book with a characteristically pretentious, yet cliche-filled, speech ('if ever a man wuz dogged by fate and hounded by circumstances beyond his control it's yuh ole dad Dee-aitch Poindexter').
Mr Poindexter is noticeably inclined to speak above himself. This tendency is referred to by Neddy as 'putting on the dog', and he claims that in his father's case 'it sort of came natural to him'. However, almost all the characters in The Scarecrow speak above themselves for some of the time, as if struggling to master a language which is just beyond their reach. This, too, is a very Dickensian form of comedy, creating a gap between speech and referent that Morrieson exploits relentlessly. It appears in characters as different as Victor Lynch, who threatens to beat Neddy 'unless you're prepared to corporate with us, ole boy', and Ramsbottom, who speaks of 'prosecuting the mally-factor'. The many alcoholics in The Scarecrow who seek a free drink from somebody else--it is usually from Dabney, who is drinking away the family fortune--put on the dog in order to ingratiate themselves. This is a significant part of the mechanism of their enslavement to passion, but in addition it enables Morrieson to have them speak badly without resorting much to obscenities. Though seldom aware of the absurdity of their own appearance when putting on the dog, characters are always aware of this in others, so that Chester Montgomery may be described by Mrs Poindexter as likeable but 'a trifle on the palavery side', or Neddy may refer to a drunken exchange between Mr Poindexter and Dabney as 'a "regards, regards" session'. But all the characters in the book, including Neddy, feel that they are getting away with something when they plump up their own speech. They are always mistaken. Neddy tells the police he was 'claimed by the arms and legs of Morphia' and then smiles 'in a rather superior way' when asked to spell the hard word, before obliging with: 'M-o-r-f-e-a-r, of course'. When the characters in the novel struggle to present themselves in the best possible light through language, their linguistic vanity might be considered a mild passion to which they are enslaved, another instance of the basic corruptibility of the human heart. Interestingly, Prudence is the only exception to this--and then only early in the novel while she remains an ingenue. When Ramsbottom first attempts to win favour with her by calling her 'Miss Poindexter', she responds by goggling at him and saying: 'Cop that, Ma. Hey! I'm Prudence'. Later in the novel, however, she will be capable of using expressions such as: 'To whom do you refer by that vulgar remark?'.
It is no surprise, then, that a great deal of the novel's vividness and urgency resides in its bravura dialogue. The language and vocabulary used by the characters in dialogue is often similar to that used by Neddy as the story's narrator--Neddy's expatiation on five-fifty twenty-one tyres in chapter 2, for example, is soon followed by his father's speech on the same topic--and so the altered spelling of the dialogue helps establish a necessary sense of distinction between speaker and narrative.(79) Thus 'you' in conversation is usually rendered with spelling altered to fit the sound as 'yuh', except when the word needs emphasis, such as Neddy telling Prudence: 'You come with me'. Spelling also helps indicate levels of incoherence. Mr Poindexter may put on the dog in front of Dr Mahoney and annoy him with expressions like: 'Speaking of course purely as a layman', but when inebriated the altered spelling of his language indicates just how far his speech has deteriorated, such as when he mangles, 'That's the thing. Education', into: 'Sathing. Ducashun'. In the same manner, in chapter 19, Dabney's slurring of his signature expression into 'Liesh won't go out all night' indicates that he is very drunk even by his own standards. Plainly, the use of spelling is one more of many instances in the novel where Morrieson operates as a genuinely original writer: someone who makes his own system and then proceeds creatively according to that system's rules.
Comic speeches, whether or not they involve the pretentiousness of putting on the dog, provide Morrieson with another welcome opportunity to display virtuosity. As is the case with Dickens, the sense of a self-conscious theatricality evident in many minor characters in the novel is never more obvious than when they talk at length, where the characters do not so much speak as speechify, drawing out what they say in comic variations. Thus many of the comic speeches in The Scarecrow have the air of set pieces. An example is Uncle Athol's lengthy rationalization in chapter 7, held together with repetitions such as 'Beats me' and 'One uv these days', of his failure at fixing the bad step in the veranda of the family home. Sometimes these speeches are strung together into exchanges between drunks, the sort of thing that Neddy labels 'an almost incredibly idiotic conversation-piece'. Indeed, the claim that Morrieson is of the larrikin school of New Zealand literature never seems stronger than when he is depicting interchanges of extended, drunken pronouncements--usually with some vague tone of authorial disapproval vying with an authorial revelry in the overexcited language. But speechifying is by no means limited to the novel's inebriates. Even a character as peripheral to the plot as Chester Montgomery may have his moment on stage, as exemplified by his burlesque speech in chapter 9, spelled correctly to indicate his delicacy, where his enthusiasm at chopping wood for Mrs Poindexter is counterbalanced with references to physical mishaps. The only word spelled incorrectly in Chester Montgomery's speech is 'tommyhawk' for 'tomahawk', suggesting, perhaps, his unfamiliarity with the tool.
Mrs Poindexter's speeches are particularly revealing. Her long denunciation of Mrs Quin at the opening of chapter 13, interrupted occasionally by her husband, is laced with her characteristic malapropisms as she rails against Mrs Quin's 'humble early oranges'. Her elaborate talk, her highly artificial language and, above all, her use of histrionic expressions that incorporate a mix of distorted cliches and neologisms, suggest that not only Dickens but also Robert Louis Stevenson may have had a strong influence on how Morrieson constructs this type of circumlocutory oration. Several of the characters in The Scarecrow, but Mrs Poindexter especially, speak in the highly artificial manner of Stevenson's Long John Silver in Treasure Island, whose drawn-out sentences shift comically between the vernacular and an imitation of upper-class speech. Long John Silver’s language is typically elaborate when, for example, addressing Jim Hawkins and others as they hide in a stockade. His speech employs a lilting mix of high and low registers.
You give us the chart to get the treasure by, and drop shooting poor seamen, and stoving of their heads in while asleep. You do that and we'll offer you a choice. Either you come aboard along with us, once the treasure shipped, and then I'll give you my affy-davy, upon my word of honour, to clap you somewhere safe ashore. Or, if that aint to your fancy, some of my hands being rough, and having old scores, on account of hazing, then you can stay here, you can. We'll divide stores with you, man for man; and I'll give you my affy-davy as before, to speak the first ship I sight, and send 'em here to pick you up. Now you'll own that's talking. Handsomer you couldn't look to get, not you.(80)
Mrs Poindexter speaks in a similar fashion when she breaks off denouncing Mrs Quin to address her husband. Her grammatically complex sentences are leavened with the bathos of demotic vocabulary and her sometimes flailing pronunciation.
No Danyel, you're an honest, working man, whose only shortcoming is a predeelectshun for the bottle, though I have always felt my hands are tied in this matter, my own brother, Athol, having led you by the hand through the years into increasingly evil and drunken habits. I've watched it, Danyel, from our early days, even from our wedding day, the shame and mortification of what has left a scar on me forever and a dark cloud in the sky. If I'd had a grain of sense I would have walked away in that beautiful frock and left yuh to marry my brother instead of me, though who would have held yuh up for the ceremony or stooped to soil their hands on the pair of yuh, is beyond me.
