Bloomsbury South: The Arts in Christchurch 1933–1953

Peter Simpson

 

‘Why was it then that out of the hundreds of towns and universities in the English-speaking lands scattered over the seven seas, only one should at that time act as a focus of creative literature of more than local significance; that it should be in Christchurch, New Zealand, that a group of young writers had appeared who were eager to assimilate the pioneer developments in style and technique that were being made in England and America since the beginning of the century…and to give their country a new conscience and spiritual perspective?’ – John Lehmann



For two decades in Christchurch, New Zealand, a cast of extraordinary men and women remade the arts. Variously between 1933 and 1953, Christchurch was the home of Angus and Bensemann and McCahon, Curnow and Glover and Baxter, the Group, the Caxton Press and the Little Theatre, Landfall and Tomorrow, Ngaio Marsh and Douglas Lilburn. It was a city in which painters lived with writers, writers promoted musicians, in which the arts and artists from different forms were deeply intertwined. And it was a city where artists developed a powerful synthesis of European modernist influences and an assertive New Zealand nationalism that gave mid-century New Zealand cultural life its particular shape.

In this book, Simpson tells the remarkable story of the rise and fall of this ‘Bloomsbury South’ and the arts and artists that made it. Simpson brings to life the individual talents and their passions, but he also takes us inside the scenes that they created together: Bethell and her visiting coterie of younger poets; Glover and Bensemann’s exacting typography at the Caxton Press; the yearly exhibitions and aesthetic clashes of the Group; McCahon and Baxter’s developing friendship; the effects of Brasch’s patronage; Marsh’s Shakespearian re-creations at the Little Theatre. Simpson recreates a Christchurch we have lost, where a group of artists collaborated to create a distinctively New Zealand art which spoke to the condition of their country as it emerged into the modern era.

 

*
View sample pages
(3.7 MB, PDF)

 

Author

A writer and scholar who now lives in Auckland, Peter Simpson lived in Christchurch for 25 years and both graduated from and subsequently taught at the University of Canterbury. Simpson is the author of six non-fiction books, including Fantastica: The World of Leo Bensemann (2011), Patron and Painter: Charles Brasch and Colin McCahon (2010), Colin McCahon: The Titirangi Years 1953–1959 (2007) and Answering Hark: McCahon/Caselberg: Painter/Poet (2001). He has edited, or contributed to, many other titles, including books on Allen Curnow, Kendrick Smithyman, Ronald Hugh Morrieson, Charles Spear and Peter Peryer. A former head of English at the University of Auckland, Simpson was also co-founder and part-time director of the Holloway Press, an institution which drew on the small-press tradition of Lowry and Glover.

 

 

July 2016, 238 x 200 mm, 364 pages, Colour illustrations
Hardback, ISBN 978 1 86940 848 0, $69.99