Title: Historian's legacy for GandL New Zealanders Credit: Craig Young Features Saturday 10th April 2004 - 12:00pm1081555200 Article: 211 Rights
Just days ago Michael King and his wife were killed in a horrific car accident. Perhaps best known for his work on Maori/Pakeha relations, Maori history and his biography of the late Janet Frame, King also wrote an excellent biography of the late Frank Sargeson. What did King have to say about one of our greatest gay literary icons? Recently, I read his Sargeson biography and appreciated the candour and warmth of his obvious respect for the subject of this posthumous biography. This wasn't bad for a liberal Catholic ex-rugby playing heterosexual. When it came to sexuality and intimacy, King didn't flinch from describing Sargeson's first sexual encounters and serious gay relationships in London and Auckland. In 1929, Sargeson was arrested under Section 153 of the Crimes Act (as it then was) for an illicit encounter with a notoriously gay artist in his late thirties. Ever since then, Sargeson felt under surveillance from the police and surrounding society. According to John Greyson's study of bog entrapment and the politics of surveillance, he may have been correct. It is difficult to ascertain this without more gay social histories of the period in question, however. Sargeson didn't let his entrapment conviction dissuade him, and started a forty year relationship with Harry Doyle, an older working-class man, which is described warmly within this work. Rex Fairburn is pilloried for his paranoid homophobic views about international gay networking within the publishing and literary professions. Darcy Cresswell is also slated for his role in an entrapment case that removed one Wanganui gay mayor. Sargeson also testified against his sexual partner in the aforementioned entrapment case, but had the decency to feel guilt for his coerced confession. King notes that Sargeson was also outed in the Hamilton dailies as a result of his misdemeanour. Usefully, King reminds us about a Landfall piece (1966) that recorded a fabricated dialogue between defrocked Anglican missionary, William Yate, and Cantabrian settler Samuel Butler. Annamarie Jagose visited Yates' life in her historical novel, Slow Water (2003), although she didn't record whether the earlier Landfall piece had served as one of her inspirational sources. When one recalls that the Homosexual Law Reform Society had just been established, one is struck with the daring of his stance during a fraught and repressive era. After Doyle died in the early seventies, Sargeson remained sexually active and semi-closeted until the early eighties, and crossed the paths of early community heroes like Felix Donnelly, Robin Duff and Peter Wells during the late seventies and early eighties. Sadly, he died in 1982, four years before the advent of homosexual law reform. King gave our communities a valuable holistic account of the life of one of our greatest gay cultural figures. His memory should be cherished for this reason, amongst others, particularly given the paucity of gay male scholarship about this period of our history. Recommended Reading: Bruce Harding "The Oil on the Salad, or Being Frank about Frank: The Conjunction of Religious and Judicial Legalisms and the "Sodomite Rule" in Frank Sargeson's Life and The Hangover (1967)" Journal of New Zealand Literature: (1998): 16: 58-71. Annemarie Jagose: Slow Water: Wellington: Victoria University Press: 2003. Michael King: Frank Sargeson: A Life: Auckland: Viking: 1995. Frank Sargeson "An Imaginary Conversation: William Yate and Samuel Butler" Landfall (December 1966). Craig Young - 10th April 2004    
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