It is in this bravura use of language to create dialogue that Treasure Island may have had its greatest influence on Morrieson. Moreover, like The Scarecrow, Treasure Island is a bildungsroman narrated by someone remembering his growth to manhood amid acts of daring-do. Like Neddy, Stevenson's Jim Hawkins is a child hero who often appears more capable and intelligent than the adults around him. Because of this, the pirate villains of Treasure Island seem to alternate between genuine menace and the behaviour of rowdy children. In fact, at once stage Jim Hawkins even notes that his enemies seemed 'more like charity schoolchildren than blood-guilty mutineers and pirates'.(81) This is also true, though to a lesser extent, of The Scarecrow. In Neddy's world Victor Lynch is the leader of a gang of thugs and would-be rapists, but when questioned by the police Lynch appears 'about as much like an all-powerful gangleader tonight as a duckling looks like a black hawk'. In a similar manner Salter, for all his diabolism, appears harmless before Lynette in chapter 3 and contributes to many moments of high comedy with Uncle Athol and Dabney in speeches where he feels the necessity of putting on the dog. Furthermore, in both books the near-certainty of the villains' ultimate failure, signalled from the beginning by the adventure-plot, helps give the writing the air of a romance as the reader is invited to follow the twists and turns of the unlikely story towards an implied comic ending.
Integral to the theatricality of Treasure Island and the novels of Dickens is the notion that characters' outward appearances tend to be indicators of moral virtue. The same holds true for The Scarecrow and, as in Treasure Island and Dickens, this seems to make vice a more interesting quality in characters than goodness. It is the least virtuous characters in The Scarecrow who are the most vivid and who are the most described. Certainly, as a rule of thumb, the more villainous a character is, the more grotesquely Dickensian and marked by Dickensian signatures he is, and the more extensively he is described on each reappearance in the novel. Thus Dabney is described frequently, Uncle Athol to a lesser degree, and in a much more minor way Victor Lynch and Peachy Blair. But chief among all these colourful reprobates is Salter, whom Morrieson introduces over and over again with evident relish throughout the book. Salter's multiple introductions help give him a sense of constantly accumulating menace. Even on Salter's last appearance, in chapter 19, Morrieson still manages to savour new horrors in the physical features of his villain, such as the revelation that: 'At close range he stunk like a polecat'.
It is noticeable, however, that Morrieson achieves these grotesque descriptions without instilling a sense of alienation in his characters. They are at home in Klynham as Dickens's characters seldom are in their urban settings. Perhaps the small town of Klynham is a more accommodating place than Dickens's London, but more probably the key lies in Morrieson's attitude to his creations. Despite his moralism, Morrieson seems more forgiving than Dickens of misbehaviour in his characters and this, in turn, seems to make them better able to accommodate each other. While Salter may come close to an absolute standard for evil in The Scarecrow, there is no equivalent of the Dickensian character, sentimentally conceived, who acts as an absolute standard for good. Each person in Klynham is either flawed or eccentric to some degree, so that a character's flaws can only be relative, to be viewed as more or less strange than everyone else's. The nearest the novel comes to a completely unflawed character, interestingly, is the doomed Angela Potroz.
Also in a manner similar to Dickens, albeit to a lesser degree, settings in The Scarecrow seem to take on something of a character of their own. The seedy and illicit air of the Federal Hotel is easily associated with the temptations of alcohol. Neddy's night-time dash with the Lynch-family fowls to the safety of Fitzherbert's shed is through 'swampy, never-used lanes, watched by spooky trees'. But by far the clearest example is Dabney's funeral parlour, which acts as a nexus for the diabolical events in the story. It is inside the funeral parlour that Salter assaults the body of Mabel Collinson and also there that he lurks for much of the novel's second half. Outside the funeral parlour Prudence, alone at night at the end of chapter 12, feels so frightened that, rather than take a short cut past the building down an alley, she dashes back towards the main street with a 'feeling of salvation'. Before Angela Potroz goes missing she is last seen in the same alley between the funeral parlour and the Federal Hotel, and while the increasingly desperate search for her is underway Neddy notes that: 'The grim shadows of the Dabney chapel presided over the scene'. The funeral parlour in the story seems a version of the haunted house of popular fiction, and it is even explicitly referred to by Prudence as a 'chamber uv horrors'. As well as being associated with Salter and the morally corrupt Dabney, the funeral parlour is where Uncle Athol begins to work from chapter 11, and it appears to become more prominently menacing in the second half of the book.
Perhaps because it is a venue for entertainment and excitement, Klynham's cinema is specifically mentioned by Neddy as being at the bad end of the town's main street. For Neddy and Les Wilson, the cinema is indeed a place where they encounter adventures outside the usual limits of their immediate experience but, significantly, and despite their evident pleasure in the weekly serial picture, Morrieson leaves their love of movies out of his system of dangerous passions. All that happens to Neddy and Les at the movies is that they sometimes imitate the stars of the screen, so that after seeing a Hopalong Cassidy film they walk the street 'slowly and purposefully, loosely, ready to reach for our guns at the drop of a hat'. It seems, then, that movies are not dangerous because their influence on Neddy's thinking is seldom direct. The only exception to this--and it is a minor one--occurs when, having seen an episode of 'The King of Diamonds' involving a trapdoor in the floor, Neddy notes that thereafter while standing in front of a desk at interviews he is inclined to believe: 'I might suddenly find myself precipitated down into a pit full of crocodiles'. In fact, the very obvious fictiveness of movies may actively prevent enslavement to passion by helping Neddy and Les define the boundary between the real and imaginary.(82) Therefore, when melodramatic events strain over this boundary, such as the fire which razes the grand Fitzherbert house, Les can properly exclaim his surprise with: 'This is the real thing. This has got "The Fire God's Treasure" stuffed all along the line'.
Nevertheless, the attractions of the movies do exert an influence in the book in more subtle ways. At the cinema, the town's children are not interested in film as a window on the outside world as such--Neddy notes how they 'hooted and groaned' at the appearance of a travel film--but instead they are entranced by a romantic glamour that they are happy to see projected onto the fictional world of Hollywood cowboys and enticing female stars. This glamour has a strong indirect impact on the Klynham children's thinking, because they then seek its equivalence in their own real world. Thus, in terms of the novel's theme of sexual development, the cinema is the place where Neddy decides the actress Jane Withers is 'a bit of all right' and then also where he first considers possible encounters with real girls, like Josephine McClinton. For despite accepting the boundary between fiction and reality, Neddy has little understanding of any boundary between borrowed culture and authentic local culture. Rather, he is quick to internalise borrowed culture as part of his own experience, and so, after watching an American cowboy movie, he will play at being a cowboy on a New Zealand street. This occurs naturally and without complication in The Scarecrow--but not in The God Boy, where Jimmy Sullivan's pretending to be a gangster or a soldier is presented as a psychological aberration. New Zealand social-realist writers were commonly literary nationalists and, as such, always self-consciously aware of borrowed culture, whether in criticism of it or in admiration. This occurred not least because their fiction tends to describe New Zealanders as feeling unsettled in their young country. But for Neddy, on the other hand, borrowed culture is simply part of the mix of authentic local culture in Klynham: it does not seem something intrusive from outside, because for Neddy there is no real outside.
