Course syllabus

Class lecture times:    

Wednesday and Friday at 1 pm. Owen Glenn Building, Room 009. 

Teaching Staff

Convenor/Lecturer/Tutor: Alex Calder. extn. 87340




Well-being always comes first

We all go through tough times during the semester, or see our friends struggling. There is lots of help out there - for more information, look at this Canvas page, which has links to various support services in the University and the wider community.


Course Description

English 221 offers an historical survey of major writers and key issues in New Zealand literature. We look at how versions of the past have been remembered and explore the significance of those pasts for New Zealanders today.  We raise questions about the representation of other cultures and other times, about identity and belonging, about the human place in nature, and aim to provide a rich and complex map of our cultural history from the period of first contact until now. 

Our first text is F. E. Maning’s Old New Zealand (1863), a memoir of the life and times of a Pakeha who lived with a Maori tribe in the years before the Treaty of Waitangi. We introduce strategies for cross-cultural reading, explore problems of European settlement, and consider how relations between Maori and Pakeha are modelled in the text. These issues are by no means confined to a distant past: we find them continuing, with variations, throughout the course. In the high colonial period, for example, we see Pakeha writers responding in ambivalent ways to the progress of settlement, which seemed as though it would necessarily entail the destruction of Maori as a people along with their native forests. Later, in our drama section, we contrast a play written by a Pakeha dramatist in the 1960s, when assimilation was official policy, with another play, set in the same period, written by a Maori playwright in the ‘bicultural’ 1990s. Both plays involve journeys from the country to the city, and involve conflict between traditional values and the attractions of popular culture and the modern secular world. The tension between old and new is also explored in two contrasting novels of family history, Bulibasha and Plumb, written by two of our most eminent living writers, Witi Ihimaera and Maurice Gee. 

Early in the semester, we make a detailed study of the short stories of Katherine Mansfield and Frank Sargeson, and pay particular attention to narrative theory and modes of experimentation in representing psychology and social issues in fiction. Robin Hyde’s documentary novel set in World War One, Passport to Hell, puts our theme of representing the past into another key: she is interested in ‘the making of a man who can both murder a surrendering prisoner and carry a wounded comrade across no-man’s land as gently as a kitten’. Gender issues are important in our study of Frank Sargeson’s stories, which seem coded ‘gay’ to readers today, yet did not necessarily strike their first audience that way. C. K. Stead’s All Visitor’s Ashore recreates the energy and confusion of bohemian life in the Auckland of the 1950s. With Stead’s novel, we begin a turn away from realism towards a more ‘metafictional’ treatment of the relation between people and places, as exemplified by Janet Frame’s fascinating novel: Living in the Maniototo.

The poetry section of the course offers a detailed study of early and late works by our most distinguished poet, Allen Curnow, alongside poems by his contemporaries writing in the 1930s—Bethell, Mason, Glover—as well as a major mid-century figure, James K Baxter. We also examine work by contemporary poets. 

This course can fit into your degree in a number of ways. For all students majoring in English, a ‘stand alone’ course in New Zealand Literature makes an ideal introduction to the culture of your own place. Our literature is not only fascinating in its own right, but knowing about writing produced here, in a local and familiar context, gives you a perspective that will enable you to better understand the literature of other times and places. For some students, English 221 might be part of a pathway in World or Postcolonial literatures. Looking beyond our own major, English 221 might also be part of a concentration in New Zealand Studies with strong links to courses in History, Media Film and TV, Maori Studies, and other subjects.

Aims and Outcomes

Students taking this course will have a solid historical grasp of the main themes and concerns of New Zealand literature from the 1840s until now, and will become familiar with work by each of the four major canonical figures (Mansfield, Sargeson, Curnow, Frame), as well as with work by a selection of writers of historical and/or contemporary interest. Students will also develop competence in each of the following genres: poetry, non-fiction, the short story, the novel, and drama. The course is interested in ideas and argument and will require students to make connections between the various works studied. Students taking this course will also develop their skills in close reading and essay writing.


Text List

F. E. Maning, Old New Zealand and Other Writings (Continuum or e-text)

'Maoriland' writers: selection provided on Canvas

Katherine Mansfield, Selected Stories (Oxford World Classics or e-text)

Frank Sargeson, The Stories of Frank Sargeson (Cape Catley)

Robin Hyde, Passport to Hell (AUP)

Bruce Mason, Awatea (VUP) (e-text)

Hone Kouka, Wairoa (Huia)

Witi Ihimaera, Bulibasha (Reed)

Maurice Gee, Plumb, (Faber)

C.K. Stead, All Visitors Ashore (Godwit)

Janet Frame, Living in the Maniototo (Hutchinson) 

Allen Curnow and other poets (e-texts, and selection provided on Canvas)


Recommended Reading

Terry Sturm ed. The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature, 2nd ed. (Auckland: OUP, 1998)

Patrick Evans, The Long Forgetting, (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2008)

Alex Calder, The Settler’s Plot: How Stories Take Place In New Zealand, (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2011).

John Newton, Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature, 1908-1945, (Victoria University Press, 2017).


Teaching Format: This course is taught through lectures and tutorials. 

