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Janet Frame’s Ibiza: The Desert Is-land By Annabel Wilson 00079502 Annabel Wilson 139.799 1

Janet Frame’s


The Desert Is-land

By Annabel Wilson 00079502

Annabel Wilson 139.799 1

Supervisor: Dr Jenny Lawn

139.799 Research Report

31 March 2011

Janet Frame’s Ibiza: The Desert Is-Land

Ibiza, I said, was all they claimed it would be and all I dreamed.

I felt it contained within me… (Envoy 66).

In The Envoy from Mirror City (1985) the third volume of Janet

Frame’s autobiography, the author describes her travels

from New Zealand to Europe (Auckland-London–Paris –Ibiza-

Andorra-Suffolk-London-Auckland-Oamaru) and back. During

her expedition from the New World to the Old World, the

world of the Grand Tour, steeped in the narrative

tradition and mythologies of some of her most treasured

texts (comprising Camus’ essays, Duggan’s Voyage diary

and the romantic poems of Keats and Shelley), Frame moves

from one geography to another. Along with a physical

journey, this trajectory is also narrated as a rite of

passage. Reading the autobiography, one gradually

realises that Frame is constructing her self as the

protagonist in her life story. Europe is a new territory

which is mapped as she experiences each moment, then as

she writes of the time thirty years afterwards.

The Ibiza chapters chronicle Frame’s life on the island,

from her arrival by ferry in November 1956, to her

bittersweet departure for Andorra in March 1957. In this

Annabel Wilson 139.799 2

research essay, I wish to carry out an investigation, as

one writer to another, of this narrative journey;

focussing on Frame’s representation of her ‘self’ on

Ibiza, with particular attention to her engagement with

the ‘desert’ island as a meta/physical site for a new

beginning. With regard to Phillipe Lejeune’s theories on

the autobiography genre, I will investigate the notion of

Ibiza as an integral setting for the author’s character

development of her ‘self’ in the first person. For Frame,

Ibiza (the island and her time there), is at once a

pivotal phase in her Bildungsroman as well as a

manifestation of theher symbolic ‘Mirror City’, the world

of the imagination. Here, the ‘truth’ of person and place

intersect with the fiction of representation which Frame

knowingly engages for effect.

Offshore, hundreds of miles from her native New Zealand,

Frame’s Ibiza is at a considerable remove from the

constraints she had known in her earlier years. She was

now distanced from the labels she had been allocated by

others and then mockingly subverted in the past. Thus, she

is now free to re-invent herself as the protagonist in her

own desert island narrative. Through the autobiography,

Ibiza becomes the metaphorical space upon which she

inscribes a new sense of self, evoking an intertextual

weaving of subjectivity as she marks her territory on the

Balearic is-land.

Occurring at the closure of Part One of the two-part Envoy

volume, five chapters are dedicated to Frame’s experiences

Annabel Wilson 139.799 3

on Ibiza. Along with the successive ‘andorra’ chapter, these

five sections become a bridge between two distinct phases

in The Envoy from Mirror City, indicating the significance of

Frame’s tumultuous time in Iberia. Each of the five

chapters encapsulates a key phase of her ‘island time’,

named after places (‘calle ignacio riquer’, ‘figueretti’s’), people

(‘soap new people’, ‘el americano’) or significant motifs in the

landscape (‘the pine trees’) that have taken on a certain

cadence and currency for the author. The chapters are

episodic, recounting important places (the Old Town, her

rented apartment, the Ibicencan coast and countryside),

characters (Colin Monk, Catalina and Francesca, Fermin,

Jose, Edwin Mather, Dora, Bernard) and incidents (arrival,

orientation, daily life, the changing seasons, her love

affair, departure) and her relation and reaction to them.

Just as Robin Mackay has suggested that islands have

provided a symbolic platform for the conveyance of ideas

through stories since the times of Plato (432), woven

through this text is Frame’s writing philosophy: her

position on the role of the author as an artist; the

requirements for reflection and creativity; and the

tension between ‘living’ and ‘writing’. The writerly

existence leads to a to-ing and fro-ing between two

worlds, a journey that for Frame has always produced a

sense of isolation as well as a sense of liberation. The

sentiments of escape and exile, and of expression and

experiencing, which are familiar facets of the desert

island topos, are all found in the author’s Ibiza story.

Annabel Wilson 139.799 4

The author-voice is always-already watching over the

reader’s shoulder as Frame writes of feeling an initial

rapture with the island, its people and customs. Through

the text, the narrator positions herself on the margins or

- (to use Claire Bazin’s analogy which is explored in the

essay From the Rim of the Farthest Circle (115) -) ‘rim’ of the

local and then of the ex-patriot island community.

Finally, in Figuretti’s (the last Ibiza chapter), Frame

describes another ‘homelessness of self’, a sort of

severance that pre-empts her departure from Ibiza, for

mainland Europe.

During her time on the ‘white isle’, Frame first stayed

for two nights at a pension, thanks to the assistance of

fellow ferry passenger and poet Colin (William Monk),

before renting a room in a house near the Old Town from a

local Patron and his brother, Fermin. Her initial

acquaintances on the island are two Spanish peasants,

Francesca and Catalina, then Fermin and later Edwin Mather

(Harry Cohen) – with all of whom she shares the apartment

at Calle Ignacio Riquer. Through Mather, Frame meets the

American Bernard (George Parlette), who will become a

primary subject in the Bildungsroman as the protagonist’s

self-determined love interest while on Ibiza. Thus, the

winter and spring spent on the island is lived, remembered

and recorded as being self-consciously ephiphanic,

turbulent and romantic. Ibiza, for Frame, takes on a

mythical and atemporal dimension. Weaving a spellbinding

and spellbound island tale, Frame writes of Ibiza with an

Annabel Wilson 139.799 5

appreciation for the its symbolic place in antiquity and

in the tradition of the ‘desert island’ narrative. Ibiza

reminds the narrator of the rural New Zealand of her

childhood, and also inspires her towards a growing sense

of personal independence, confidence and freedom. Thus,

islands and their scope as a symbolic setting for

storytelling and character development are evoked by the

narrator as a literary device mapped on to Ibiza, the

place, in The Envoy from Mirror City.

My essay is structured around an exploration of the two

elements in the key phrase of my title, Desert Is-land. In

the first two sections, the symbolic potential of desert

islands as spaces for new beginnings and reflection on the

nature of experience is discussed. This opening framework

has informed my subsequent sections, which trace the

implications of Frame’s experiences on Ibiza as utilised

by the author in shaping her identity through the text.

Focussing on how her self is influenced by (proximity to

and distance from) places and people, I will explore

Frame’s (re)construction of the self within the Ibiza

chapters of her autobiography.

In conjunction with my research investigation, I have also

carried out a mesostic mapping of the text. This is a

process (first developed by John Cage) in which the words

of a poem are selected from the source text by relying on

the order of their letters. A series of rules are followed

to formulate ‘word clusters’ that can stand alone as

Annabel Wilson 139.799 6

poems, or can then be utilised to make longer poems by

adding ‘wing words’ and phrases. Using the same method

Cage employed for his investigation of Joyce’s novel

Finnegan’s Wake, I explored the mesostic potential of The

Envoy from Mirror City whilst carrying out my close reading of

the autobiography.