Unusually for a protagonist in New Zealand fiction--since the country's fiction prior to the publication of The Scarecrow was dominated by social realism--Neddy remains completely an insider throughout his own story. In Klynham he accepts his world for what it is, because that is all there is. In the novel there is no tension over this, since such an attitude is maintained by Klynham's adults and even by Neddy as a grown-up narrator. Early in the novel, the journey Neddy makes in the truck with his father to Te Rotiha helps emphasise just how small his world is and therefore how innocent he is of any experience of reality outside it.(83) Although only 'the best part of twelve miles from Klynham', Te Rotiha is frighteningly distant. It is: 'The last place on God's earth!', and Neddy has only once been there before. Some of the novel's comedy lies in Neddy feeling stranded at Te Rotiha when the truck breaks down, but it is notable that Mr Poindexter also feels utterly at a loss. Thus for characters in The Scarecrow an acceptance of their world's authenticity derives from their extreme isolation. This is a development that would have surprised, and perhaps disappointed, writers of the social-realist generation, who tended to view the likely achievement of an authentic New Zealand culture in sometimes contradictory terms of local purity and cosmopolitanism. This may also explain, in some part, why Morrieson's novel has often polarised critics.
Perhaps because of this intensely narrow focus, Neddy's knowledge of Klynham is detailed and remarkably specific. Ian Cross, like most social-realist writers, tends to generalise his setting in The God Boy and even to have his protagonist, Jimmy Sullivan, explain how it is typical and of a piece with an essentially New Zealand environment. As a result, however, such an approach assumes that the reader is an outsider for whom explanations of the typical are necessary. It also inevitably creates a strong sense of implied judgement. Morrieson, in contrast, tends to specify about his setting and only to have his protagonist explain what aspects of Klynham are unusual. Even when he writes at his most general, as for example in his observation that 'the big-bellied licensees, who wheezed masterfully in those open doorways were recognized as men of affluence', Morrieson is generalising only about licensees in Klynham itself and not with reference to a wider setting. Thus, in line with this approach, Morrieson assumes that the reader is already familiar with an implicitly typical New Zealand environment and offers judgement only on special instances within the town he describes. This tendency to specification, as opposed to typification, makes Klynham seem much more convincingly realised than Cross's Raggleton, or almost any other setting in New Zealand social-realist fiction. In this sense, then, of what the novelist assumes of his readership, Morrieson can comfortably be categorised as an early example of what is sometimes termed a 'post-provincial' writer.(84)
One further reason why The Scarecrow may be free of what Peter Simpson terms the 'cultural melancholy and sense of alienation that pervades provincial writing' is that such views do not serve Morrieson's constant drive for the exuberant virtuosity which is at the heart of his debut novel.(85) For while Morrieson's conception of of plot, character, dialogue and even, to some extent, setting involves virtuosity, it is at the far more fundamental level of narrative language that this penchant comes most remarkably to the fore. In chapter 9, when he describes how Sam Finn, in a fit of hopeless adoration for Mabel Collinson, 'had taken off all his clothes and lain in the wet grass behind the gate and let the music of her piano, and the fine rain which still persisted, fall on him like a benediction'[94-5], Morrieson is giving his narrative the freedom to follow its own nature and maximise the immediacy of a Gothic effect. Just prior to this, Morrieson does something similar when he provides Sam Finn with a considerable interior life and even a family background.
The beautiful music entranced him and filled his simple heart with wonder. He hated the loud voices of the few late wayfarers who, heedless of the music, walked home along the middle of the pale road that ran past the old frame building like a stream. When the piano ceased to play and the light went out upstairs, Sam Finn would climb down from the gate and go peacefully back to his little shack and crawl into a brass bedstead beside his syphilitic, methylated-spirit-drinking uncle.
A drive for immediacy is once again causing the narrative to follow its own track of discourse in this passage, but something more seems to lie behind the timbre of the language which is being employed. It is not told in Neddy's buoyant style of the raconteur, and it is far from displaying the inarticulate speech likely to characterise Sam Finn himself. Rather, while seeking a Gothic effect, the narrative is also presented in something approaching a Southern Gothic style--it is influenced, perhaps, by William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, another novel featuring a mentally retarded character. The passage has long and ornate sentences, and an evocative use of vocabulary and simile. Along with the notion of exploiting its content for immediacy, the possibility of exploiting the novel's narrative language for a stylistic effect appears to be a further reason why Morrieson is willing here to distort his tale.
Allowing an uncle for Sam Finn to be introduced into the novel unnecessarily complicates Morrieson's story. It requires a further account as to why the uncle does not report his nephew missing to the police, and so in the same chapter this is explained away with: 'he now had the brass bedstead all to himself'. Once more, on the heels of this explanation, the narrative continues to follow its own track, and Sam Finn's family background is further investigated--but this time in a very different style of language altogether.
Constable Ramsbottom and a little man from the Pension Department went and interviewed Sam's uncle. The tin shack was in a section not far from the railway station. The grass was nearly up to the roof. Around the doorway the grass was greasy with fat and urine. They extracted no information from Sam's uncle, who leaned in the doorway, red-eyed, but they left something behind. The little man from Pensions was sick. This is why they failed to carry out their duty and search the shack. As it happened it did not matter. Sam Finn was not there. He was never found.
This is not the customarily strained speech of Len Ramsbottom, nor the lush, heavily adjectival language of Sam Finn's musical enchantment, but rather the clipped style of a police-procedural detective novel. It relies on short sentences, repetition and a deliberate suppression of emotiveness. Once again, the style of the narrative has been manipulated to match the content as the discourse runs on.
An image for this sort of writing appears between the above passages in chapter 9, when Mabel Collinson's mother finds her piano playing itself and realises: 'it certainly was not her stepson playing boogie-woogie'. In the same way, Morrieson's writing in The Scarecrow does not always conform to the thematic framework he has apparently imposed on the characters in his tale. Indeed, it is at the level of narrative language that Morrieson's initial plans for his novel most radically seem to have changed while he was writing it. In another rare comment on his own work Morrieson once made it clear that his novels did indeed change during the process of composition, when he observed: 'I have these majestic themes in my mind, you see, big things, shapes like music, but the trouble is getting the characters to fit. I mean, they're not up to the themes; they just turn out funny'.(86) As Morrieson wrote, the urgency and vividness of the language in The Scarecrow appear to have become a major concern, turning perhaps into a litmus test for his own success or failure at composition. Thus it appears that development of the comic potential in not just the characters' but also the narrative's language and, above all, the exploitation of the comic potential for pastiche, enriched and sometimes threatened to dominate the thematic structure. In many parts of the novel it is not plot, nor character, nor even theme which is directing the story, but rather the possibilities inherent for the virtuoso in the language itself, straining in riotous self-display against the author's system which was meant, at the first, as a form of containment.
A wealth of further examples of such stylistic manipulation is available. Neddy's encounter with the Lynch gang in chapter 7 soon settles into the language of the hardboiled detective novel. It begins with the Lynch gang members talking like mobsters. Victor Lynch gives his orders in the manner of a crime boss with: 'Cut down and call off the boys, D'Arcy. Tell 'em to get up here quick as they can'. But the style of the language soon infiltrates the narrative itself, so that Neddy stoically explains being hit as:
It seemed like pain was the express and hatred was a little puffing billy and they met me full on. Me, I was sitting on a jigger between them. Voices. Someone hooked an arm under my neck and I sat up. A lot of feet. I thought I was going to vomit.
The narrative has not been forced into the self-conscious theatricality of camp; the writing is not Post-Modern in that sense. Instead, Neddy reacts in a distanced way to his pain, like a wise-cracking Philip Marlow, precisely because the hardboiled style of the narrative can remain authentic if he offers a stoic response. Nevertheless, Neddy evinces a very different reaction later in the same chapter, when he is hit in the stomach and a Lynch-gang member comments: 'Look at the sissy, he's howling'. This is because, by the end of chapter 7, the exigencies of plot require that Neddy feel sufficiently intimidated for the reader to worry that Prudence is going to be put at risk--the narrative's language, then, is hardboiled only where completely appropriate to its content.
