Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington
Gate 3, Kelburn Parade
Wellington 6140
New Zealand

"Tooth and Nail": Mary Findlay’s Modernist Realism

Stout Research Centre seminar series

4.10pm 08 May 2024

In collaboration with the Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies this talk is part of the seminar series Re-Reading Works on Poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand which takes a fresh look at some major Aotearoa cultural works on poverty. Across six weeks historians, curators, researchers, writers, and performers ‘re-read’ books, plays, novels, songs, and academic analyses from across the 20th century shedding light on the historic trajectories of poverty in our country. In looking back this series invites an evaluation of our contemporary situation, providing context for current issues such as inequality, our low wage economy, beneficiary shaming, gendered poverty and the long-lasting effects of colonisation.

Now out of print, Mary Findlay’s Tooth and Nail (1974) is full of the life of Depression-era Wellington, and is a lively, moving, richly literary exploration of poverty and survival. In re-reading this work Dougal McNeill, Senior Lecturer in English Literatures & Creative Communication, at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington makes a case for the book as deserving of a new audience and a new appreciation. In particular, the relevance today of the questions Findlay’s work gives rise to: how to write about poverty without making those suffering from it appear impoverished? How to celebrate stubborn personality and survival without romanticising the conditions that force it upon us? How to make visible forms of work – in the home and in reproduction – that are kept invisible?

Dougal McNeill teaches in the English Literatures & Creative Communication Programme at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University Wellington and is the author of Forms of Freedom: Marxist Essays in New Zealand and Australian Literature (Otago University Press, 2024).


This event will also be a live streamed webinar

Photograph of the cover of ‘Tooth And Nail: The Story of a daughter of the Depression’published by A H & A W Reed, January 1974. Image supplied.