Letters from Yvonne du Fresne
This cyclostyled promotional letter was written in 1980. I received it from its author the following year:
To Whom It May Concern:
I was brought up in the Danish/French Huguenot settlement of the Manawatu, in the North island of New Zealand,
My Clausen family came from Egtved [Egvad], Jutland. They have farmed there for as long as the family can remember. After our defeat in the Slesvig-Holstein War, we were reluctant to remain under German domination, and my Great-Grandmother Abild Clausen and my Great-Grandfather Anders Clausen brought their family out to New Zealand in 1876, and settled in the Manawatu and took up land. My Grandmother, Anna Margrethe Clausen, was born in Jutland, and was their youngest child.
We bought in difficult swamp-land, and soon extended our activities in the business area of Palmerston North. We were involved in establishing the first railway between Palmerston North and Wellington, in establishing a string of sawmills in the densely-forested regions of the King Country, and in shops in Palmerston North which imported European china and glass. We developed large farms in the Manawatu and were deeply involved in the establishment of the dairy industry in the Manawatu. My father worked for thirty years as a Farm Dairy Advisor in the Ministry of Agriculture and in the Dairy Research Division of Massey Agricultural College. We introduced farm dairy techniques from Jutland, both in farm building designs, farm management and co-operative dairy factories. Two of my great-uncles served for many years on the Palmerston North City Council, and the family presented a bush reserve to the city to remind its people of the original character of the land.
My great-grandmother and her family did a great deal of social work in local Maori pas, nursing the sick etc, and acted as a “home-base” for hundreds of young Danish immigrants, writing letters home for them, nursing them when they were ill, mending their clothes, and so on. They were foundation members of the Lutheran church and have kept the church going up to the present day, with their financial and congregational support. They have continued to act as hosts for any visiting Danes to the Manawatu, and regularly visit Denmark.
My du Fresne family were tobacco planters in northern France who fled to Flanders in 1660, after persecution of the Huguenots. They were part of the group of thirty-five related families who moved out of France in 1660. Our cousins, Devantiers, Honorés, Delaurans, Dalgas and many others fled to Pfalz in Germany, and moved to Brandenburg after French Catholic troops laid waste to the province. As a reunited group again, in Brandenburg, they negotiated for settlement in Fredericia and arrived there in 1711.
After the decline of the tobacco industry in Denmark, the du Fresnes developed a family building and design business. My grandfather, Abraham du Fresne, arrived in New Zealand in 1890, and established a large building firm in Palmerston North. He designed and built many houses in that city, a few of which have been rescued and preserved by the Historic Places Trust. He was a fine craftsman and helped young Huguenot craftsmen to come out to New Zealand to join his firm. These people, all cousins, formed a small Huguenot settlement in the Scandinavian settlement. He was a keen supporter of education and music in Palmerston North.
The Danish community have kept their cultural identity and educated my generation in our European heritage. The result of this has been a wide range of occupations for my generation, including journalism, broadcasting and television, teaching, medicine, film-making, and writing. We have established a vineyard and a pottery.
I have been publishing short stories since 1953. I have had a full-time teaching career both as a Lecturer in music at Wellington Teachers´ College and as a Supervisor of Junior Classes in primary schools in Wellington.
In 1978 I was awarded the Scholarship of Arts and Letters which gave me time in which to write a collection of short stories about my Danish community, and a novel, Ester, which is about both the Danes, and the Huguenot families and their history.
The short stories are coming out next month in a book entitled Farvel, published by the Victoria University and Price Milburn Press. The novel Ester is now in its first stages of editing at Longmans. They want a sequence of novels which I have planned, about Danish settlement in the Manawatu,
Thirteen of the Danish/New Zealand stories have been broadcast by Radio New Zealand, and a further thirteen are being broadcast in March.
We retain close links with our families in Denmark.
I have kept the letters we received from Yvonne de Fresne in the 1980s but have no copies of the ones we sent her – I doubt we made any.