The stealing of the fowls in chapter 1 at times approaches something of the jauntily exaggerated style of Mark Twain ('It was what I always think of as a soft sort of night, warm and dark with a velvety breeze kicking the moonbeams around, and a cannon fired down Smythe Street would not have startled a tom-cat'); but the influence of Twain becomes especially obvious in the elaborate way Mr Wilson talks up the value of the remnant wallpaper-rolls he has in his shop before gifting them to Neddy in chapter 13. Mr Wilson's speech takes on Twain's characteristic backwoodsy lilt, and Neddy's narration even strains the limitations of a child's of point of view in order to indicate Mr Wilson's connivance in the comedy.
'Neddy,' said Mr Wilson, and put his hands under his apron to stop his belly from shaking loose with laughing, 'I'm gunna give you that paper. Yes sir, give it to you and I want you to tell everybody in town that that's the sorta gesture of appreciation you can expect from A.C. Wilson, Family Merchant.'[147-8]
In the same fashion, the description of the snooker hustler, Flash Freddy, in chapter 15 acquires Twain's chatty, exaggerated quality, as the narrative invents ever more outlandish embellishments. Soon Morrieson's hustler has a hat with a feather in the band 'like an ostrich plume' and a cigarette 'in a six-inch holder', which he smokes ostentatiously as he advances in an affected dancing step along the street. The description of Flash Freddy is ridiculously overdone for provincial New Zealand in the 1930s, but this counts as nothing for both author and reader when Morrieson's sense of comic pastiche is in full flight.
It is a simple matter, then, to see how such manipulations of style in The Scarecrow might have appealed to readers influenced by the Post-Modernism that flourished for some decades after the book's publication. Stylistic changes in The Scarecrow could easily be connected to Saussurian theories of reading, as proposed by the Structuralist critic Roland Barthes and others, which saw words as signs adrift from the reality they signify, and therefore arranging themselves into discourse in ways often outside the author's conscious control. Morrieson was writing prior to any awareness of Structuralism, but he could accomplish something similar in 1963, and do so quite consciously, because his writing tends naturally to pastiche. Morrieson is never 'an author innocent of literature' as Maurice Shadbolt has suggested.(87) Rather, he is always willing to enhance his writing in the highly literary manner of pastiche for a few sentences, or even part of a sentence. Thus Neddy, opening the front door in chapter 5, uses the present tense and shifts briefly into the tone of a radio-show host introducing a guest, when he declares: 'The shadow could belong to anyone from the bailiff to an escaped gorilla, but it's--it's Mr Dabney, the undertaker'. Likewise, the list of Prudence's suitors in chapter 11 briefly dips into in the distanced, over-refined comic language of P.G. Wodehouse, with: 'it was there Cupid's dart connected amidships with the butcher boy (what a goof)'. In fact, Morrieson even refers to Mr Quin as 'an aged Bertie Wooster' later in the same chapter and then, after describing Mr Quin talking in a Wodehousean way, 'with "gads" and "what what's"', the narrative runs on and proceeeds to dress him in 'a smoking jacket and a cravat' for good measure. Morrieson's love of pastiche lends his story a slightly surreal air at such moments, but this is more than compensated for by gains in vividness.
In the same way that references to the upper-class Quin family home tend towards Wodehouse, any mention of the Fitzherbert homestead in The Scarecrow is likely to shift almost immediately into Southern Gothic. During the search for Angela Potroz in chapter 16 the language occasionally slips into the factual tone of the police procedural ('Les arrived, puffed out. Angela was not at home.'), but the style changes radically into long, baroque sentences once the Fitzherbert house is discovered on fire.
What we had taken to be drifting cloud against the moon was now plainly smoke. It was tinged with red and, as we listened, we heard the ominous crackle of flame devouring the ancient timber. In the sudden, unholy glare, the pines, prisoners of their own mother, stood aghast.
This change, in its turn, is only momentary, and the story moves rapidly on to describe a hair-raising car ride related by Neddy acting as raconteur: 'Half the width of the tyres on my side--repeat, my side--must have been over the deep ditch'. In a similar manner, appearances by Salter, particularly in the chapters told from outside Neddy's point of view, tend to slide into a luridly noir or 'pulp' style of language, leading to some of the gaudy sentences in the book which have caught the eye of critics, such as: 'Ecstasy flooded his loins and his genitals'.(88) Some passages describing Salter in noir style are extensive, as Morrieson lets his narrative run. Thus, in chapter 4, Salter smokes hashish for the only time in the novel, ostensibly as a hallucinogenic aid to his recall of Zita's murder, but more probably in another instance of discourse directing content.
Plainly, when changes are made, it is the narrative situation which determines the style of language adopted. There is no larger pattern to these changes of style. Morrieson picks an effect as needed, much in the manner of Neddy's Byron-influenced comment on his own imagination, 'a change came o'er the spirit of my dream as it were', or, less honourably, like Salter working his transformational magic. There is an early hint in the novel that the source of such changes of style could lie not with Morrieson but in Neddy himself, since Neddy, narrating in recall, does exhibit a tendency to imitation and pastiche. Thus when Neddy describes how he and Les Wilson try to emulate cowboys on the street with, 'We walked slowly and purposefully, loosely, ready to reach for our guns at the drop of a hat, speaking only in condensed, staccato bursts, these men are dangerous', Neddy's own language also becomes momentarily staccato and condensed. In the same way, Neddy briefly mimics Ramsbottom's characteristic form of speech in chapter 5 when noting that: 'Constable Len Ramsbottom had supper with the Poindexters on the noight uv the fifth at the corner of Smythe and Winchester Streets'. Neddy as a fourteen-year-old is certainly very open, and at times vulnerable, to external influence, and even Chester Montgomery's much despised politeness leads to a comic interval where Neddy and Les Wilson pretend to wave each other ahead through a gate until 'we got stuck going through together, so we had to try again'. It is immediately after this that Neddy also uses the expression 'tommyhawk' in his narrative, copied from Chester Montgomery's earlier speech.
Nevertheless, the novel's use of pastiche no more conforms to the constraints of Neddy's psyche than does its employment of point of view. Morrieson's evident pleasure in the manipulation of language overwhelms any notion of authorial absence as surely as is the case with James Joyce in the latter half of Ulysses. Indeed, Morrieson also resembles Joyce exactly in his desire to push any system he creates beyond its natural limits. For if The God Boy has the refreshing beauty of a well-made quartet, operating within accepted formal conventions as it produces felicitous surprise, then The Scarecrow is all jazz. Virtuosity, an exuberant demonstration by a performer who surpasses the apparent limits of a largely self-imposed system, is a key component of the vivid excess of jazz and also of Morrieson's writing in his debut novel. Such exhibitionism turns inevitably towards the comic, no matter how dark the material with which it begins. But virtuosity, the sight of the showoff effortlessly rising above any ordinary rank of achievement, is also the style of performance least amenable to a New Zealand audience. New Zealanders prefer the brave amateur, the talent patently at their own level, who flatters the audience in displaying a struggle to produce something slightly better than mediocre. For all its comic verve, Morrieson's novel was never likely to find wide acceptance.
However, both The God Boy and The Scarecrow are almost wholly New Zealand books--they do not borrow their forms from an overseas literary tradition in order to achieve the depiction of a 'real' New Zealand. Whatever the ultimate origins of social realism, it is from an already established New Zealand tradition of the genre that Cross consciously borrows. Morrieson, a true original, creates an eccentric system of his own, which happens to anticipate developments in the novel overseas only by accident. Thus, exploiting techniques that enhance immediacy to surpass the limitations of his own system is what matters most to Morrieson in successfully writing The Scarecrow, just as exploiting what has already been done to surpass previous efforts in a tradition is what matters to Cross in successfully producing The God Boy. It is difficult to assess critically which approach displays the greater fidelity to New Zealand experience, particularly if one keeps in mind the critic John Bayley's admonition: 'The nemesis of realism as a theory is that it has decided what is real before the imagination has proved it; before truth, in Wordsworth's phrase, has been carried alive into the heart'.(89) Beyond dispute is that the ability to compel the reader into belief is all. But Cross's aim of inciting something like radicalism by adhering to an orthodox New Zealand convention of the novel meant that The God Boy was always likely to enter the mainstream of local literature as one came into being, while Morrieson's radical approaches to expressing his mostly orthodox message meant denying himself the only existing convention of the New Zealand novel that would make The Scarecrow accessible to a still fledgling local readership.
1. Cross, Ian. The God Boy. Harcourt, Brace & Co, New York, 1957. Later Whitcombe and Tombs, Christchurch, 1972, and Penguin Modern Classics, London, 2003. (Page references are to the Whitcombe and Tombs and Penguin Modern Classics editions, which are identical. Page references are in square brackets.) Morrieson, Ronald Hugh. The Scarecrow. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1963. Later Penguin, Auckland, 1981. (Page references are to the Penguin edition. Page references are in square brackets.)
2. Cross, Ian. Such Absolute Beginners: A Memoir. David Ling, Auckland, 2007: 87.
3. Cross, Ian. Such Absolute Beginners: A Memoir. Op. cit.: 92. Richards, Ian. To Bed at Noon: The Life and Art of Maurice Duggan. Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1997: 240.
4. Julia Millen, Morrieson's biographer, suggests that The Scarecrow may have been first rejected for publication by New Zealand's A.H. & A.W. Reed, although she can find no concrete evidence for this. [Millen, Julia. Ronald Hugh Morrieson: A Biography. David Ling, Auckland, 1996: 173.]
5. Millen, Julia. Ronald Hugh Morrieson: A Biography. Op. cit.: 178-9, 181.
6. Millen, Julia. Ronald Hugh Morrieson: A Biography. Op. cit.: 176.
7. Millen, Julia. Ronald Hugh Morrieson: A Biography. Op. cit.: 179-80.
8. Duggan, for example, was working on an anti-clerical novel of his own in the late 1950s entitled 'Along the Poisoned River' and abandoned it on The God Boy's appearance. Most of Book One of Duggan's novel appeared as 'A Fragment of a Work Abandoned' (later 'The Deposition') in the magazine Numbers in 1958. [Richards, Ian. To Bed at Noon: The Life and Art of Maurice Duggan. Op. cit.: 230.]
9. The critic Joan Stevens also sees Jimmy as 'a normal enough kid'. [Stevens, Joan. 'Introduction' to The God Boy. Whitcombe and Tombs, Christchurch, 1972: 8.]
10. Cross has noted in a lecture about his novel that he first wrote The God Boy as a short story told from an omniscient point of view, about 'a boy who was given a bicycle by his father just before he was about to leave for school [...] and, in the very brief scene that followed [...] the mother and father demonstrated a bitter hatred for each other'. Cross felt that this method of recording externals did not succeed. He then chose to write Jimmy's story in the first person and in Jimmy's language, and found this approach allowed his material to open up. [Cross, Ian. 'The God Boy.' Journal of New Zealand Literature, vol. 8, 1990: 5.]
11. Jimmy's bicycle was at the heart of the sketch Cross first wrote about his boy protagonist before expanding the story into a novel. Cross has mentioned Jimmy's bicycle as a motif, so that 'the bike theme [...] is one of the things that holds the...that gives the book a coherence [...] This is the burden of guilt that he is willing to carry for everything that has happened to him'. Cross then goes on to note that when Jimmy has a final glimpse of his house, at the close of chapter 21, the last thing he sees is a policeman holding his bicycle. Finally Cross observes that Jimmy's wondering why on earth he had ever wanted a bike at the very close of the book indicates his continuing sense of guilt, so that Jimmy is 'maintaining his role to the bitter end'. [Cross, Ian. 'The God Boy.' Journal of New Zealand Literature. Op. cit.: 12-13.]
12. Stevens, Joan. 'Introduction' to The God Boy. Op. cit.: 8. Lawrence Jones expands this to: 'a triple focus, having the thirteen-year-old Jimmy tell the story of his eleven-year-old self, with the implied author behind him understanding more than either Jimmy could'. [Jones, Lawrence. 'The Novel' in The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English. Oxford University Press, Auckland, 1998: 172.] The critic Roger Robinson also comments on this in some detail. [Robinson, Roger. 'Introduction' to The God Boy. Penguin Modern Classics, London, 2003: 6-7.]
13. Stevens, Joan. 'Introduction' to The God Boy. Op. cit.: 10.
14. Notably: Stevens, Joan. The New Zealand Novel: 1860-1960. A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1961: 101, 132. Stevens, Joan. 'Introduction' to The God Boy. Op. cit.: 8-9. Robinson, Roger. 'Introduction' to The God Boy. Op. cit.: 10.
15. Other Americanisms, some more improbable than others in mid-1950s New Zealand, include: Jimmy exclaiming 'Heck', ; and 'a heck of a time'; comparing Bloody Jack to 'regular fishermen'; feeling 'fine and dandy'; the soldier's statue on the war memorial 'looking as though he could lick the whole world'; and Jimmy commenting, 'I had Molly licked from then on'.
16. Duggan, Maurice. 'Along Rideout Road that Summer.' Landfall 65, vol. 17, no. 1 (March 1963): 8-24. One curious exception occurs in chapter 2, when Jimmy refers to getting 'the thin end of the purse' in his fight with God, and claims that this is a boxing expression from 'a book that I shouldn't have been reading'. The expression 'Sunday punches', which Jimmy also uses, refers to destructive blows which render a boxer unable to continue, usually through a knockout. But 'the thin end of the purse' is not a common boxing expression and remains mysterious in the novel. The expressions 'the big end of the purse' and 'the loser's end of the purse', however, both appear in the famous boxing story by Jack London, 'A Piece of Steak', published in 1909. The appearance of these two expressions, neither of which are quite as cited in The God Boy, makes for a highly tenuous connection to Jimmy's possible reading--except that London's story contains a brief mention of New Zealand. The story concerns an ageing Australian fighter, Tom King, who competes against a young New Zealand boxer named Sandel for a prize of thirty pounds. King and his family are desperately poor, and it is King's inability to buy a piece of steak that decides the fight, since a lack of nutrition weakens his tired body and he cannot deliver the knockout blow. The story's famously vivid descriptions of boxing would have appealed to Jimmy--and so too would the unequal nature of the fight, told from King's point of view, in which the older, weaker boxer accepts that he will be pummelled by his opponent until the other man tires and he can assert himself. Jimmy likewise fights in this dogged fashion in The God Boy, as evidenced by his fight with Ray Brown in chapter 1. He also sees his troubles in the novel as a case of being overmatched against a stronger opponent, namely God, so that: 'He could have waited till I got bigger'. Boxing acts as something of a motif in Jimmy's book. In the first chapter Mr Sullivan refers to his marriage as 'one more round in the heavyweight championship of the world'. Mostly, however, boxing serves to provide Jimmy with a simple, secular metaphor for his position as victim of the divine. But finally, the boxing-related theme of the inevitability of rising youth gaining power over age, explicit in 'A Piece of Steak', is another notion likely to appeal to Jimmy with his hopes for self-reliance in the future as a grown-up. He even compares Sister Francis at the end of The God Boy to a boxer who 'is over the hill'. It is just possible, then, that 'A Piece of Steak' is a story in the book which Jimmy has been reading. The only other literary reference in The God Boy is to The Three Musketeers, which Molly gives Jimmy on her visit to the convent in chapter 22. 'All for one and one for all', the famous quotation from Dumas's novel, stands perhaps in ironic contrast to Jimmy's determined self-reliance at the close of his tale. Interestingly, the older Jimmy seems to perceive of reading as a socially subversive activity. In chapter 13 Sister Angela advises Jimmy to play a lot of sport and not to read too much, and Jimmy assures her that he reads only: 'A few comic books and some adventure and space-travel stuff'. Later, living at the convent, Jimmy says that he reads 'everything I can get my hands on', which includes the proscribed book with the boxing expression.
