Dear Charles, Dear Janet: the friendship of Charles Brasch and Janet Frame

An event at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival

“Dear Charles, Dear Janet” was a reading of carefully selected excerpts from Janet Frame and Charles Brasch’s correspondence and journals. Sitting at a long table in front of the audience were the four readers—student Georgina Reilly and poet, critic and Landfall editor David Eggleton, to read Frame and Brasch’s correspondence in their early years, and Pamela Gordon and Alan Roddick to read Frame and Brasch’s correspondence in their later years (who respectively act as executors for Janet Frame and Charles Brasch’s estates).
I’m familiar with Janet Frame’s work, and I know a certain amount about her life, but hearing these excerpts from Frame and Brasch’s letters made me realise what extraordinary friends the two of them were. It was fascinating to hear Janet Frame’s first, extremely tentative and awkward letter to Charles Brasch, meekly informing him that she had some work “if I can bring myself to show it to anyone”, and later saying “I enclose (with diffidence) a bit of writing”. Brasch’s own letters were initially quite formal, but always encouraging and supportive, and it was so lovely to hear the tone of the letters change as time passed and their friendship grew and grew.

I had had no idea that Charles Brasch had been so dogged about getting Janet Frame financial support; it sounds like he spent at least six or seven years lobbying the government to give her a pension. It was also wonderful to hear how Janet Frame’s world opened up, particularly after gaining the Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago. Suddenly she’s writing to Charles from London, then Baltimore, then New York, and talking about staying at the same writer’s colony as Phillip Roth.

p_RoddickThe readers were all excellent, but for me, the standout was Alan Roddick (right), who (perhaps unintentionally) seemed to embody the ‘character’ of Charles Brasch the best. In one of Janet Frame’s letters to American painter Bill Brown, she described Charles Brasch as “a noble, upright old man with discipline not marrow in his bones”. But it is also clear that he had a great deal of kindness, for which Janet Frame rewarded him with a great deal of admiration and affection. The reading was warmly received by the very large crowd (even if the drone of bagpipes from the capping parade down on Moray Place was not!)

Event reviewed by Feby Idrus, on behalf of Booksellers NZ