In contrast to the acrostic pattern, a mesostic poem’s

spine word sits vertically in the centre of the page, with

words and phrases coming off each side of the spine. In

order to follow the mesostic pattern, the first letter of

the first line must begin with the first letter (‘J’) of

the spine word – ‘JANET FRAME’, the second line must have

the second letter of the spine word, ‘A’ as its second

letter, the third line must have the letter of the spine

word as its third letter, ‘N’ and so on. The words were

searched for methodically in the text, The Envoy from Mirror

City from the first instance of the word, ‘July’ to the

final word which had ‘A’ as its eighth letter,

‘triumphAnt’, spelling out the author’s name this way

until I reached the closure of the autobiography. (The

text ended before words for the final M and E of the

surname, ‘FRAME’ could be added to the mesostic). I have

placed the resultant ‘poems’ in a cluster as an appendix

to my research report. They also provide another way to

experience the autobiography, drawing attention to the

author’s compelling use of language.

I. New beginnings on the desert is-land

Annabel Wilson 139.799 7

A sense of the author’s openness to new experience is

shown when Frame describes her first footfall on Ibiza.

She is immediately attracted to the island’s setting on a

sensual level, noting the “pervasive Ibicencan smell I

could not yet identify” (Envoy 51). Thus, the first thing

she notices and attempts to name on the isle is initially

un-nameable, illustrating the mystique of the island Frame

was drawn to and charmed by, which the reader in turn

experiences as an unfolding and an unfurling. Like the

never-found Figuerettis, the mysteries and meanings of the

island appeal to the author, and its layers of possibility

are woven into the text. In the same passage, Frame

connects place with her sense of self: her ‘outsider’

feeling of inferiority “because I was not a poet” (51)

sitting alongside her desire to consolidate her career as

a ‘migrant’ writer on the island, buoyed up by “an

eagerness to begin a new life in a foreign land” (52). She

is now truly alone, self-reliant and independent,

receptive to the opportunity to start anew.

This opportunity for a new beginning or a (re)shaping of

the narrator’s identity is conveyed through the sense of

liberation Frame describes upon discovering she had

accidentally ‘consigned’ her suitcases to a left luggage

office in Paris. The temporary lack of luggage brings the

author a sense of freedom as she imagines she “could have

flown on my own wings to Barcelona and Ibiza” (49). It is

interesting to note that the Ibiza sequence begins and

Annabel Wilson 139.799 8

ends with the bird motif, as Frame’s island narrative

moves fort-da (Freud 14), there and back, full circle.

From Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe novel to the cult television

series Lost, the notion of the ‘desert’ island has long

been associated with the idea of new beginnings,

invention, re-invention, discovery and rites of passage,

as well as the juxtaposition of completeness and

separation. The arrival of Frame as protagonist on the

island of Ibiza has been described by Baisnée as having

parallels with Crusoe’s arrival, with its elements of the

archetypal ‘shipwreck’ (60) exemplified through the fact

that the narrator arrives luggage-less, with little

knowledge of her new island home. As Mackay states in the

essay, Philosopher’s Islands: “The island is a kind of

conceptual laboratory for transplanting stories into

ideas, for imbuing narratives with concepts, for bringing

ideas alive through myths” (432). As shown in the

exposition of the first volume of the autobiography, myth

is also Frame’s “starting point” (Autobiography 7) for the

discourse of her life story.

Since the 16th century, islands have been represented in

literature as “a fictional domain of experimentation”

(Cameron 1), an idealised, empirical space for character

development as human activity continues at a distance from

the ‘established’ rules of society. It is with an acute

awareness of the narrative tradition of islands that Frame

‘writes’ herself into, upon and away from the landscape of

Ibiza, during her time there as well as when writing The

Annabel Wilson 139.799 9

Envoy from Mirror City. Through the island’s chthonic agency,

the narrator and thereby reader gain insight from “a

remembering of an other world, the recovery of a pure

knowledge that was lost when we were incarnated” (Mackay

434 - 435).

As an artistic haven, this newfound (yet classical) utopia

is a world away from the institutions, pressures and

obligations of Frame’s earlier years. Frame notes the

allure of the familiarity of the landscape which both

reminds the author of the New Zealand of her youth - the

brightness of the light and sky, the pines - as well as

the islands she has read of in literature (the azure

Mediterranean, the ancient buildings). Within days of

arrival, she writes to Sargeson, “I am more certain than

ever that I shall never return to New Zealand” (King 156).

Her escape to the ‘desert is-land’ seems complete.

The potential of the island metaphor shimmers throughout

the text. For Frame, as for many who have visited the

island, Ibiza is the archetypal Mediterranean island: not

only the land referenced by the likes of Keats, Tennyson,

Shelley and Byron, but also thought in local folklore to

be the land of the Sirens (Es Vedra, the magnetic rock off

the Southwest coast of the island, is said to be the place

where Odysseus was put off course by the allure of singing

maidens). Ibiza is also the mythological dwelling place of

the Phoenician goddess Tanit, and the site of a secluded

and elusive swimming spot named Atlantis - the name of

Annabel Wilson 139.799 10

which derives from the original ‘lost island’ community

(Mackay 433).

With reference to the lore and lure of islands, Frame

inhabits Ibiza as a narrative, in the same way as she

inhabits her writing. Through a complex layering of

subjectivity, her sense of self is intrinsically linked

with the ‘place’ of the island. It is a key ‘setting’ in

her story, the “lectern of earth” (56) upon which she can

manipulate words, ideas and possibility. Through Envoy,

Frame engages the reader in an exploration of Ibiza as an

‘is-land’, a pivotal place of presence, torque and

tactility. In re-visiting her beloved Spanish island

through recording her life story, Frame writes of a sort

of dreamscape onto which she maps a more liberated version

of her ‘self’ as writer, always aware of her then romantic

role on the fairytale, ‘ideal’ island and her present,

reminiscing ‘now’ self reflecting on the implications of

her time there. The reader encounters these referential

selves concurrently throughout Envoy.

The island becomes a motif for Frame’s self – both insider

and outsider, where the shifting sands of the self are

shaped and re-shaped through her narrative account. Here,

the writer creates a ‘self’ as the first person. One is

reminded of the first lines of Robert Coover’s

metafiction, ‘The Magic Poker’: “I wander the island,

inventing it. I make a sun for it, and trees – pines and

birch and dogwood and firs – and cause the water to lap

the pebbles of its abandoned shores (20)”. Like the

Annabel Wilson 139.799 11

American short story writer, Coover, Frame is the inventor

– self-consciously creating the self as she maps the

island and shapes the text for the reader/audience.