In 1981, I was part of a four-man research group into Scandinavian emigration to the Antipodes, sponsored by The Nordic Council´s Nordisk kulturfond (the other three were Alan T. Nilson of the Gothenburg Historical Museum, Ulf Beijbom at the Emigrant institute in Växjö, Sweden, and Olavi Koivukangas at the one in Åbo/Turku, Finland). My summary of what I achieved during my field trip to Australia and New Zealand that year is printed in Scandinavian Emigration to Australia and New Zealand Project, Proceedings of a Symposium, February 17-19. 1982, Turku, Finland. Our research visits were well advertised in advance by national and local papers and radio stations.
This is the first letter we received from Yvonne du Fresne, written a short time before we met her, its contents much the same as in the promotional “To Whom It may Concern”:
Box 17-066, Karori, Wellington, 9.6.81
Dear Dr. Holmqvist, My name is Yvonne du Fresne, and I am a descendant of Danish and French Huguenot settlers in the Manawatu. The Danes were from South Jutland, a village called Egvad, & villages further west, which were under Prussian occupation during and after the Schleswig-Holstein War of 1864. Our family, the Clausens, came to NZ in 1876, unable to sustain an occupation that took away their language & cultural & national identity, & plunged their farms into an economic depression. The land was not regained by Denmark until 1920.
The French Huguenots came from their settlement in Fredericia in Denmark. They left France about the year 1660, settled in Pfalz, Brandenburg, Prussia, then were invited to Denmark in 1719. They were tobacco planters, farmers, craftsmen, lawyers, teachers & cantors. They married out only in my Grandfather´s generation – about 1890 (I mean by that, that [they] were still French when I lived with them in the community, in the 1930´s onwards.)
We had a small group of Swedes, Germans from Holstein & Norwegians. The Manawatu “settlement” arrived in 1871 & 1876. They had only about four years of hardship, then did very well indeed. They owned and the younger generation are often still farming large tracts of land. They also entered into the business life of the district.
Because of their economic independence, they were slow to marry out, paid many visits back to Denmark, & welcomed new Danish settlers in. There is still a flourishing Lutheran Church (which has now amalgamated with the German Lutheran Church) and a flourishing Scandinavian Club. I still have second cousins who are “pure-Dane”. The language was kept up in homes – it ceased being used in the Church in 1929.
I am a writer as well as a full-time teacher. I have been a bit reluctant to write of my Danish families until just a few years ago, when two of my editors persuaded me. It was a bit of an effort, as our two worlds – Danes and English – were rather separate when I was young. Now I cannot stop uniting them!
I have written another 13 “Astrid” stories, which are to be broadcast over Radio NZ after July, and a new novel about both the Danes & Huguenot French, called The Book of Ester, is coming out Feb/March published by Longman Paul.
I am writing another novel at the moment, based solely on the Hug-French in the Manawatu, set in the Manawatu of the 1860´s.
I am sending you a copy of Farvel, mainly to show you what I am talking about! I thought you were mostly interested in Swedish emigrants, but librarians at Turnbull & friends thought you might like to hear about the Manawatu and Farvel.
You will be startled to see signs of a rather pagan character in Farvel. The people were very decent Lutherans – I just had the luck of a batch of Grandfathers and a Bedstemor who had been told wicked old stories in their childhood in villages a little further west of Egvad. It´s an “old” part of Denmark there, “Inner-Mission” [Indre mission] Lutheran, but bubbling with enigmatic ladies and their abrupt tales of farmers who suddenly changed into Thor and changed back again. The stories made them very – beautiful. More “themselves”. They had marvellous, deep, broken voices & used pared-down English with a fine sense of dramatic pause and throw-away endings.
They also had ironic senses of humour and spare, expressive hand-body language. The men were very tall and blonde, with very blue eyes – sometimes slightly slanting. They had very sardonic humour and a kind of old-fashioned nobility. They were very charming, but could suddenly lose interest in a story and give it its very Danish feeling of bathos.
