The obituary of Janet Frame (August 28 1924 to January 28 2004) may be for some, their introduction to this perennial candidate for the literature Nobel. We quote the Guardian for the information below, except, at the bottom, from her poem, "The Cat of Habit."
Janet Frame,...was New Zealand's best known but least public author. ....
[She was the]... author of 12 novels, four story collections, one book of poetry and three volumes of autobiography... Frame was born in Dunedin, on the South Island. Her early life, spent in small towns in Otago and Southland, where her father worked for the railways, was blighted by a sense of alienation and the deaths by drowning of two of her sisters. While she was working as a trainee teacher in Dunedin in 1945, the combined effects of her feelings of inadequacy and the family bereavements brought on an emotional breakdown, which doctors mistook for schizophrenia - a misdiagnosis that kept her in mental hospitals for the better part of a decade.
In reference to this period, Frame would later write: "I inhabited a territory of loneliness which ..[ is] equal in its rapture and chilling exposure [to] the neighbourhood of the ancient gods and goddesses."
.... Her first book, The Lagoon And Other Stories, was published while she was still a patient at Seacliff hospital in 1952. It won New Zealand's only literary award, which led the hospital superintendent to cancel a scheduled leucotomy on Frame, an operation that might have left her in a vegetative state.
In 1955, after her release from Seacliff, Frame moved to Takapuna, Auckland, to stay with Frank Sargeson, the doyen of New Zealand writers. There, she wrote her first novel, Owls Do Cry, making extensive use of both her family tragedies and her time in hospitals. When it was published, first in New Zealand and then in the United States and Britain, it was widely praised for its originality and its insights into the world of the insane....
In 1956, she travelled to Europe, writing her next five books in London - the novels Faces In The Water (1961), The Edge Of The Alphabet (1962) and Scented Gardens For The Blind (1963), and two story collections, The Reservoir and Snowman, Snowman (both 1963).
Two spells in the Maudsley hospital, south London, during this period led to the verdict that she was not - and never had been - schizophrenic; and, indeed, that she was not mentally ill. She returned to New Zealand with a psychiatrist's letter to this effect, which she would occasionally brandish at critics who continued to promote the "mad woman" scenario as an explanation for her art.
From 1964 until the end of her life, Frame based herself in New Zealand, though she travelled widely, especially to England and the US. She met and corresponded with writers and artists whom she encountered at the Yaddo and MacDowell writers' colonies, among them Eudora Welty, May Sarton, Philip Roth, John Marquand Jr, Charles Neider, Alfred Kazin and the San Francisco painter and musician William Theophilus Brown, whom she described as "the chief experience of my life".
Back in New Zealand, she lived in Dunedin again, then largely in provincial North Island towns. She finally returned to Dunedin in 1997.
She wrote seven more novels, The Adaptable Man (1965), A State Of Siege (1966), The Rainbirds (1968, published in the US as Yellow Flowers In The Antipodean Room in 1969), Intensive Care (1970), Daughter Buffalo (1972), Living In The Maniototo (1979) and The Carpathians (1988); two further volumes of stories (1966 and 1983); her poetry volume, The Pocket Mirror (1967);...And The Smell Of The Sun (1969); and three volumes of autobiography, To The Is-Land (1982), An Angel At My Table and The Envoy From Mirror City (both 1984).
To the frustration of her publishers and agents, Frame continued to shun publicity, which had the effect of making readers and journalists even more intrusively interested in her life than they might otherwise have been. It was in a vain attempt to quell this interest and accompanying speculation, and to have "my say" about the circumstances of her commital to mental hospitals, that led her to write autobiographically in the early 1980s.
Following the release in 1990 of Jane Campion's film, "An Angel At My Table", based on the autobiographies, Frame's work was published in more than a dozen languages, and she acquired a far wider readership in Britain, Europe and the US. From this point, she had sufficient income on which to live from sales of her books.
She won a wide range of awards. They included every prize for which she was eligible in New Zealand; honorary membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1986; a Commonwealth prize for literature in 1989; Italian and Chilean awards in 1993 and 1996. She also won civil honours - a CBE in 1983, the Order of New Zealand in 1990 - and honorary doctorates and medals from three New Zealand universities. Last October, she won the inaugural New Zealand prime minister's award for literary achievement in fiction.
The novel The Carpathians, published in 1988, was the last work to appear in her lifetime. Two mild strokes, which she suffered in the early 1990s, appeared to impair her mental stamina and powers of concentration, .... None the less, for the remainder of her life, she continued to make the daily pilgrimage to her desk and to find identity and purpose in the act of writing. But she released nothing for publication beyond a handful of poems.
Frame herself was untouched by the notion that she was a genius and a world-renowned author. People could say it; that didn't make it so. ... The publication of her authorised biography, Wrestling With The Angel, in 2000 was an experience she endured rather than enjoyed....
And here is most of, her poem, "The Cat of Habit:"
The cat of habit
knows the place by heart
or at least by space, scent, direction, bulk,
by shadow and light
moonlight starlight sunlight
The cat of habit curls her spine
in the most windless the most warm place
shivering a little with, 'It's mine',
an ear-twitch, tail-flip
of permanent ownership.
The cat of habit
has the place marked,
the joint cased.
Feed and sleep and feed
and half-heartedly catch
moths and mice and mostly watch
hourlong for the passing witch
for many, unseen, pass
through the rooms of the house and outside,
under the trees and in the grass.