Therefore, the island of Ibiza is rendered the symbolic

starting point for a new beginning for the


II. The is-land of the Triple Witness

‘triple witness’, the title of Part One, has provided a key to

my reading of Frame’s Ibiza sequence. Derived from the

opening lines of the French existential philosopher Albert

Camus’ essay to Jean Grenier, The Desert (Camus 72), the

concept of the triple witness relates to the reflective

role of the artist in standing outside time to achieve

immortality: “Living, of course, is slightly the opposite

of expressing. If I am to believe the great Tuscan

masters, it means bearing triple witness, in silence,

flames and immobility” (Camus 72). These two lines recur

at the close to Frame’s ‘andorra’ chapter; a choice the

narrator stresses is made because it explains her relative

lack of creative output during her time in Iberia (her

written work from around this time encompasses merely a

few letters, poems, short stories, the bare bones of the

Uncle Pylades novel which was later abandoned and a fable

which is to be published post-humously) emphasizing her

quest to simply ‘be’, during this crucial stage of her

life-story. The quotation is employed to convey the

difference between human experience and the reflection of

human experience. For Camus, they are ‘almost’ in complete

Annabel Wilson 139.799 12

contrast, perhaps signifying the postmodern problem of

representation of the real. In parallel with Camus,

Frame’s writing also toys with language to convey her

philosophy. Both writers locate their protagonists in the

environment, and then weave the self into the environment

and the environment into the self. Upon reading Envoy,

the reader has a glimpse of the watchful writer ‘self’

shaping the episodes of her life, in the ‘then’ of the

past and the ‘now’ of the text. This is the immortality of

the Italian painters (Giotto, Piero, Cimabue, Francesca)

of which Camus wrote in ‘The Desert’. For Camus, ‘truth’

is to be found not through God but in the artistic

representation of this world, such as the symphonies of

light and sky that are found in the landscapes of the

Tuscan painters. Frame’s Ibiza chapters could also be seen

as an engagement with this philosophical notion of the

quest for ‘truth’ in this world. For the author, living is

a gathering of experiences and material to write about in

her fictional and non-fictional texts. Sometimes, her

creative mind will start fictionalising an experience even

as it is lived. Like Camus’ Tuscany, Frame’s Ibiza is a

dynamic surface onto which she projects her life-story and

artist’s philosophy.

In the text of The Envoy from Mirror City, three layers of

‘witness’ can be identified. The first witness is the one

experiencing the life-story at the time: “When I woke the

ferry had already entered the harbour of Ibiza and was

preparing to anchor” (51). The second witness, self-

Annabel Wilson 139.799 13

aware, thinks at the time ‘I’m the witness experiencing my

life-story unfold’: “Again I thought to mantle and not

dismantle the perfection of the Ibicencan day (79)”, which

is one step removed, self-conscious. The retrospective

witness is a third step removed, the narrator watching the

reader: “In my innocence, it never occurred to me that he

might have been taking drugs” (76). This ever-present

writer-self is at its most vital in Envoy in the passages

that appear in brackets and italics, often at the close or

climactic points of key chapters, reading like soliloquies

or asides, directly addressing the reader, drawing

attention to the flexibility of the narrative form she

utilizes. This is exemplified in phrases such as “All the way

from New Zealand (66)”, “(My words indeed!) (70)”,

“foreigner” and “my place (71)”, “saffron (72)”, “(unable

to bring myself to use what I thought of as that

ridiculous ‘Hi!’) (75)”, “(Frank Sargeson always wore

Roman sandals in summer)” and finally, “We see that we

have never been alone in the forest…(88)” which all read

as if whispered into the reader’s ear. Thus Frame, in

collaboration with the reader, establishes a complexity of

layers of observation through her three witnesses in the

text. The fourth witness, of course, is the reader.

Frame’s viewpoint on the problem of autobiography is also

explicit at the closure of the first Ibiza chapter, ‘calle

ignacio riquer’. By now the author is conducting conversations

in Spanish with her new friends, and discusses the times

of Franco with Fermin (Envoy 57). He shows her his “secret

Annabel Wilson 139.799 14

cupboard” (Envoy 58) where he keeps his crucifix carvings

and posters of saints. This leads to a reflection on the

problem of autobiography, at which point the reader begins

to hear the voice of Frame, the third witness, emerge:

Memory is not history. The passing of time does not

flow like a ribbon held in the hand while the dancer

remains momentarily still. Memory becomes scenes

only until the past is not even yesterday, it is a

series of retained moments released at random…(Envoy


In a sense, in the writing of her life story, the author

is like Fermin, retrieving treasure from a secret

cupboard, structuring and sharing her chosen tales with

the reader who is drawn into what Lejeune called le pacte

autobiographique. Lejeune defined the autobiography genre as

a mode of discourse that is based on the reader’s

understanding of the author/narrator’s reliability. For

Lejeune, several features of an autobiographical text will

indicate the author’s quest for ‘truthfulness’, or a

structured account of what they believe to be ‘true’.

These include references to terms such as ‘Autobiography’

or ‘Memoirs’ in the title or subtitle of the text, a

foreword or preface by the author/narrator, the author’s

name on the cover referring to the protagonist of the

story as well as a person in real life, the language form

as narrative prose, and the life-story being told through

a retrospective, first-person point of view (Lejeune 4).

Annabel Wilson 139.799 15

Frame’s story fulfils these requirements, whilst also

manipulating them to for deliberate effect.

The author’s name appears on the cover, and is indeed the

same person as the protagonist of the story, but is not

the same historic person. Having changed her name by deed

poll in London in May 1958, the identity of the person who

wrote the autobiography was, in life, Janet Clutha: “So

while some authors wrote under a nom de plume, Frame’s

choice was to live under an alias and continue to write

and publish under her own name (King 191). This

illustrates her desire to inhabit the internal realm of

the imagination, as for her this was often more trusted

and treasured than the ‘real’ world: “I wanted my life to

be the ‘other world’ (Autobiography 101). In electing her

name to be changed to Nene Janet Paterson Clutha, even her

alias is connected with place – and as Evans has noted,

“to take the name of a river is to opt for fluidity,

adaptability, and elusiveness” (Evans 55). This also

indicates a subversion of the accepted format of Lejeune’s

autobiographical ‘author’.

In the autobiography, Frame is no longer the ‘third

person’ she felt she was often referred to as (Portenteous

3); she is now the more powerful ‘first person’. Within

the role of protagonist, she seems to formulate her

recounted story as it is lived, bringing the narrative a

poignant immediacy. Particularly evident in the asides

that occur throughout the text, the author’s voice

frequently reminds the reader of her self-reflexive role,

Annabel Wilson 139.799 16

and of the collaborative nature of the reader/writer

relationship or autobiographical pact in the construction

of the text:

Picture, then, a woman of thirty-two, fresh-

complexioned, blue-eyed, dressed in a blue jersey

‘sack’, which Edwin (a painter who should know) said

was a ‘beautiful colour’, and Roman sandals… Picture

me by the ‘blue Mediterranean’ beginning to quote a

fable learned years ago.” (Envoy 77 – 78).