Both men and women had a very close, subtle relationship with the land.
The first collection, Farvel, is mostly about the glory of being a Dane – and my general intoxication with being asked to come out from behind the shed and actually talk about my families.
The second collection is much sourer, dealing with the oddities and mysterious figures in the community and the rejections and irritations and hauling-back-to-the-old-culture of growing up and struggling to integrate into an English world that tried to ignore any groups of “foreigners”. It shows irritation with both groups – Danes and English, I think Farvel is too biased towards the Danes. That always happens with a first attempt at these kind of stories.
My home number is at the head of this (long!) letter. My work number is: ___ Correspondence School, (Junior School) Portland Crescent (off Molesworth St) – Phone 736-841. Yours faithfully Yvonne du Fresne.
On June 23 we were invited to her in Karori. Had it been in the northern hemisphere, it would have been midsummer – in the Antipodes it was at the height of winter. As Ingwor noted in her diary that Tuesday, “in the afternoon we were at the museum and then at Yvonne du Fresne´s place, about 18 kilometres west along the coast. A nice evening. Yvonne du Fresne was charming and spontaneous. Her house stands alone on a hill overlooking the sea: simple and draughty. We had dinner with her, with lit candles on the verandah. Rain and storm.”
Our meeting was recalled in a letter from her the next year which happened to be written on my 38th birthday:
Dear Ingwor & Ivo,
Is it too late to say “Happy New Year”? Oh, I am so late in writing to you – but when your card reached me at Christmas I was in the middle of the most ghastly crisis with the buying of this house. As you may know, inflation is now galloping fast – and the Post Office, which usually gives mortgage finance, ran out of money at Christmas and the holidays were spent in a headlong dash to get mortgage money. I finally achieved it – plunged into getting the house painted and a whole rest of this awful little back room made into one with long glass doors – so I can get the afternoon sun and see the beautiful hill at the back of the house. The house is now painted, the rooms are being started this week.
But in the meantime, The Book of Ester was launched on March 17. We had a wonderful launching – pine branches and lit candles and hundreds of pieces of Danish silver, glass and porcelain and flags and embroideries. It was so pretty – it took so much work and I have just finished the last of the press and radio interviews and books-signing in shops.
The book is selling very well – but reviews haven´t come through yet. I am sending you a copy, with my love, as I promised you.
I do hope you are well and did not have too miserable a time in your cold winter. We had one of the hottest summers that has ever been recorded and a long drought. Water was short and we had lots of bush-fires. And now we have had a very cold easter, with the fringes of a pacific hurricane hitting us in a bad storm. So here comes our winter!
I still remember our wonderful evening! Love from Yvonne.
Yes, it had been a wonderful evening. It turned eerie when she suddenly saw wild Nordic swans flying over her house (we didn´t) and got into a lengthy and very entertaining excursion into Nordic mythology. It was evident she was a very experienced drama teacher, bordering on a drama queen. During that visit to Wellington we were also invited to dinner by the head of The Turnbull Library, Jim Traue, and his wife. They were less dramatic but equally pleasant, kind and hospitable. It was all part of my research into the Scandinavian emigration to New Zealand and Australia which resulted in number of taped interviews, copies of which are kept at the emigration centers in Ålborg and Växjö. I could and maybe should have published them at the time – today it would be impossible, because of privacy strictures.
Five years later we received the two last letters in the trove. There may have been more, but if so, they have disappeared:
Dear Ingwor and Ivo,
What excitement to get your lovely parcel. Tusind tak! And how late is this answer… I had to have both wrists and hands operated on – or at least the carpal tunnel bits – just after Christmas. The surgeon was so enthusiastic that he cut right up from the base of each wrist to the centre of each hand and the bandages were would just a little too tightly, so it´s been a long time healing. Still painful but that will go in about two weeks, and it´s marvellous to have the bandages off and the stitches out. I have been creeping about unable to do much and writing is clumsy – so forgive the lined paper!