17. Quoted in Stevens, Joan. The New Zealand Novel: 1860-1960. Op. cit.: 102-3.
18. Bloody Jack's advice to Jimmy about his parents' fights is: 'Then just don't care', which Jimmy does indeed adopt two years later.
19. Stevens, Joan. The New Zealand Novel: 1860-1960. Op. cit.: 101.
20. Robinson, Roger. 'Introduction' to The God Boy. Op. cit.: 5-6. Robinson also notes that the reader is 'adroitly enabled to see round and through the child's uncomprehending consciousness'.
21. Cross has noted something similar to this when he said of writing the novel: 'the mechanical difficulty then was always to have a good reason for the boy dwelling on an incident, the primary purpose of which was to provide the reader with other essential information beyond the boy's comprehension'. [Cross, Ian. 'The God Boy.' Journal of New Zealand Literature. Op. cit.: 7.]
22. Robinson, Roger. 'Introduction' to The God Boy. Op. cit.: 5. Cross himself has noted that 'it is not a big book'. [Cross, Ian. 'The God Boy.' Journal of New Zealand Literature. Op. cit.: 3.]
23. The critic Joan Stevens describes Jimmy's story as 'a case study of juvenile delinquency'. [Stevens, Joan. 'Introduction' to The God Boy. Op. cit.: 8.]
24. Jimmy resorts to protection tricks three times over three days in the novel's narrative present (and once more in chapter 4 when he shouts profanities at God in an 'outdoor protection trick'). He notes that the first of these 'must have been the fourth or fifth time I had to use my protection tricks', suggesting that he has employed such tricks only three or four times previously over the past three years. Jimmy also observes that at the beginning of the novel's three fatal days, 'I first thought of me and God, and I became irritable'.
25. Roger Robinson usefully summarizes these troubles as 'resentment, anger, drunkenness, vituperation, womanizing, claustrophobia, illicit abortion and finally murder'. [Robinson, Roger. 'Introduction' to The God Boy. Op. cit.: 6.]
26. Cross, Ian. 'The God Boy.' Journal of New Zealand Literature. Op. cit.: 11-12. In this lecture, Cross traces a somewhat vague crucifixion motif in the novel, beginning with Jimmy holding out his arm low to be hit hard by Sister Angela in chapter 5, so that 'I got as much kick out of it as Jesus did at the crucifixion', then with Jimmy dreaming of being caught in a spider's web until 'my arms were stretched wide out', and finally with Jimmy scalding himself in chapter 21, calling 'Hail Mary, full of grace' and having 'propped both my arms out'. Cross also mentions that Jimmy's 'own interpretation of why he is called the God boy is pretty well an extension of Saint Paul, who says that whom God loves, God chastens.' This refers to the New Testament Book of Hebrews, chapter 12, verses 6-7, and is clearly a significant part of Cross's conscious shaping of Jimmy's character--although a short time later in the same lecture Cross does momentarily echo Sister Angela's view when he says that Jimmy 'is conscious of this great evil that has befallen his home'.
27. Cross rather carefully describes himself in his memoirs as: 'a lapsed Catholic who at the age of fifteen had lost his institutional religious faith'. [Cross, Ian. Such Absolute Beginners: A Memoir. Op. cit.: 86.]
28. It may be Sniffy's words that Cross had in mind when he noted in his lecture on The God Boy that at some point when writing the novel he decided to change Jimmy from a murderer to a recorder of the event, and 'it came to me because of what was at first born of a simple blasphemous expression--it came to me that this whole idea--I forget what the expression was, something in relation to God, it's just one sentence--that this could be a whole area for exploration in that the boy was in fact a rebellious son of God'. [Cross, Ian. 'The God Boy.' Journal of New Zealand Literature. Op. cit.: 7.] As further evidence that Cross does not necessarily endorse Sniffy's unorthodox opinion, Cross has elsewhere noted his 'complete acceptance of the doctrine of original sin'. [Quoted in Robinson, Roger. 'Introduction' to The God Boy. Op. cit.: 8.]
29. The notion of a direct relationship with God, not requiring the medium of any church, is in part an idea from radical Protestantism. Interestingly, for its connection with the novel's imagery and possible influences on the novel's author, it is associated with seventeenth-century Puritans like John Milton (whose hero in Paradise Lost is sometimes said to be Lucifer) and is a feature of early American Protestantism. Some of this may lie behind Cross having Jimmy think that from now on he will have to be a Protestant.
30. Deconstructionists may one day enjoy locating the source of the racism evident in the depiction of the Hindu fruiterer. The Hindu fruiterer is described as having poor English, as overcharging his customers and as having been spoken to by the police for allegedly saying something inappropriate (presumably sexual) to a woman. For these reasons--and it is interesting that so many reasons appear necessary--Jimmy feels after perpetrating his attack that 'there wouldn't be anybody who would fuss much about the Hindu'. The description of the Hindu fruiterer is Jimmy's, but he seems confident that he speaks for the entire community.
31. Eight is, as previously mentioned, Jimmy's age when Mrs Sullivan has an abortion and the family begins to fall apart.
32. Jimmy's mid-winter crisis occurs over a Monday to Wednesday, and on the book's last page he notes that today is Thursday, also suggesting that he has passed through his troubled times.
33. Roger Robinson has noted that 'the first edition carried a dust-jacket reassurance that Jimmy's feud with God "is evidence of a stubborn sense of good, which will ensure his survival."' But Robinson himself goes on to observe: 'Today the novel's last sentence seems more ambiguous'. [Robinson, Roger. 'Introduction' to The God Boy. Op. cit.: 9.]
34. It is no surprise, then, that the fourth number of And, an early and prominent Post-Modernist journal in New Zealand, should have featured an essay devoted to The Scarecrow and written with an appropriately impenetrable cleverness. [Calder, Alex. 'The Word, the Look, and the Flesh: Reading The Scarecrow.' And 4 (Oct.) 1985: 3-22.]
35. Millen, Julia. Ronald Hugh Morrieson: A Biography. Op. cit.: 176.
36. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Oxford University Press, Auckland, 1982: 55. The italics are Simpson's.
