Sylvia Ashton-Warner, 1908-1984


  • Emily Dobson



Sylvia Ashton-Warner was one of New Zealand’s more colourful literary figures. Her insistence on living a life of originality and flare frequently came into conflict with what she saw as a dull, conformist society. Governed by an unconventional and uncompromising personality, she cultivated a bitter ‘hatred’ of her native country, and subsequently tended to polarize opinion there. She enjoyed international repute in her lifetime as an educator, primarily in America, but also produced several novels. Throughout her lifetime Ashton-Warner found it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction, and her novels are strongly autobiographical. Her work is occasionally marred by uneven quality and a dated representation of Maori, but in general shows a skilful control of language. While Ashton-Warner’s first novel, Spinster (1958), is still considered a minor classic, her greatest legacy is the superbly written autobiography, I Passed This Way (1979). On the whole, however, interest in Ashton-Warner’s work has steadily declined.


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Author Biography

Emily Dobson