I’ve returned to Montsalvat this week with a welcoming sun warming my window and allowing me, for the first time, to have my door open and heater off (door closed rapidly a little later due to incoming European wasps!). The northern window of my tower lets in a shaft of sun that warms my right cheek as I work. Door open, cheek warm, I try to pastiche together the Miller interludes I enjoyed last week and at home on the weekend.
Last week the Hawera Library (librarians are from the gods for a researcher) responded with various links specific to my queries. At first I limited myself to only the provided links, for they were in direct relationship to Miller and Duthie family entries, contained in Papers Past NZ and New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. The Papers Past entries were all from the ‘Hawera & Normanby Star’: 7/2/1896 the birth of my grandmother Mera; 11/2/1896 Mr John Duthie’s announcement that he intends to retire from politics (John Duthie maternal grandfather to the children of Thomas Tripney Miller); 14/11/1896 Death notice for Isabella Miller nee Duthie (The mother of Malcolm, Godfrey and Mera); 17/6/1901 ‘A Serious Accident’ Mr T T Miller stops a runaway horse with rider and is injured in the process with a splintered pelvis; 21/9/1901 Presentation to Mr T T Miller, Esq., manager of the Bank of Australasia, Hawera…personal regret that you leave us for your promotion. The opportunity is also taken to record our appreciation of your plucky attempt to save the life of the lad Grant. The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre provided: Bank of Australasia information, significant piece on John Duthie noted as a member of Parliament from 1890. These entries combined led me back to Births, Deaths and Marriages in New Zealand to widen my request, beyond Godfrey, for relevant certificates for his parents.
Further, as the Hawera librarian, suggested this week I have been reading the newspapers for Miller’s historical period in New Zealand 1893-1918. This is certainly embedding me in the times with an overwhelming sense of the ‘colonies’, the reverence for the British and French past and present, the competitiveness between New Zealand and Australia already evident in the agricultural arena and in the sporting arena cricket and football a prominent past time. In all the regional papers the sea provides a focal point with arrivals and departures listed in detail from passengers to cargo. This represents first steps in understanding the colonial times into which Miller was born.
Last week I also spent time delving into Miller’s interest in Krishnamurti’s thinking. I sat in my tower and listened to Krishnamurti in conversation and heard him say, “Every man is the story of man kind”, this returned me to the idea of Miller as an ancient soul connected and reflecting the tragic history of the Taranaki soil and the Maori wars. For his sensibility is not only defined by a colonial positioning there is something ‘other’ in his spirit.
The Theosophical Bookshop, Melbourne hunted down some Goethe, Rudolph Steiner and Krishnamurti titles for me, in particular, Goethe’s ‘Theory of Colour’ which influenced Steiner’s work on colour and Miller’s study and use of colour. I must go in to view the books they have, as the specialised texts are a fair investment.
I continue to look at how others manage the biographical form and have discovered ‘House of Exile The Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger-Mann’ by Evelyn Juers. This is what some critics have declared a ‘speculative’ biography with a greater use of imagination than other scholarly-centric texts – but what biography does not make use of speculation? Juers brings the times and people constructively into the present. Biography should do this, it should bring the life into the present with transparency. As long as the writer guides the reader ‘truth’ is not found at fixed points and all books have their constructed form. Raimond Gaita mentions Drusilla Modjeska’s ‘Poppy’ as containing fictitious diary entries and noting that Modjeska considered these entries allowed the reader to get closer to the ‘truth’ of her mother.
I was referred to the Radio National Books Show on the 14/7/10, by my optometrist, for a discussion Ramona Koval conducted with Gideon Haigh and Jill Roe on Biography. This was very interesting, many aspects of the form were discussed, but prominently for me the bias toward scholarly biography. It is not surprising that many biographies are written by academics who are trained in research skills but I would think that determination and bloody mindedness should be equally as strong. After all Jill Roe’s book on Stella Miles Franklin was commissioned in 1982 and was published 26 years later. Commitment to a biography is a, and should be a, slow process to ensure that all facets of a life and times are collated, considered and developed into a life limited only by pages and the creativity of the biographer. Elizabeth Ellis, biographer of ‘Conrad Martens’ and more recently ‘Rare and Curious: the Secret History of Governor Macquarie’s Collector’s Chest’, shared her wisdom with me “it is a slow process, and it is the way it should be.” I like to think of biography akin to slow food…delights of dishes created with time and love.