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date: 04 June 2020

Allen Adair 

The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature
Kim WorthingtonKim Worthington

is the fourth novel by Jane Mander, published in London in 1925. As if rebutting criticism that she could only effectively portray women, Mander centres attention and sympathy on her eponymous male protagonist. A disappointment to his family, Allen has failed at whatever he turns his hand to: study at Oxford, sheep farming, clerical work. He leaves Auckland and travels north, literally and metaphorically enacting a journey towards self-discovery and fulfilment. After running a mail boat in Dargaville, he settles near Pahi. Here he runs a general store serving the local gumdiggers and sawmillers and eventually holds the lease of the gumfield. Feeling the need for a wife, Allen hastily marries Marion, an Aucklander, but the marriage is a disappointment to them both. Marion does not share Allen's love of the gum country, viewing its hardship and struggle as necessary only until they can afford to return to Auckland. As the marriage dissolves into bare mutual tolerance, the couple vie for the affection of their eldest daughter Joan. Allen is gentle and beneficent to all but his wife. Marion is given unsympathetic treatment as the embodiment of the repressive conformity that Mander believed threatened the potential of New Zealand and the sanctity and individuality of spirited pioneers like Allen. After discord and suspicion during Allen's friendship with Dick Rossiter, an apparent ‘lost soul’ of the gumfields, Allen, Marion and their children depart for the ‘flurry’ of Auckland. In contrast to the sometimes strident political voice, speech-making and long promulgatory passages that characterise Mander's earlier novels, the style is economical and the tone mellow. Gone are the contentious moral impropriety and earnest feminism of her precocious young heroines struggling for liberation. But if Mander hoped to appease her critical local audience with this very different novel, she failed to do so. It was poorly received, its virtues not fully appreciated until the first New Zealand edition in ... ...

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