In light of Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author” essay,

Frame’s shimmering narrative illustrates her self-

conscious reference to the shift in focus that occurred in

the postmodern paradigm. The ‘author-God’ has ceased to

exist: “the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with

the text… and every text is eternally written here and now”

(Barthes 145). Now, active readers of ‘writerly texts’ are

engaged in a process of non-direct collaboration in which

the significance is placed on the words themselves, rather

than a blind faith in the trustworthiness of the language

choices of the person who wrote them. In the

autobiography, Frame shows that it is the writing, or

text, that precedes the author.

III. Preparing for migration to the new is-land

For the author, the is-land symbolizes the place known since

childhood as the place ‘within’, a place of ‘nowness’ and

imaginative possibility she can escape to through

Annabel Wilson 139.799 17

reflection and writing. Prior to her departure for the

‘white isle’ of Ibiza, her thoughts are also of departure

and escape; this time to an external place, the ‘warm

South (37)’ of the Mediterranean. Frame’s motives for

moving to Ibiza were fiscal and psychological. She saw the

sojourn as an opportunity to extend the time she could

remain overseas on her literary grant, as well as an

escape from a dreary, grey, lonely and somewhat

threatening British winter where “Evening came earlier

each day…. The leaves rattled harshly brittle in the

trees” (Envoy 37). The chapters recounting her last days

in the English capital are laced with motifs of migration

such as the “flocks of birds” which “hurried through the

sky…going somewhere towards the light” (26). This seeking

of light summons connotations of Frame’s desire to remove

herself from the dark, gothic cityscape of autumnal

London, towards a new beginning on Ibiza. Also making use

of avian motifs were the works of earlier writers that

informed Frame’s meagre and mythical knowledge of the

Mediterranean island. When preparing for her trip as she

scrutinized “the maps for my coming journey to Europe

(Envoy 37)”, Frame writes of the lines of Tennyson

“Swallow, swallow flying south” and Keats “Oh for a beaker

of the warm South”, (Envoy 37), conjuring connotations of

flight and elixir. Ibiza is indeed evoked as a sky-

dominated, liberating and inspiring space throughout the

Balearic chapters.

Annabel Wilson 139.799 18

Outlined in Chapter 7, ‘calle ignacio riquer’ are Frame’s first

impressions of the island. Spending her inaugural day

exploring Ibiza, the protagonist is reminded of the

islands written of and alluded to by the classical poets.

Armed with the remembered phrases of her beloved writers,

Frame sets about an orientation of her new “kingdom by the

sea” (Autobiography 103) through walking from her pension up

the fortified hill of Dalt Villa, to gain perspective,

take in the sea air and acknowledge her surroundings and

sky in much the same way her childhood self would clamber

up she is reminded of the islands written of and alluded

to by the classical poets.

Frame’s observing, writerly self is enamoured with Ibiza

from the beginning. From her vantage point on the

island’s iconic chalk hilltop, Frame writes of a strong

sense of connection, a feeling of familiarity, and an

appreciation for Ibiza’s ability to conjure lines of her

favourite classical poets to mind (Envoy 53). In the

passage detailing this experience, she quotes her revered

P.B. Shelley (perhaps the epitome of the died-too-soon

artist who achieved immortality through his writing)

evoking the whimsical mythology of the Mediterranean. The

township and the wild, arid and ancient landscape

reflected in the ‘tideless ocean’ stirs in Frame “a

feeling of tenderness as if this land were mine and I had

known it long ago. It was, of course, Shelley’s world,

and I had known it in poetry” (Envoy 53). In this

expository section, Frame also evokes the timeless

Annabel Wilson 139.799 19

presence of the physical world and its link to the

‘truth’ of human existence. With parallels of Camus, the

narrator places herself within a landscape where she “was

happy just to be where I had always felt most at home –

outside, under the sky, on a hilltop overlooking the

ocean” (Envoy 53). Here, ‘place’ is intrinsically

connected with the protagonist’s identity.

IV. The island as home to the Mirror City

Frame’s autobiography can be seen as a reflection, a

selective recount and reshaping of past events into

narrative. An awareness of the conjuring act of writing is

shown in Frame’s use of mirrors as a metaphor throughout

her oeuvre, especially in the title of this volume. The

significance of mirrors, and their ability to represent

and reflect ‘truth’, somewhat dazzling and untouchable,

yet always alluring, is referenced throughout the text,

most distinctively in the extended ‘Mirror City’ metaphor

and in the Pity the banished continent poem that appears in the

sombre ‘The Pine Trees’ chapter.

I looked each day at the city mirrored in the sea,

and one day I walked around the harbour road to the

opposite shore where the real city lay that I knew

only as the city in the sea, but I felt as if I were

trying to walk behind a mirror, and I knew that

whatever the outward phenomenon of light, city, and

sea, the real mirror city lay within as the city of

the imagination (Envoy 65).

Annabel Wilson 139.799 20

Ibiza, for Frame is a meta/physical gateway to the Mirror

City – the realm of the imagination. Along with the

physical Spanish island located in the Mediterranean Sea,

it is also an is-land/ I-land,” where the starting point is

myth” (Is-land 7). As King writes, Eivissa was “a city that,

in addition to being ‘real’, would become for her a

powerful metaphor for the mytho-poetic world to which her

imagination sought access through her poems and fiction”

(158). From her writing desk in her apartment bedroom, the

narrator describes herself looking upon Ibiza’s glittering

harbour, noting the way in which the city was reflected

perfectly in the sea. For Frame, this became an earthly

manifestation of the realm of the imagination. Ibiza is a

‘this world’ representation of Mirror City – an open,

boundary-less and borderless space of possibility.

Aware of the connotations of islands whilst living on

Ibiza and during the time of writing her life-story, the

author consciously weaves her self into the island

narrative. Alluding to a title from the first volume of

the autobiography, Bazin has defined as Frame’s writing

position as being “the rim of the farthest circle” (Is-land

117), a place of isolation from which the author is able

to make meaning and create meaning (Rim 115). From her

position on the margins, the author writes of feeling ‘at

home’ in her letters sent to Sargeson whilst on the island

and later in writing the autobiography (Envoy 65). The

author’s experiences on Ibiza bring confidence in her

writerly role in the external world, along with confidence

Annabel Wilson 139.799 21

in the strength of the ‘Mirror City’, the imagination


V. The adoptive and adopted island

In contrast to her earlier sentiments of a “homelessness

of self” (Is-land 136), the author writes of feeling in New

Zealand, the narrator gains a centredness and sense of

belonging to her new, adopted Mediterranean island.

Foreshadowed in the “feeling of being at home, in place at

last” (Envoy 50) she experiences in Barcelona, the author’s

being is “untethered” and her “senses sharped” (50) during

her time on the island. Ibiza has become her is-land, the

geographic and symbolic space where she feels a strong

sense of connection. As Bazin has noted, “Both London and

Ibiza will then offer the foreigner a feeling of comfort

and security she never experienced in her own country.

Strangeness will therefore become familiar, and exile will

greatly contribute to a (re)construction of a shattered

self” (Homelessness 313). Ibiza becomes a meeting point

between the ‘real’ and fictional worlds, providing an

intense backdrop from which a new self can emerge.