Expectations of students: Student workload for this course is expected to be around 10 hours per week.  Students are required to attend all lectures and tutorials, and to read texts in advance of the lectures and tutorials.

Short Stories to read before lectures

Mansfield 1: Prelude, At the Bay

Mansfield 2: The Garden party, Bliss, The Man Without a Temperament

Sargeson 1: A Good Boy, Old Man’s Story, City and Suburban

Sargeson 2: I’ve Lost my Pal, A Man and his Wife, Sale Day



Coursework. There are two assignments which are each worth 25% of your final grade. Each assignment is approximately 1500 words. The first assignment combines critical thinking with some sort of creative exercise. The quality of the creative material you produce will have a bearing on the overall mark, but other factors, such as your ability to demonstrate insight into the text, will carry more weight. The second assignment requires you to compare and contrast two texts on the course.  

Assignment 1 due end of week 6: April 12

Assignment 2 due end of week 11: May 31. 

Final Examination. The final exam of two hours requires students to answer three questions. It is worth 50% of the final grade for the course. There will be questions on the following topics, and “either/or” options within most questions.


  1. F. E. Maning, Old New Zealand
  2. Maoriland writers
  3. Katherine Mansfield: short stories
  4. Passport to Hell
  5. Frank Sargeson: short stories
  6. Drama (Waiora and/or Awatea)
  7. Poetry
  8. Plumb
  9. Bulibasha
  10. All Visitors Ashore
  11. Living in the Maniototo


Restrictions on Duplication of Material

You must not repeat any topic selected for either of the assignments in the exam.


Requirements for the presentation of coursework. 

The first assignment will not require a formal bibliography. The second assignment is a formal essay and requires proper referencing and a bibliography. I recommend you follow the Chicago Style guide—see the Student Learning Centre’s ‘Referencecite’ for basic information. MLA style is also acceptable.


Students are required to download a barcoded cover sheet from Canvas.  Essays must be handed in BOTH in hard copy via the Arts Assignment Centre and online via Canvas.


Policy on extensions and late work

The English Department requires the timely submission of all coursework.If you are unable to hand in an assignment by the due date, you should notify your tutor or lecturer beforehand and explain the circumstances in a face-to-face meeting or via email. If an extension is granted, you should attach to your submitted essay a note or email from the staff member. Extensions are normally granted for compelling reasons, such as illness or other unforeseen emergencies.  English 221 does not allow penalty grades for late work. Any student who fails to submit an assignment on time must contact the convenor as soon as possible. Work handed in late without explanation or permission will not be marked but may be taken into account at the examiners’ meeting.





Week               Date                                                    Topic                                                               

1                      March 6                                               Introduction   

                        March 8                                               Old New Zealand       

2                      March 13                                             Old New Zealand       

                        March 15                                             ‘Maoriland’: poems & stories

3                      March 20                                             Mansfield Stories      

                        March 22                                             Mansfield Stories

4                      March 27                                             Passport to Hell         

                        March 29                                             Passport to Hell

  1.                    April 3                                                 Poetry:  Curnow and the 1930s

                        April 5                                                 Sargeson Stories

  1.                    April 10                                              Sargeson Stories

                        April 12                                              Poetry: Curnow and Baxter


                                    Mid-Semester Break: 15 – 26 April


7                      May 1                                                  Plumb 

                        May 3                                                  Plumb 

8                      May 8                                                  Awatea          

                        May 10                                                Waiora           

9                      May 15                                                Bulibasha

                        May 17                                                All Visitors Ashore

10                    May 22                                                All Visitors Ashore

                        May 24                                                Poetry: Late Curnow

11                    May 29                                                Living in the Maniototo

                        May 31                                                Living in the Maniototo

12                    June 5                                                  Poetry: contemporary figures

                        June 7                                                  Conclusion


Generic information


  1. The University’s Statement on Plagiarism.

            The University of Auckland will not tolerate cheating, or assisting others to cheat, and views cheating in coursework as a serious academic offence.   The work that a student submits for grading must be the student’s work, reflecting his or her learning.  Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced.  This requirement also applies to sources on the world-wide web.  A student’s assessed work may be reviewed against electronic source material using computerised detection mechanisms.  Upon reasonable request, students may be required to provide an electronic version of their work for computerised review.

For more detailed information, see the University’s guidelines on the  conduct of  Coursework at


  1. Complaint Procedures

            In the first instance, students or the class representative should take any concerns they have with their  course delivery or assessment to the lecturer or  tutor or convenor concerned. Students or staff may approach the Mediator’s Office or the Student Advocacy Network at any time for assistance. In the event that the matter is not resolved satisfactorily at an informal level, students or the class representative should approach the Head of the School with a formal statement of their complaint.

For more detailed information, see the University guidelines regarding Student Learning and Grievance procedures at:

AUSA also offers advice on grievance and harassment issues. See the AUSA website’s ‘Need Help?’ section for further information.

  1. Other sources of information and assistance.

Guides to Library sources for all undergraduate papers in English are available from the Learn home page: follow the links from Resources By Subject / Arts / English

Announcements and Resources for this paper are regularly posted on Canvas. The University’s policy is that all communication with students is via their university email address—please check your university email address regularly.





Course summary:

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