Everyone admired your Christmas card – and the Wordsworthian photograph. It was just so lovely to hear from you. And I was very flattered to read the references and “Vikings in the Pacific”. What an honour! (I just couldn´t believe it). It was thoughtfully done – and beautifully written. The only errors were of my farmor´s mor´s name – it´s Clausen with one s (She was a Thiele). I put you wrong about their village – it was Egvad, a very tiny place not far above the present DK-German frontier. They´ve always been the victims of invasions and occupations – so much so that that they earned the nickname of “Super-Danes” when they emerged from occupations. They had clung stubbornly to their culture. Their culture, especially after the 1864 war, was very thoroughly repressed and that´s the reason they kept up their culture so rigorously in NZ. (The relief of being “Danish” openly again was profound!)
I don´t think they were sad about being away from their homeland as much as being triumphantly themselves. The people down in S. Jutland – well, in our village – have a very “old Danish” stubborn independence. They´re subtle but refuse to be taken over. (I was vastly amused to see a rather arrogant French cousin of mine being cooly put in his place by the church-servant and his family when we were there. They just “walk away” – put people at a distance if they´re condescended to). They had a fairly splendid time with British settlers in the Manawatu at the beginning but the temperature dropped with the Boer War. Street-names in Palmerston North were changed from Scandinavian ones to English – e.g. “Scandia” Street became “Albert” Street, and it could be tricky away from home. (A load of gelignite was found under our Lutheran church a year ago – primed to go off and placed there about 1917 – and enough to blow up the whole block!)
But chiefly, I think, it was ignorance about European cultures, and fear, in NZ that was the chief difficulty. Nobody could afford to travel much until the end of the 50´s, and cheaper and wider air travels. And fuller employment after the depression and the war. And our culture was so different – settlers from the UK were a pretty aggressive lot and we had lots of virile “British Empire” supporters. Pretty stiff propaganda pushed into us at school; European ethnic groups kept their heads well down. But our culture was very valuable indeed in a new land. Maori culture was ignored, and it´s a pretty ´secret´ culture anyway. Our fondness for warm extended family relationships kept up, and our habits of fact, “good taste” and our rich traditions gave us power and warmth and identity. Very necessary when you are facing a somewhat silent and empty land. Like lots of Danes, they were very curious about Maori culture. My great-grandmother, Abild Clausen, took the local pa under her wing when it was swept by “European” sickness, and I was educated to be alert about them (the Maori) and reverent when we visited meeting-houses.
We – in the second generation – were encouraged to marry out – to integrate into NZ. But some rather stiff problems emerged when we entered into relationships with NZ boys. We had a totally different – much gentler attitude – to relationships. This confused and frightened NZers, I tried hard – but… an only child from an ethnic community. It all looks like a bad dream now – getting swept off my feet [I delete three pages of the letter, detailing Yvonne du Fresne´s marriage – “25 changes of house in 7 years”, divorce and subsequent not very happy encounters with men]. Since then – nothing. I don´t think I´d have the nerve to attempt another relationship with a NZer – anyway, I never met a “single” man, I´d be much happier with a Dane, I think. The rapport is still swift, and restful. I couldn´t have survived without my “old” culture – it held me in one piece and made me strong and independent and made me write!
So I think my attitude to NZ is a little coloured by experience. Older Danes have had problems – I had floods of letters when Farvel was broadcast. But NZ is changing: more travel, better education are giving ethnic and Maori communities a voice and presence. I would have had a vastly different life if I´d been twenty years younger! Nevertheless, I love the “safe” NZ experiences – the landscape, especially here at Makara Beach, loving friends and work-fellows – the tremendous recognition given my books. I´ve been very lucky! But I still feel angry at the fate of so many of my cousins in relationships – highly skilled, beautiful and offering cultural treasures. Many of them have been badly used; some have died far too young,
I hardly tell anyone about my relationships but I´ve been so moved by your letters, that I´ve told you! You have been so interested in my work that you must have a clear picture of my life and realise that members of other ethnic communities have very full and happy lives, so would “become NZers” more easily.