In The Envoy from Mirror City, the (re)construction of Frame’s

identity takes place on several levels. In being re-named

Janetta by her Ibiencan hostesses, Bazin suggests Frame is

the “fille adoptée et adoptive” (Valse aux mille Je 5), the

island’s adopted and adoptive daughter. On the island and

through the autobiography, Frame appropriates Ibiza as

both a narrative construct and the home-country of her

Annabel Wilson 139.799 22

‘self’. For her, it is the authentic Mediterranean isla to be

explored as part of her ‘overseas experience’. Envoy

Chapters 7, 8 and 9 convey the author initially

disassociating herself from the other Anglophiles on the

island, and instead making investigations into the Spanish

lifestyle. As the author narrates, she is navigating the

construction of her ‘migrant’ identity within a new

geography and culture.

In Chapter 8, ‘soap new people’, Frame describes the

expatriate author at work in a faraway land. As she

sustains her writerly routine she becomes the escritora –

not a tourist or an ‘Americano’, but an independent

artisan. Her lack of luggage generates a “homelessness”

which becomes the narrator’s “advantage” (60), a catalyst

for Frame to start her expatriate life afresh, away from

the boundaries of her former life. Whereas her

‘homelessness’ was expressed in the first volume of the

autobiography as having negative connotations, in The Envoy

Frame has subverted her own phrase, transforming her sense

of isolation into an empowering trait. Without solid

connections to the other Anglophiles on the island,

without her possessions and without the restrictions

imposed by others with their own set of rules as to how

she is to behave, Frame quickly adapts to the Spanish way

of life (61). She is able to assimilate to this new native

land at her will, and is also able to retreat into her

introspective world when necessary, using language, or her

Annabel Wilson 139.799 23

lack of proficient Spanish, as both a gateway and a

barrier to communication (King 162).

When Frame’s luggage eventually arrives, she feels

obligated to show Francesca and Catalina the seemingly

superfluous contents of her ‘Traveller’s Joy’ haversack.

She had become used to living the simple Ibicencan way,

nothing that “the blue ‘tube’ dress I had sewn from a

length of jersey silk, the material that ‘everyone’ in New

Zealand was wearing… appeared too bright and out of place

in a land where clothes were black” (63).

A further foray into the Spanish language is through

Frame’s purchase of a poetry book called Las Mil Mejores

Poesias de La Lengua Castellana (1154 – 1954) in which Jose (El

Patron’s son) points her towards the poem by local poet,

Miguel Costa Llobera. She translates the piece, (a

meditation on pine trees), is moved by its sense of

timelessness and learns it by heart: “It became my ‘set

piece’, my focus…for an Ibiza that I found to be so old,

touched by the Moors and the Romans, and as young as my

childhood’s blue-sky days” (Envoy 59). It is at this time

that she begins to scribble lines of poetry about her

rural upbringing in New Zealand, noting a sense of being

‘at home’ once again through a return to a forgotten past:

… I wondered if I had not, in part, come home to my

own childhood when I remembered other times I had

never known by writing, twenty years earlier.

A memory, a forgotten day

Annabel Wilson 139.799 24

so full of spring sunshines.

Told by trees that gently sway

and whispered by the pines (Envoy 60).

Thus, Ibiza becomes the ‘other place’, which is at once

the portal to Frame’s memories of her youth, a stepping

stone in her shaping of the collection of ‘selves’ that

form her identity, as well as a representation of the

Mirror City. Like many travellers, the separation of being

distant from her birth country allows her to reflect on

childhood, and on transience:

The traveller to new lands has a rare opportunity to

revisit or visit other times, for

soap-new people come and go

washing away the stale time’s flow

in a heap to eternity…(60).

These three lines appear in the poem, ‘Speke, Philip

Sparrow Speke’, from ‘The Pocket Mirror’, a collection of

Frame’s poems which was first published by New York’s

George Braziller, Inc, in 1967. The self, shaped by her

Ibiza experience, is perhaps a ‘soap-new’ persona, and the

island her clean slate.

The strong connection between the ‘place’ of Ibiza and

Frame’s sense of a plurality of selves is perhaps most

poignantly described in the brief, contemplative chapter

entitled, ‘the pine trees’. Within this chapter, Frame

Annabel Wilson 139.799 25

describes the ravages of the island winter, and the raging

storms which remind her of “the ancient gods” (Envoy 64).

Thus, the possibilities for classical allusion when living

in, and writing of Ibiza are again accessed. As she writes

at her desk her thoughts are of arrival, feeling at home

as she explores the island, mapping it in her mind in

parallel with her mapping of her ‘self’ as a genuine

writer, “a dreamer of dreams, a maker of fantasies” (Envoy


The natural environment of Ibiza strikes a chord for

Frame: the bright, raw, untainted surroundings remind the

author of her childhood, and she describes a kind of

transference or projection as she stops beneath the pines,

and forges a new place/self connection, making the Ibiza

pines a founding memory in her/story. Whilst in the

environment, she is at once in the now (beneath the

Ibicencan pine trees), and in the past (beneath the pine

trees of her youth), and in the future (watching over the

reader’s shoulder). This eternal ‘nowness’ is the ‘truth’

that Camus wrote of in ‘The Desert’. The similarities in

style between Camus and Frame are again evident. Camus’

‘silent sadness’ is not dissimilar to Frame’s ‘fullness of

being and loving and losing and wondering’. Both convey an

instance of meditation within the landscape which draws

forth a philosophical reflection on the human condition:

I recognized how obvious a truth this was on an

evening when the shadows were beginning to drown the

vines and olive-trees of the Florentine countryside

Annabel Wilson 139.799 26

in a vast and silent sadness. But sadness in this

country is never anything but a commentary on

beauty. And as the train travelled on through the

evening I felt a tension in me slowly giving away.

And today, can I doubt that with the face of sadness

this also bore the name of happiness? (Camus 74).

Frame’s pine tree passage, with its echoes of Camus,

demonstrates an empirical conscious awareness of the self

in the natural world, and of the self’s place within the


And once, cycling, I stopped to rest at a small

pine-bordered beach where I lay under the trees and

listened to their hush-hush, and the light fell like

blue and green snow around and upon me, and the sea

glittered through the pine branches. Not an unusual

scene but, as in my visit to the pine forests of the

interior, it touched the antenna reaching from

childhood, just as childhood contains its own

antennae originating in conception and the life of

the dead and the newly begun; and feeling the

sensation at the nerve ending and its origin in the

past among the pine trees and sky and water and

light, I made this scene a replacement, a

telescoping with the trained economy of memory, so

that from then and in the future the memory of this

scene contains the collective feeling of those past,

and now when I listen to pine trees by water, in

light and blue, I feel the link, the fullness of

Annabel Wilson 139.799 27

being and loving and losing and wondering, the

spinning ‘Why was the world?’ that haunted me in

childhood, the shiver of yesterday, yet I remember

the pine trees of Ibiza (Envoy 68).

The word ‘pine’ is used seven times in this chapter, and

although not as a verb, it seems to have the connotations

of ‘being consumed with longing’ for Frame also. Stopping

and thinking beneath the pines of Ibiza reminds her of

youth, and is such an arresting sensation that it could

perhaps be read as a re-birth, as Frame describes

deliberately utilising this as a new memory that will

become a new reference point, a emblem of her new homeland

and part of her youth’s founding myth, or Hhiemat (Ingeborg

Majer O’Sickey 202). The burgeoning confidence in her

self as a writer is thereby inexorably associated with

place, the comfort in ‘her own skin’ she feels on Ibiza is

linked with her feeling ‘at home’ on her adopted island.

Whilst writing in English, Frame spoke only Spanish, and

shied away from other English speakers during her time on

Ibiza. Frame writes that this had a liberating effect, one

that she relished. For the first time in her adult life,

“alone on a Mediterranean island, speaking no English,

with my Spanish welcomed as my English had never been”

(Envoy 65) she was able to live and write as she pleased.

This sense of freedom and familiarity was perhaps a

(temporary) cure for the ‘homelessness of self’ she had

written of in To the Is-land (32). In Europe, she had found a

Annabel Wilson 139.799 28

new place to be: she adopted the island and its community

adopted her.

VI. ‘Otherness’ and separation: the tension between

‘inside’ and ‘outside’

The concept of islands has always been linked with

separation and difference. In this way, Ibiza could be

thought to embody the “apparent contradictions in Frame’s

ambitions and behaviour” (King 162). In the autobiography,

she conveys a sense that at times she felt isolated and

apart, yet yearns to get to know people on many levels.

Sometimes this aloneness was self-inflicted, and at other

times, it was a means of survival in order for writing,

reflection and coping with the world. As she explains in

the first chapter of Envoy, she is reluctant to reveal her

status as a writer when she meets fellow shipmates on

board the Ruahine, en route to London: “Oh how I longed for

everyone to know that I was travelling overseas on a

literary grant! How could everyone appear to be so self-

assured?” (12). As a writer, she is an observer who often

chooses to retreat into the realm of her imagination. The

island of Ibiza symbolically represents a completeness,

and an aloneness, the ‘farthest circle’ upon which the

plurality and fluidity of the narrator’s ‘selves’ are


In Janet Frame: Subversive Fictions, Mercer states that “Janet

Frame has always written from the position of the other.

Her perspective is that of the outsider, the marginalised,

Annabel Wilson 139.799 29

the oppressed and the repressed” (8). Likewise, Bazin

acknowledges Frame’s solitary artist positioning, but also

notes: “Frame’s dilemma or existential paradox is her

desperate quest to integrate, be it The Group or any other

form of community, while simultaneously despising such

conformist communities” (Rim 115). In Envoy, Frame writes

of a fluctuating pattern of isolation and integration.

Sometimes this ‘outsiderness’ is self-selected, whereas at

other times it seems beyond her control, as exemplified by

the “growing apprehension and…feeling of lonely misery”

(49) she describes experiencing during her fuddled day in


At the top of Dalt Villa, on her first morning walk, Frame

emphatically declares her ‘otherness’ upon meeting

Catalina and Francesca: “non tourista…soy escritora” (Envoy 54).

This is the first time the narrator openly declares

herself ‘to be’ a writer, which is perhaps easier when

uttered in a language other than English. Later in this

chapter, the author describes being excluded by her

‘fellow poet’ and ex-patriot William Monk: “ I hurried

away from Colin, the English poet, and his friends, and

after my rebuff I made no attempt to mix with or meet the

English-speaking colony” (Envoy 57). In making the

decision to disassociate herself from the Anglophile

community and immerse herself in Ibicencan culture, Frame

is ‘outside’ the ex-patriot Group, and thereby ‘inside’

the local community. She writes that on occasion she did

wish to speak with other foreigners, to exclaim, “I’m

Annabel Wilson 139.799 30

here. I also speak English. I’m from New Zealand, all the way

from New Zealand”, but instead passes by “as if I knew

everything in the world” (Envoy 66). Again, the interplay

between what the narrator desires internally and how she

‘performs’ externally, is apparent in the text.

The established pattern of living like a local, whilst

maintaining her solitary act of writing, and thereby

‘belonging’ in a way to the Spanish community is disrupted

by the arrival of the New York painter Edwin Mather

(Harvey Cohen) into the household at No. 6 Calle Ignacio

Riquer. Initially, Frame notes some exasperation at the

discovery that she had not rented the entire apartment as

she had thought. As articulated in Chapter 10, el americano,

the newcomer intrudes on what Frame had initially thought

of as her space: “I felt sick with disappointment and a

sense of betrayal…Number Six Ignacio Riquer had been my

place (Envoy 71). In this phrase, which is repeated almost

verbatim twice in the same paragraph, the use of the

personal possessive pronoun (as Bazin has suggested),

shows the author’s staunch notions of privacy and

territory, as does the use of italics. Mather’s disruption

proves alarming for Frame, bringing with it an onslaught

of English words and ideas into her internal world, and

threatening to topple her chances at a continued delicate

negotiation between her outer and inward ‘glance’:

I felt that the link between the world of the living

and of writing resembled a high wire of intense

relaxed concentration for the barefoot journey (on

Annabel Wilson 139.799 31

knives or featherbeds) between. In such a life the

presence of others is a resented intrusion… (Envoy


The author proceeds to detail their first meeting, in

which Mather and Frame exchange stories, explaining “our

presence on Ibiza” (Envoy 71), before settling in to the

reciprocal creative routines. Frame is “suddenly

disappointed” (Envoy 72) when Mather shows her his upstairs

studio, which has a doorway leading to the roof,

overlooking Ibiza town, the countryside, the sea, and

Frame’s beloved ‘Mirror City’. She berates herself for not

having explored the upper story of the household. The

prospect of an outlook on a wide, open space for daily

inspiration is something her writerly-self is covetous of,

stressing the narrator’s placement of high value on

solitary space.

In a letter to Sargeson, Frame notes that the arrival of

the second artist-in-residence causes her some distress:

"I have an American artist living here so that I've got to

use my energy in keeping up appearances, putting on and

defences, and I hate that, when I was so free with a

language barrier to hide behind [...] I hate talking

English again” (King 162). Mather’s presence leads to

adjustments in Frame’s routine as she modifies her daily

tasks to take him into account. They now sometimes share

meals together, ask after each other’s artistic progress,

and eventually become firm friends as they continue to co-

habit: “Although Frame had lost the sense she had enjoyed

Annabel Wilson 139.799 32

previously of living in a contentedly self-contained

world, the new arrangement was not disastrous. She still

managed to write, Cohen painted, and he was a considerate

companion…(King 163)”.

In contrast to Frame’s enthusiastic warmth felt for her

new Ibicencan friends, Mather is portrayed as less

enthusiastic about the shared occupancy with the local

Spanish villagers. In particular, Francesca and Catalina

seem, to him, to intrude on a regular basis from the room

next door, and Fermin, whom he describes as “ ‘that

interfering little guy with the violin” (Envoy, 73). Frame

is defensive of her companions, stating: “He and his

English or American language were the intruders (Envoy

73)”. Her deference towards the Hispanic side of the

cultural spectrum is thus again exemplified.

