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The 'Janet Frame' story has two dimensions: the life story which is well known, and the fiction which is less well known and most likely, according to John Thomson's bibliography of scholarly articles about Frame's work in The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature, to be treated within a 'prevailing temper of uncritical exegesis.' (1) C.K. Stead also refers to an uncritical reception of Frame's writing, conflating the life story and the fiction when he claims that the New Zealand literary community has 'got into the habit of speaking about Frame, not just uncritically, but in hushed and reverent tones, as if we were gathered at her bedside.' (2) Similarly, in a review of Michael King's pictorial biography An Inward Sun: The World of Janet Frame (2002), Elizabeth Alley draws attention to the way in which Frame has reached mythical status: 'Rightly or wrongly, Frame is seen standing apart, remote, a bit mysterious, shrouded in a kind of mist of otherness created by an intellectuality whose brilliant originality elevates her to that rank of writers given to high seriousness and accorded iconic status in the New Zealand literary culture'. (3) In a discussion of King's Wresting With the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame (2000), Mark Williams appears to suggest that Frame herself has negotiated a status beyond the reach of criticism in a successful exercise in brand management. He implies that Frame directed the content of Michael King's biography of her life, and concludes that a less 'safe' biographer 'might have more directly tackled the myths that Frame has interposed between herself and the world.' (4) My aim is to contribute to the debate invited by Williams' observation. I want to review Frame's career as a writer, looking in particular at the way in which many of the 'myths' surrounding Frame and her work (myths which have not necessarily been generated by Frame herself) may be traced back to her experiences in the U.K. between 1956 and 1963, and to the cultural dynamics operating between New Zealand and the U.K. in the post-war period. My review is based on two unproved assumptions. One is the concept of genius in a writer like Frame, genius existing prior to its being recognised, rather like that of the 'mute inglorious Milton' of Gray's Elegy. In tackling the material conditions behind the myth I am not trying to debunk Frame: my interest is in the conditions enabling this particular 'Milton' to emerge from mute obscurity. The other unproved assumption is that while Frame is an internationally recognised writer, it is only in New Zealand that she is a household name. It is Frame's status as a New Zealand literary celebrity, and how this status came to be acquired, that I am concerned with in this essay.

Professional & Technical
1 January
University of Waikato
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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