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Iris Wilkinson (Robin Hyde)

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Iris Wilkinson (Robin Hyde)

Author and poet Iris Wilkinson, who wrote under the name Robin Hyde, lived a short but dramatically adventurous life, which ended tragically with her suicide in 1939.

She grew up in Wellington and became a journalist at the age of 17, writing for The Dominion newspaper and eventually covering Parliament from the Press Gallery. She was plagued by ill-health and disability, which led to an addiction to morphine, and she spent time in mental institutions in the late 1920s. However, she continued to write novels, poetry, articles and newspaper columns – examining feminist themes and she corresponded with politicians about issues such as Māori sovereignty. Her writing was considered very 'modern' for its time, due to both her style and themes. Her best-known works are the autobiographical novel The Godwits Fly and Passport to Hell, based on the life of James Douglas Stark – a legendary, rebellious New Zealand soldier of World War One.

Despite increasing health problems, Hyde travelled to war-torn China in 1938, covering the invasion by Japan – one of the few western journalists to do so. She then settled in London, where she wrote articles and poems about her China experiences as war descended on Europe. It was in London, plagued by problems with money, health and addiction, that she committed suicide at the age of only 33.

No recording of her voice exists, that we know of, but a good friend from her days in Parliament, rebel Labour MP John A Lee broadcast this moving tribute on radio, on her death in 1939. In this excerpt he quotes from her poem Defeat, to pay tribute to the writer, who was later described by her son as "brilliant, beautiful, difficult and doomed". Listen to Lee's full 10-minute radio broadcast here.  

Find out more about Robin Hyde:

Read more about Robin Hyde in our blog about national poetry day.

Read about Robin Hyde Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

View her profile on NZHistory.net.nz.

Check out this profile of Robin Hyde by Mary Paul.

Image: Robin Hyde. Ref: 1/2-043599-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22770176.

Catalogue Reference 33112

Year 1939

Credits

Speaker: John A Lee, New Zealand Broadcasting Service

Excerpt: 00:01:34

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