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Frank Sargeson

Frank Sargeson, born Norris Frank Davey in 1903, was one of New Zealand’s most celebrated writers of the 20th century.

Davey left the confines of his puritanical Methodist upbringing at an early age, and in 1927 he bought a return ticket to Europe. In London he began a frenetic round of galleries, museums, concert halls and theatres, and started to develop his writing skills. He also embarked on his first homosexual relationship, with an interior decorator 14 years his senior.

After a year abroad, Davey returned to Wellington, where, in 1929, he was arrested for a series of homosexual encounters. In 1931 he moved into the one-room bach his family owned in Takapuna. This offered sanctuary and somewhere to write. Here Davey wrote most of his fiction, journalism and plays, and also held court to the small Auckland literary community, which included his protégée, Janet Frame.

Frank Sargeson’s major achievement was to introduce the rhythms and idiom of everyday New Zealand speech to literature. While his first stories were about the constricting effects of a puritan and materialistic society, many of his later writings celebrated the freedom of those who had escaped from it. His work also shows a gradual shift from a colloquial and laconic manner to the more elaborate style of his later novels and memoirs. His early style influenced a generation of younger New Zealand writers.

Adapted by Matthew Tonks from the DNZB biography by Michael King

How to cite this page

Frank Sargeson, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated