I read the biography of and collection by Greville Texidor together, which turned out to be very good idea.
Margot Schwass has written a comprehensive, intelligent, and fascinating biography of Greville Texidor. Some of you might say, “Who?”. It’s a fair question. Greville Texidor arrived in New Zealand as a refugee, in 1940. Others who fit this description include Lili Krauss, and Theo Schoon.
Greville, a Spanish Civil War veteran who had been interned in Holloway after returning to England was now married to a German national, Werner Droescher. She came to New Zealand with Werner, and her mother and sister. They were sent to Kaipara, quite another country compared to Spain and England. That was an enormous culture shock.
Very early on, Frank Sargeson met them, and quickly became a mentor to Texidor. They began an intense correspondence, and when she began writing seriously, he read and commented on all her work. She became part of that group of writers who were enormously influenced and supported in their writing careers by Sargeson.
So, who exactly was Greville Texidor, and how does she come to be regarded as a New Zealand writer? I asked around a selection of friends for their opinions on just what are the criteria: variable, it transpires. However a strong opinion was that the writer should produce their work while living in New Zealand, regardless of the subject matter. That seems good enough!
And certainly this qualifies Greville Texidor. Almost the entirety of her published work was written in New Zealand; she continued to write after leaving NZ, but none of it was completed, and much of it destroyed by her. Some of it appears in the collected stories, which was edited by Kendrick Smithyman more than 20 years after her death.
She was a deeply unhappy woman for the latter part of her life, despite her success as a writer. She never really came to terms with living in New Zealand, and certainly never regarded herself as a Kiwi. For a woman of her background and experiences, NZ in the late 40s and early 50s must have been a dire backwater, saved only by her connections with Sargeson and others.
Margot Schwass has brought this almost-unknown figure of NZ literature to life in her biography. It must have taken her a prodigious amount of time and effort to find more about Texidor, but she has created a fascinating work which keeps sending you to the stories.
So now, to the stories.
The collection includes what many have described as her best work, the novella These Dark Glasses. Janet Frame said of this work that she was “impressed and quietly depressed by their assurance and sophistication”.
Texidor wrote really well. These Dark Glasses is set somewhere in the south of France, quite possibly in a small town we know as Cassis. It’s fascinating – this is how it begins:
‘SUNDAY – Calanques: I am used to not being met. Comrade Ruth Brown is not the clinging type……..And Jane never did meet anyone at the station. We always considered it bourgeois…..’
That either repels or draws you in, I think. I decided to be drawn in and see what this writer was about. I think that her stories – and I won’t mention them all – are cleverly drawn from her own experiences, and obviously not entirely works of fiction. But then what is? She writes well about relationships, and catches personalities and attitudes in small exchanges of conversation.
The stories are variously set in New Zealand, France, Spain . One which stood out for me is the story An annual affair.
This is at once familiar, sad, provides some moments of recognition and many others where you think ‘“thank goodness my father/family/etc were not like that.’ It’s a Boxing Day picnic in a small town somewhere in NZ. Early in the day dad ‘has to meet a chap’ and heads to the pub. The kids in their good clothes end up covered in mud and have to change into the spares their thoughtful, long-suffering mother has brought along. It sounds like any dire picnic in the 50s, on a fairly miserable summerish day. Windy, not warm enough to swim, pub too close and food predictable. But the observations of the narrator turn it into a remarkable story.
And I think that’s the key to Greville Texidor – she observes so clearly what is going on beneath the surface, behind the comments and in the looks! She’s well worth discovering, if you have not found her already. And when you do read her stories, read Margot Schwass’ excellent biography alongside. You won’t be disappointed.
Reviewed by Sue Esterman
All the juicy pastures: Greville Texidor and New Zealand
by Margot Schwass
In fifteen minutes you can say a lot: selected fiction
by Greville Texidor