I take – as one interviewer wrote – “great happiness from the smallest crumbs.” I´m so thankful for that – it appears childlike, but it´s the way lots of writers live! And it´s the way my Danish-French families lived – good early training!
My next book, Frédérique, is to be launched on May 6 (Penguin Publishers). I´m so excited about it – I´ve found my “style” in it. Marvellous to work in it, at last. It´s set in the 1860´s – near Foxton – and it´s about another French-Dane immigrant who is “landed” here with her rather sinister Huguenot family, in full flight from Fredericia and a sudden attack from “Huguenot-hunters” – these ghastly “followers” from France who dogged the footsteps of fleeing Huguenots with a high political profile. A Huguenot refugee – Frédérique d´Albert – staggered into Fredericia in 1723. Her parents had been killed in Mecklenburg, she was nearly finished off, but escaped and grimly walked to Fredericia, hiding by day and moving by night. She died 3 weeks after she arrived, from exhaustion, exposure and “the effects of her wounds” – aged 17 years. Her entry in the colony´s records at our French Church is – unbelievable. They were a very powerful family indeed.
So – I gave her a little brother, and he later marries a Dane, who dies, leaving a daughter – Frédérique. Then he marries a Frenchwoman – one right-up the stairs of their house (our old house – the setting was just right!). Come 2 sinister men with long memories…So the d´Alberts flee to NZ, Frédérique struggles to teach English/NZ children in her raupo-hut (“my Academy…”) and worries about her loved Axel, who is soon hurled into the 1864 war… Sinister visitors arrive – or are they phantoms…?
It was glorious to write! All stops pulled out, with a very severe, bare style. We had fantastic reactions from “outside editors”. One seasoned old female editor burst into tears – to the consternation of her husband. The copy-editor said nothing like it is being written at the present time in NZ and given the right breaks, it should “cut the swathe through NZ literature,” Penguin Books and I are holding our breaths – the advance copies look good – and I´m trying to stay well-laid-back! (Almost every NZ writer last year published books – novels – about the 1860´s. Were amazed when we slowly discovered this!)
I´m still working full time at the correspondence school. Getting a bit weary with 4 books written in my spare time – and I´m retiring at the end of the year after 40 years teaching. Rapture! I´m planning a trip back to DK after retirement – I´ll have to save, but I´ll manage it. I´m paying off the last part of the mortgage of this house and doing some small improvements. Not a very generous superannuation, but I´m opening up avenues for educational journalism now, which pays well.
Apologies for the odd writing and spelling and grammar. I´m still a bit vague after the operation, but getting stronger fast! Love and a marvellous 1987!
The last letter from Yvonne du Fresne is dated 15.12.87:
Dear Ingwor and Ivo,
How are you? It seems a long time since I heard from you. We´re having a beautiful early summer – long calm twilights and distant fires up the beach… I´m retiring in three days´ time – but we´re so busy at school it hasn´t sunk in yet.
Frederique had an exciting reception – it ran head-on into a sudden swing by new and young and conservative reviewers against established writers. Pat Grace, Maurice Gee and I had the worst flak – but mine only lasted for three initial reviews – and then very good ones and some determined letters-to-the-editor from angry readers in support of the book. I finished up with an ecstatic review on national radio link-up. I´ve sketched out the next two novels with my Penguin editor. I´ve also been asked to write a history of the Manawatu Scandinavian settlement – a very large and exotic one. Heaven knows how one goes about it but I have an excellent city archivist in Palmerston North ready to help. The research will help the novels, anyway!