Mather and Frame largely carry on with their lives

independently, until in what Frame recounts at the end of

the chapter, Mather invites a “woman visitor who’d be

staying the night… in the same room… in the same bed”

(Envoy 74). This second intrusion serves to remind Frame

of her own lack of sexual experience. Frame writes that

she longs to have the same sophistication and allure that

the exotic ‘Dora’ seems to possess, but instead feels “as

sexless as a block of wood” (Envoy 74). Seeing the pair

together, enjoying the intimacy of an adult relationship

stirs a loneliness in Frame, as she becomes acutely aware

of her isolation and ‘outsider’ness once more. This

sequence exemplifies how for Frame, the ‘Mirror City’ is

Annabel Wilson 139.799 33

her refuge, her solace, when the human world is too harsh

or daunting. Her ‘aloneness’ has shifted again from being

an advantage, to being a hindrance: “I felt the sudden

unfriendly chill of being just myself and no one else: not

dainty, but with legs that my sister had said were like

footballer’s legs, and wristbones that reminded me of

railway sleepers” (Envoy 74). Here, Frame narrates her

‘self’ as an asexual figure, utilizing heavy, rural

imagery to illustrate her sense of despair and difference.

Frame’s subsequent liaison with Mather’s American friend

Bernard is the catalyst for another shift in

insider/outsiderness. Her female housemates are not

impressed with this pairing, now associating Frame with

the diablas of the island – the unmarried and sexually

active foreign women. As she is now associated with ‘El

Americano’, and “no longer Janetta all alone” the Spanish

women become distrustful of her (Envoy 84).

During this phase, Frame remains both inside and outside,

a self-conscious contradiction. She embarks on a

relationship with Bernard, and yet knows little of sex and

relationships, other than the unreliable information she

has garnered from her sister’s teenage magazines and her

childhood neighbour, Poppy (Autobiography 44). Her watchful,

writerly self is always present, gathering experience and

often mocking the situations she finds herself in. When

the pair embark on a stroll on the beach towards Bernard’s

villa and the possibility of sex, the narrator registers

her reflective self, seeing the irony of the situation.

Annabel Wilson 139.799 34

They discuss poetry (their own and that of others) against

the backdrop of the ocean: “The Mediterranean, I thought

to myself, aware that I had moved into a permanent cliché”

(Envoy 82). Still as a role-playing character both within

and watchful of the experience, Frame records the first

time the pair sleep together, again projecting her self

onto the elements: “I continued to stare at the red-roofed

dovecote full of white doves ready to fly into the sky and

never return; and I was the sky…” (Envoy 83).

The relationship is of significance, because for the first

time in her adult life, Frame shows how she was no longer

“just myself and no one else” (Envoy 84), but part of a

pairing, and through the pairing, part of a larger group

of ex-patriot artists. Now in cahoots with the migrant

population of the island, Frame is part of a collective,

no longer a solitary author, living the Ibicencan way.

This is a paradox she traverses throughout the text – the

insider, outside – on the island and looking back at it.

To some extent these people formed the Group which Frame

briefly circled, thereby rendering her an ‘insider’.

However, this eclectic collective, “many of them exiles

from the McCarthy regime” (84-85), were the first wave of

‘hippies’ to seek refuge and inspiration on the island.

Therefore, in some senses this ‘Group’ were also

‘outsiders’: non-conformists escaping a restrictive and

fear-driven America.

When the pair socialize with Bernard’s friends, Frame

often writes herself into the role of naive observer. The

Annabel Wilson 139.799 35

narrator recounts listening “ as if I were a child allowed

to stay up late to listen to the exploits of the grown-up

world” (Envoy 85) to discussions about topics very much

unfamiliar to her, such as drug-running and unplanned

pregnancies. Ever the observer, for Frame the role of the

writer during her time on Ibiza involved inhabiting the

blurred margins of Inside and Outside, Within and Without.

This notion of Inside/Outside, is as Baisnée has noted,

illustrated by the poem which she wrote at the time, which

is richly imbued with images of islands, mirrors, light,

the ocean, reflections, seeing and not seeing, and finally

the island of the ‘self’ – the whole individual both

within and without: an outsider, isolated, but complete:

Pity the banished continent estranged from the sea

where people longing for mirror capture

behind their eyes a mountain plain or valley

that shifts with the tides of seeing

in snowscapes and masses of cloud, never wholly

growing apart from the shadowy ponderous

land stooping, itself in shadow, to drink the day’s light.

Small are islands, forever fluid in image

known best once only, over the shoulder

Annabel Wilson 139.799 36

as birds flying or rabbits crouched, thumping the sea;

each day a stranger shape within the mirror,

more completely shining and misting over

than broken shadows from centuries, than moveless wings

of a giant bird or the one whole leaf discarded

from a tree whose whole form and seeking

of invisible sky are held flickering

beyond the communion of water

even on a calm day of a quiet inland sea.

Small are islands, a tyranny of completeness,

a fear of meeting too many selves in mirrors. (Envoy 65-66).

Through this densely loaded poem, the writer evokes a

sense of islands as being representative of the self in

exile, “the banished continent”. She explores the idea

that the self can be whole, and at the same time ‘fluid in

image’. Using words like the mirror in the poem, she

engages with notions of reflection and plurality, of the

‘fluid’ self “seeking” an “invisible sky”. To encounter,

create and (re)construct the self can be a terrifying

thing. Thus, there is also a sense of foreboding in the

death-like imagery of “moveless wings / of a giant bird”

Annabel Wilson 139.799 37

and “the shadowy ponderous land / stooping, itself in

shadow”. The inward journey to the Mirror City is also

suggested here, as is the necessarily lonely existence of

the writer.

VII. The sensory and sensual is-land

In the autobiography’s narrative, Ibiza is also the site

of Frame’s first adult sexual relationship. Thus, it is a

romantic island to be lived and experienced, at the expense

of her reflective writing routine. The author recounts

this liaison with the almost expected trajectory of the

dramatic arc. In the narrative structure, Frame’s

introduction to Edwin’s ‘woman friend’ Dora is swiftly

followed by the recording of her own Ibicencan love

affair, which is detailed in Chapter 11, ‘figuretti’s’. As

King writes, “The presence of Harvey Cohen that generated

these feelings also brought the means by which she would

relieve them” (164). The final two chapters of the island

sequence are dedicated to how this partnership begins,

develops and ends. Although the affair lasted just two

weeks, it accounts for almost half of the ‘Ibiza’ section

of the autobiography, signalling its significance in the

narrator’s shaping of her self in the story.

Chapter 10, ‘el americano’1 opens with a description of

spring in ‘Las Baleares’, and a foreshadowing smudge of

sexual connotation:


Annabel Wilson 139.799 38

I had been told that spring came early in Las

Baleares. Even so, its outbreak of blossom in early

January encircled the island with a new bond of

sweetness so excessive that it forced dark pleats of

pain to be folded within the pleasure (Envoy 70).

