Available in selected bookstores nationwide.
Blanche Baughan knows how to set a scene and make you not just believe it, but feel it. Her book of selected writings, taken from work written between 1898 and 1936, is a masterpiece of description of early settler life in New Zealand. You feel you are standing right beside the poor souls who lived the hard life, making their way in 19th century New Zealand as you read Baughan’s lively sketches. If you’ve read Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, you know her characters would also have felt right at home in these portraits of our early settlers.
Selected Writings ventures into different aspects of life for the people who chose to make a life in New Zealand in the 1800s, and is skilfully written in both prose and poetry. Some stories bring to life characters such as the rag tag old Maori woman, or the family fresh off the settler boat dispiritingly seeing nothing but bush, tents and huts; other sketches are simply wonderfully detailed depictions of New Zealand scenery. Blanche Baughan was also well known for her later dedication to social work and her significant contribution to prison reform in New Zealand. Two stories in Selected Writings share lively and compassionate portraits of some of the prison inmates she befriended. If you wanted to know what prison was like in the early 1900’s, then these are some raw but compassionate accounts.
My favourite section of the book was the pinpoint accurate descriptions of New Zealand’s most remarkable landscapes. Anyone who hikes and appreciates nature will be captivated by the beautiful, spirit-filled descriptions of the soft green, feathery and waving ferns, little blue pools and shining sky-blue water. She truly captures the spirit of the New Zealand outdoors with her writings; the few of these that we read are pulled from Studies in New Zealand Scenery (1916).
I can recommend the book as perfect for a hiker to take on the trail: nice and light, it will fit in your pack with ease. You’ll relish reading the stories of NZ’s early outdoors life whilst you are nestled comfortably in your sleeping bag, wind whistling around the small rickety hut, rather similar, you imagine, to settlers’ homes almost 200 years ago. People interested in historical accounts and New Zealand history will also enjoy this book, and it might be a nice introduction to the art of poetry, I certainly found it so.
By Amie Lightbourne
by Blanche Baughan
published by Erewhon Press