I helped with the tour itinerary of Queen Margarethe (in NZ) and met her and had a long talk with her in Dannevirke and Wellington. The Danish Ambassador Birger Abrahamsen (Canberra) had loaned her his advance copy of Frederique and she´d trawled it around Australia and New Zealand, with not a spare moment to read it. I gave her another copy and one of Farvel. We talked non-stop about writing and our French colony in Fredericia. She even knew the names of our families! We both talk and gesticulate in the same way and wanted to talk for far longer than we were allowed – isn´t she a fantastic person!
We seemed to strike instant rapport – but that´s probably her skill with people.
Did you manage to get any reviews in Danish papers? Of course, Frederique might not have appealed to you – it was a great leap for me, especially in style and language (I still “miss” writing it!) People have either hated it or loved it, and we´ve nearly sold out the first edition. Women´s Press (UK) are probably publishing a collection of my stories next year, and Penguin NZ a little later.
I´m planning on staying in Denmark for as long as I can in 1989. I´d love to do some more teaching there, as I did in 1980. Isn´t it wonderful being free to travel – after 40 years of teaching!
I´m longing to hear all your news – and the latest gossip. We have growing unemployment and a great deal more violence as the country struggles to overcome a huge balance of payments and get general financial vigour moving. It´s been a turbulent year.
Love from Yvonne.
Ingwor Holmqvist´s Vikings in the Pacific; a study of the Scandinavian influence in Yvonne du Fresne’s `Farvel and other stories’ can be read at the Turnbull Library in Wellington, together with one of my letters, though permission has to be granted.
Folder contains a letter to Yvonne du Fresne from Ivo Holmqvist, Lecturer in Swedish in the Nordisk Institut of Odense University. The letter accompanies an essay by the writer’s wife Ingwor Holmqvist: Vikings in the Pacific; a study of the Scandinavian influence in Yvonne du Fresne’s `Farvel and other stories’. Folder also contains pages on Scandinavian literature, from an English language publication.
Quantity: 1 folder(s).
Physical Description: Typescript, Printed material (photocopy)
Restricted – Content cannot be accessed without permission
Du Fresne, Yvonne, 1929-2011 : Papers / Series 1 Correspondence
1 folder(s), Manuscripts, Typescript, Printed material (photocopy)
It is somewhat surprising that Yvonne du Fresne is not represented in The Auckland University Press Anthology of New Zealand Literature (2012, pp. 1162) which Jane Stafford and Mark Williams edited, although they listed her books. This anthology met with mixed reviews, mostly about who were in and shouldn´t, and who were not but should have been. Neither is she mentioned in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand literature, edited by Roger Robinson and Nelson Wattie (OUP 1998), nor in The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English, edited by Terry Sturm (OUP 1991 and 1998).
She is referred to in a footnote in my essay “New Zealand and Scandinavia” in Danish Emigration to New Zealand, edited by Henning Bender and Birgit Larsen (Danes Worldwide Archives, 1990) which can be read on the net.
The first (and to date only) full-length study of Yvonne du Fresne´s short stories and novels appeared in 2010, a year before she died, written by Anne Holden Rønning, “førsteamanuensis emerita” in English Literature at the University of Bergen, Norway: “For Was I not Born here?”. Identity and Culture in the Work of Yvonne du Fresne” (Rodopi. Amsterdam – New York 2010, pp. 187).
It is dedicated “To Yvonne du Fresne. Object of enquiry and devotion”. The author´s “research interest and fields of publications are women´s studies, and postcolonial literatures and cultures, especially those of Australia and New Zealand”, as noted on the internet. The text on the back cover widens the scope: “Through her portrayal of fictional Scandinavian immigrants, du Fresne throws light on a relatively neglected area in New Zealand studies. Reading her writing against its reception shows how it raises issues of cultural colonization, stereotyping, and difference; the consequences of migration and exile taken up are, however, equally relevant in our global society of today, and expressive of transculturation in the globalized present.”