A History of New Zealand Literature, edited by Mark Williams (Cambridge UP 2016), 417 pp., $225.95
Until the publication of this book in April 2016 there had been only one multi-author history of New Zealand literature – The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English (1991, second edn. 1998), although there had been single-author histories, most notably two by E.H. McCormick (1940, 1959) and Patrick Evans’s The Penguin History of New Zealand Literature (1990). By its general title and its Cambridge University Press origin this book seems to invite comparison to the Oxford History, but a comparison reveals they are really quite different kinds of histories.
The Oxford History is a very large book, topping 900 pages in the second edition, and had a large printing. Editor Terry Sturm, in his introductions to both editions, claimed it to be ‘a comprehensive work of literary reference, working on inclusive rather than selective principles’; inclusive partly because as the first full history in the field it engaged in ‘the mapping, simply, of what has been written in English, and largely lost to view, over nearly two centuries’. It was ‘addressed not simply to specialist readers but to the rapidly expanding body of educated general readers of New Zealand books in New Zealand and overseas’. [Read more…]