37. See for example, Lawrence Jones's dismay in his introduction to O.E. Middleton's stories at Middleton being given the 'masculinist' label. [Jones, Lawrence. 'Introduction' to Middleton, O.E. Beyond the Breakwater: Stories 1948-1998. Otago University Press, Dunedin, 2008: 12-14.]
38. Quoted in: Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 56 [Fairburn, A.R.D. 'Some Aspects of New Zealand Art and Letters.' Art in New Zealand (Jun. 1934): 214-7]. Simpson also usefully notes a passage in Morrieson's later novel, Predicament, where the young male protagonist feels inspired to become an author after reading Huckleberry Finn.
39. Richards, Ian. To Bed at Noon: The Life and Art of Maurice Duggan. Op. cit.: 65, 66.
40. Cross, Ian. 'The God Boy.' Journal of New Zealand Literature. Op. cit.: 8, 10.
41. Richards, Ian. To Bed at Noon: The Life and Art of Maurice Duggan. Op. cit.: 302. Duggan's story was up-to-date in its American influences; it owed something of its style to Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (1955).
42. Stead, C.K. 'Ronald Hugh Morrieson: The Man from Hawera.' Kin of Place. Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2002: 252. [Essay originally published in Landfall 98, vol. 25, no. 2 (June 1971): 137-45.]
43. O'Sullivan, Vincent. 'The Inventor of Taranaki Gothic.' NZ Listener, Jun. 12, 1982: 101. Other examples are: M.H. Holcroft complaining of 'obvious crudities. The writing is vigorous but undisciplined; the construction is weak'. [Holcroft, M.H. Islands of Innocence. Reed, Wellington, 1964: 38-9.]; David Hall noting 'trace elements of Huckleberry Finn' but that 'a lot of this display of energy is sheer thrashing about'. [Hall, David. 'Not Scared, Amused.' NZ Listener, Dec. 13, 1963: 18-19.]
44. See, for example: Vincent O'Sullivan taking Peter Simpson to task for his appreciation of 'a mind that spent a lifetime in a small provincial town' and which then 'decides to make fictional patterns from what it feels about life'. [O'Sullivan, Vincent. 'The Inventor of Taranaki Gothic.' Op. cit.: 101.]; Maurice Shadbolt--in an otherwise wholly sympathetic essay--presenting Morrieson as confused by a question on Southern Gothic from a professor during an ABC radio interview and wondering 'what the hell he was on about'. [Shadbolt, Maurice. 'Ronald Hugh Morrieson.' Introduction to Predicament. Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 1974: 10.]; Lawrence Jones arguing that the admiration expressed by other writers for Morrieson's work is 'like self-conscious modern jazz musicians taking up the work of a local blues guitarist who could not read music'. [Jones, Lawrence. Barbed Wire and Mirrors: Essays on New Zealand Prose. University of Otago Press, Dunedin, 1991: 204.]; O'Sullivan again, insisting that Morrieson's work is not a depiction of sexual deviance and violence but rather a case-study, where a sexually deviant and violent author's 'sense of frustration [...] directs the narrative'. [O'Sullivan, Vincent. 'The Inventor of Taranaki Gothic.' Op. cit.: 101. The italics are O'Sullivan's.]; Jones similarly claiming the sex and violence in Morrieson's work 'can be explained by the duality of Morrieson as reflected in his most directly autobiographical character, the hero of "Cross my heart and cut my throat"--on the one hand a hard-drinking, lustful, amoral "ratbag" (as his girlfriend calls him and as Mr Jackson calls Wes Pennington), on the other the mother's boy who is "hit...right in the guts" at the thought of upsetting his mother. It is the rebellious "ratbag" who glories in the release of sex and violence, while it is the mother's boy who represses him and who engineers the moral melodrama and punishes the most lustful and violent'. [Jones, Lawrence. Barbed Wire and Mirrors. Op. cit.: 211.]; and Jones once more, suggesting that Morrieson is 'revelling' in the scene in chapter 9 depicting Salter's necrophilia, and arguing that in Morrieson's books there is a 'feeling of loss of full control, of an identification with the lust and the frustration of the characters'. [Jones, Lawrence. Barbed Wire and Mirrors. Op. cit.: 210.]
45. Frame, Janet. Living in the Maniototo. The Women's Press, Auckland: 1979: 56.
46. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 4, 5. Millen's biography, curiously, makes no mention of this.
47. Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island, 1883. Chapter 11.
48. Simpson makes a similar point about this paragraph when he writes: 'The thickly clustered cliches have the effect of identifying Neddy; they are Morrieson's way of establishing a comic distance between himself and his narrator'. [Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 28.]
49. The expression is perhaps from Byron's poem 'The Bride of Abydos', Canto 2 stanza 27: 'Hark! to the buried question of despair/ "Where is my child?" an echo answers--"Where?"'.
50. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 28. The italics are Simpson's.
51. Simpson has judiciously worked out the novel's time frame. He writes: '"Those days" are the mid nineteen thirties; the slump is just over, "greater universal prosperity" is apparent but "there was no social security"; such details make it possible to date the events (which are spread over about three months, from late summer to early winter) within a year either way of 1936. Morrieson himself was fourteen, Neddy's age, in that year, and it can probably be assumed that the adult Neddy is about forty (as Morrieson was when he wrote the novel).' [Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 27.]
52. What little else is revealed of the grown-up Neddy is that: he is unobtrusively religious, since he refers to God as: 'A guy I have a lot of regard for'; he has had limited success in life, since he has failed a lot of interviews and 'stood in front of a lot of desks in my time without being conspicuously victorious'; and that he is capable of an almost Wodehousean wit, as when he describes Constable Len Ramsbottom offering to teach Prudence to type with, 'The cop leered at her rosily and waved both hands, including the finger he typed with'.
53. It is worth noting that Neddy's walk with his dog closes with one of only two cursory mentions in The Scarecrow of Klynham's Maori population. Morrieson's later work, Pallet on the Floor, offers a positive view of Maori culture that is central to the book, but in The Scarecrow, as Neddy approaches the sea, Neddy merely observes the 'Maori whares, set away back in the sandhills among the acres of lupin and kumura gardens'. A few pages later Neddy also briefly describes and explains two half-caste children as: 'diminutive, sexless, finger-sucking little upstarts wearing only singlets. Jim Sorrenson had married a girl with Maori blood in her, almost white herself, but she had borne children the same military-tan shade as Dr Mahoney's shoes'.
54. Mr Poindexter's willingness to let his daughter be treated in this way, in return for Charlie Dabney's alcohol and because of Dabney's insinuation that he is 'Not stuck for a pound', bears some interesting coincidental resemblance to Jack Fisher's prostituting of his daughter, Beth, for whisky in Maurice Duggan's story, 'The Wits of Willie Graves', first published in 1960. [Duggan, Maurice. Collected Stories (ed. Stead, C.K.). Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1981: 159-65.]
55. Stead, C.K. 'Ronald Hugh Morrieson: The Man from Hawera.' Kin of Place. Op. cit.: 249.
56. Te Rotiha appears based on Te Roti, just outside of Hawera (although Morrieson may have added a few miles to make his junction more remote, placing it nearly as far from Klynham as the small town of Eltham is from Hawera). In addition, 'the coastal town of Oporenho' with its 'big freezing-works' appears based on Patea.
57. Lynette also briefly thinks of Salter as 'scarecrow-like' when she observes him on the train from Te Rotiha, but this only further compounds the discrepancies of points of view.
58. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 29.
59. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 19. Simpson's chapter on The Scarecrow is entitled 'Comic Fugue', but Simpson makes it clear that the expression comes from a review of the novel from the Sydney Morning Herald: 'a kind of extraordinary comic fugue, with innocence answering evil, and horror answering laughter, and ugly death answering ripe youth'. [Simpson, 31. Cited by Simpson as quoted in The Christchurch Press, 23 Oct. 1963: 21.]
60. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 29.
61. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 29.
62. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 29.
63. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 30.
64. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 30.
65. Morrieson's use of the puddle as a means by which the town is revealed to itself bears some resemblance, though it is probably coincidental, to Stendhal's famous definition of the novel: 'a novel is a mirror journeying down the high road. Sometimes it reflects to your view the azure blue of heaven, sometimes the mire in the puddles on the road below'. [Stendhal. Scarlet and Black, 1830. Part 2, chap. 19. This translation Shaw, Margaret R.B. Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1953: 365.]
66. The critic H.P Heseltine made a similar point in an early review when he wrote: 'One is tempted to think that had Dickens begun his career in the twentieth-century and in a novel whose major theme was sex, he might very well have produced a book like The Scarecrow'. [Heseltine, H.P. 'Immoderate Lives: Four New Novels.' Meanjin Quarterly 88, Dec. 1963: 422.] Simpson has also observed that 'The Scarecrow is a profound study of puberty' and that in the novel 'Prudence and Neddy have survived the testing rite of passage into sexual maturity'. [Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 8, 26.] Alex Calder notes that: 'The ideal reader of the novel foregrounds a thematic sequence whereby Neddy passes from innocence to healthy adolescent sexuality by way of a detour into Salter-like territory'. [Calder, Alex. 'The Word, the Look, and the Flesh: Reading The Scarecrow.' Op. cit.: 14.]
67. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 22.
68. In chapter 11 Prudence says 'FRIGGIN'' in the street and Neddy is shocked because: 'If there's one word that Ma simply won't tolerate at home, it's that word Prudence yelled out right in the middle uv the road'. None of the other infrequent swear words in the novel suggest a special lack of restraint. They are: (from Les Wilson) 'root'[51, 52]; (Neddy) 'a prize prick'; (Neddy) 'Shee-whit!'; (Herbert) 'pissed'; (Neddy and Prudence) 'She-whit'; (Flash Freddy) 'clarse piece of arse'; (Les Wilson) 'Gee zuz'; (Uncle Athol, Dabney and Herbert) 'frigging', 'frigged' .
69. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Act 3, scene 2, line 36. Salter himself makes a reference to Hamlet in chapter 10, explaining to Mrs Poindexter, 'there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in yer philosophical, Horatius'.
70. Julia Millen noted something similar when she observed, 'Feelings of guilt and an acute awareness of morality thread their way through Morrieson's novels' and 'Alcohol plays a critical part in promoting sexual excitement--and guilt--in The Scarecrow'. [Millen, Julia. Ronald Hugh Morrieson: A Biography. Op. cit.: 43.]
71. Deconstructionist critics have so far failed to notice the way Morrieson hints at this theme through the creative use of language. Mrs Poindexter, for example, refers to alcohol as 'likker', in a combination of the words 'liquor' and 'like'.
72. Penalties for homosexual acts were reduced in New Zealand with the Crimes Act in 1961, around the time that The Scarecrow was being written, and this may have acted as a prompt to Morrieson.
73. It is part and parcel of the spooky dynamics of this book that Peachy's free-associative rave should anticipate the name of the novel's first major critic, Peter Simpson, with his Ronald Hugh Morrieson, 1982.
74. See, for example, pages: 115, 116 and 124. Salter also uses the expression in chapter 4 when naming a trick for the drinkers at the Federal Hotel and referring to 'certain circles in the mistykeist'.
75. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 8, 25.
76. Simpson makes the point that, since Angela Potroz is a minor character, the reader is less engaged by her death than might otherwise be the case: 'Morrieson has contrived to make Prudence the focus of our anxiety and concern, and the effect of Angela's death though shocking and painful is thereby muted'. He goes on to suggest that Angela is 'a kind of substitute victim' for Prudence. [Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 25, 26.]
77. Lawrence Jones, on the other hand, criticizes the endings of all Morrieson's novels as contrived attempts to reimpose order on narratives that have already got out of control. He argues: 'in Morrieson the problem is especially acute because one feels the pressure behind the contrivance, the need to exorcise the demons that have been loosed, to reaffirm the moral order they have threatened, or to escape into pastoral simplicities where the demons cannot follow'. [Jones, Lawrence. Barbed Wire and Mirrors. Op. cit.: 212.]
78. Eagleton, Terry. The English Novel: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2005: 146.
79. Tony Deverson, in a detailed essay on Morrieson's use of language in fiction, points out that: 'Of the linguistic means open to him in suggesting demotic speech Morrieson mostly eschews grammatical markers of less educated expression (such as double negative and irregular pronoun use), and opts instead to rely chiefly on graphological indicators to establish his non-standard style.' Deverson goes on to discuss, among other matters, Morrieson's use of 'eye-dialect' (abnormal spellings to suggest dialect) and to compare this to Dickens's use of the same technique. Deverson, Tony. 'The Language of Ronald Hugh Morrieson' in Of Pavlova, Poetry and Paradigms: Essays in Honour of Harry Orsman, (eds. Bauer, Laurie and Franzen, Christine). Victoria University Press, Wellington, 1993: 197.
80. Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. Chapter 20.
81. Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. Chapter 30.
82. The blurring of this boundary is explored in Morrieson's later novels, notably with one of his finest comic characters, the Te Whakinga Kid of Came a Hot Friday, who seems genuinely unable to distinguish between reality and Hollywood fantasy.
83. This narrowness in The Scarecrow can sometimes seem historical as well as spatial, such as the curious repetitiveness in Neddy's maternal grandmother's house long ago being 'raised from the ground by fire', then Uncle Athol setting fire to the Poindexter home in chapter 14 and the Fitzherbert house being gutted by fire in chapter 16.
84. Peter Simpson makes a similar point while discussing Morrieson as a post-provincial writer at some length and in detail. He observes: 'The Scarecrow, for example, turns the typical pattern of provincial fiction--sympathetic individual versus hostile society--upside down. The isolated individual--the Scarecrow--is viewed as a threat to the community from outside.' [Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 59.]
85. Simpson, Peter. Ronald Hugh Morrieson. Op. cit.: 59.
86. Shadbolt, Maurice. 'Ronald Hugh Morrieson.' Introduction to Predicament. Op. cit.: 10. No less an author than Leo Tolstoy has made similar claims, that: 'The best books, the most full of infectious feeling, are those in which the author's intention is lost sight of, or even contradicted by, the close attention or "love" which he devotes to his characters'. [Quoted in Bayley, John. Tolstoy and the Novel. Chatto & Windus, London, 1966: 241.]
87. Shadbolt, Maurice. 'Ronald Hugh Morrieson.' Introduction to Predicament. Op. cit.: 7.
88. Alex Calder, for example, writes at some length about this sentence as an indicator of sexual behaviour in the novel. [Calder, Alex. 'The Word, the Look, and the Flesh: Reading The Scarecrow.' Op. cit.: 14-19.]
89. Bayley, John. Tolstoy and the Novel. Op. cit.: 157.
Copyright Ian Richards, 2010
This essay was collected in The Poor Itch: Essays in New Zealand Literature, Lonely Arts Publishing, Osaka, 2021.
Return to No Frills NZ Literature home page.