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Professor publishes book

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By Margaret McKinney
Highlands University

New Mexico Highlands University English professor Helen Blythe published a book that explores Victorian-era British writers’ work inspired by their adventures in colonial New Zealand.

Palgrave Macmillan published Blythe’s 256-page book The Victorian Colonial Romance with the Antipodes, which was released May 21.

“I write about Victorian era emigration and colonization, and how British Empire formation in the 19th century had a profound effect on literary forms and themes,” Blythe said. “This book is about New Zealand as a place of the imagination. Antipodes means the direct opposite of something – in this case the islands of New Zealand in relation to the British Isles.”

In ancient Greek mythology, the Antipodes was characterized in terms of people living with their feet planted at opposite ends of the world. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Antipodes is often used to refer to Australia and New Zealand.

The British Empire colonized New Zealand in 1840. Blythe’s book examines the writings of five educated, middle-class British authors who traveled to New Zealand between 1840 and 1972, including Samuel Butler, Mary Taylor, Alfred Domett, Anthony Trollope, and Tom Arnold.

Taylor was a friend of the famed British novelist and playwright Charlotte Brontë, while Alfred Domett was a friend of Robert Browning, another influential British playwright and poet of the Victorian era.

“Before it was colonized, emigration reformers represented New Zealand as a site of utopian settlement, envisioning a brighter Britain without the taint of slavery, penal colonies, Victorian poverty, and class distinction. I focus on Victorian literary perceptions, and how people’s metropolitan expectations collided with their colonial experiences,” Blythe said.

Blythe, an Auckland, New Zealand native, is a first-generation college graduate who went on to earn her Ph.D. in English from Stanford University, with an emphasis on 19th century British literature and society. She joined the Highlands University faculty in 2003 and chairs the Department of English.

Blythe’s book was well received by academic reviewers.

“The Victorian Colonial Romance with the Antipodes offers an excellent analysis of the Victorians’ response to the topsy-turvy paradise of colonial New Zealand. It adds an important dimension to our understanding of the issues of immigration and colonization,” wrote Patrick Brantlinger, professor emeritus, Indiana University.

“This rich study deals with distance, space and fantasy – as well as the hard material facts of settler life on the other side of the world. It explores how national identity is transported, transformed, and made anew. Combining close textual analysis with a wealth of unfamiliar sources, it’s a terrific read,” wrote Kate Flint, professor of English and art history, University of Southern California.

The  academic reviewers also praised Blythe’s book as a cultural history of New Zealand.

At Highlands, Blythe primarily teaches courses focused on British literature from 1700 to the present, as well as other courses. Some examples include women in literature, Victorian literature, the British novel and Jane Austen, history of the novel, major world writers, and research methods for graduate students.

“My research informs, invigorates and enriches my teaching. Literature teaches people how to think critically and understand people who think differently, which are both vital in today’s rapidly changing world,” Blythe said.

She noted that those who major or minor in English gain skills valued by employers in every economic sector.