In typical Frameian fashion, a sense of the connection

between self and place is hinted at from the outset of

this chapter. The heady sensuality of nature is imbued

with the sensations of ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’, alluding to

the outcome of the short-lived relationship that follows.

Here, non-fiction mirrors fiction – the season of spring

is leveraged by Frame as the setting for a new

relationship to be forged, as in traditional (and

pastoral) narratives. Frame writes of her first encounter

with Bernard the morning after joining he and Edwin for a

birthday drink. As Mather is not in the house, Bernard

invites Frame for a walk along the coast, and what follows

is a relationship punctuated by new experiences and

expressions. The pair wander towards the elusive

‘Figurettis’, a place which soon takes on mythical

qualities as Frame is not sure whether this is a bay, a

café, a building or a “patch of sky” (Envoy 77). However,

she records a satisfaction in the not knowing, enjoying

the possibilities and fluidity of what Figurettis could


Again, Frame is conscious of her role in an idealised

romantic narrative, employing her signature bird imagery

to convey the mating ritual of their promenade:

Annabel Wilson 139.799 39

I was aware of myself now making another journey, a

first…The beach walk with Bernard was recognized by

us as an intention like the preliminary movement

that birds make when determining their final flight

(Envoy 77).

The boundaries between fiction and non fiction are blurred

as the author shows her awareness of her role in

constructing the romantic scenario as it is lived.

Acknowledging the story-shaping self, determined to

preserve what she had “created that day” (Envoy 78), the

narrator dismisses thoughts of Bernard’s unappealing

traits. Instead, she focuses on projecting the newness and

excitement of their partnership onto the natural beauty of

the island’s “everlasting springtime” (Envoy 79).

In this chapter, Frame outlines another shift in identity

this relationship causes. Here, she describes an attempt

to cast herself in the role of the femme fatale, when the

topic of previous relationships arises in hershe and

Bernard’s conversation. Mimicking the characters in the

True Romance fictions of her youth, or the behaviours of

Edwin’s Dora, Frame writes of her wish to portray herself

to Bernard as elusive and thereby alluring. Rather than

informing him that she is “new to seduction”, the narrator

instead gives “dark hints of liaisons of former days”

(80), thereby creating herself as a character in a love


Annabel Wilson 139.799 40

Just as language had influenced and shaped the affair, the

betrayal of words brings the relationship to a close. When

Frame broaches the subject of unplanned pregnancy with

Bernard, his blunt and blatant response jolts the author

into a harsh awakening from the dreamscape of the romance.

At the end of the Ibiza sequence, the author utilises the

imagery of nature to depict the impact the relationship

had on Frame’s sense of identity, followed by the

dismissal of Bernard from her affections.

Quite suddenly the place on earth marked – as I

thought indelibly – by the giant resumed its former

shape and growth. I felt my life, like the grass,

resuming its place, responding to sun and light and

wind: my longing and love and passion for Bernard

were gone” (Envoy 86).

The reality that had previously been “unable to reach”

(86) the author was perhaps the notion that the

relationship was representative of the idea of a

relationship, with the narrator regaining her awareness of

the way in which it had been informed, for her, by

literature, and would be used as material for her own

literature in the future.

Without Bernard, the narrator is again “just myself”, and

therefore able to resume her alliance with Francesca and

Catalina. The Spanish women are pleased to see him gone,

stating “Los Americanos… they disturb everything.

Everywhere. Even the light.’” (87) Here, they are

Annabel Wilson 139.799 41

referring to the Americans’ complacent use of electricity,

but the selection of these repeated words also alludes to

the demise of the symbolic vibrancy of the idealised


There is indeed a sense of gothic darkness haunting the

close of the Ibiza chapters. Frame writes of the sense of

loss she feels as she continues life without her lover,

which “hurt more than I had supposed it would” (87). She

is overwhelmed by how much the relationship had influenced

and affected her sense of self: “I had nurtured the love

and even in the short period I had known it, its

complexity, its light absorbed everything I knew or felt

or had been or would be” (Envoy 87).

Frame closes the chapter with a feeling that the

experience has changed her, just as the seasons change so

dramatically on Ibiza. Again, she transposes her emotions

onto the island environment which becomes “steeped in my

own feelings, destroyed by my glance” (Envoy 88). As King

explains, her emotions are described at this point as

seeming to spread into the landscape: “The feeling of

negativity leached out of her and penetrated everything

around her” (167). This technique illustrates the author’s

sadness at the end of the relationship, and the loss of

the symbolic island with its potential for new beginnings.

Now, Ibiza is “suddenly changed”, infected by its

dangerous convergence of the symbolic and the real.

Annabel Wilson 139.799 42

Where there had initially been vibrancy abundance and

colour, now there is absence, lack, and the funereal image

of ash as the author illustrates the destruction of her

love affair with Bernard, and with the island.

Where before my surroundings (I supposed) had

existed in their own right, the sky and the sea and

the weather and the Mirror City, and I too had

existed in my own right, with the island and its

features as my companions, now all suffered an

effect, not the Midas touch but the touch of ash: I

could almost see the trees decaying, the olive

blossoms withering… (Envoy 88).

Here, the author notes that her integration with the Group

caused her to be “no longer alone, creator and preserver

of my world” (Envoy 88) which led to a disintegration of

her ‘self’. She had briefly abandoned her independence in

favour of a partnership and in “tasting the sour and

bitter of absence” (88) was mourning its loss.

However, even after experiencing love and loss with such

intensity, Frame refuses to allow the “magnet of reality”

(88) to overcome the allure of the ‘other place’ within

the autobiography. For the author, the ‘real’ world of

human relationships and human failings will always be

flawed, less magical and reliable than the realm of the

imagination. “figuretti’s” concludes with another present-

tense, bracketed musing from the author – the third

witness - commenting on the possibilities that are

Annabel Wilson 139.799 43

present after a time of darkness, or upheaval in one’s


(When the autumn is over and the leaves have fallen

from the trees with only the dark evergreens

retaining their bulk which is at once a shelter and

an obstacle to the passage of light, we see that we

have never been alone in the forest. Shapes of houses

emerge… Now I, more clearly looking through this and

that world and its seasons become also more clearly

looked at. My own surroundings lose their camouflage;

I myself lose my camouflage…(Envoy 88).

Here, the author notes, with some degree of hopefulness,

that she is “clearly looking” through the real and the

fictional realms, and in turn is looked at, by her

readers. She subverts the autobiographical pact by

referring to her self, not wholly as the first person, but

also as a tree who has shed its leaves yet has gained “the

possibility of nests”, or closeness with others (88). This

is a complicated metaphor which again exemplifies Frame’s

(re)construction of a plurality of selves through the

text, and through the imagery of desert is-lands. The author

seems to invite the reader into this realm, before

reclaiming it as her own: “my island now” (87).

triumphAnt ME

In The Envoy from Mirror City, Frame is both in the foreground

and the background, in the ‘now’ of the present reading

and the ‘then’ of the recollected past. My memostic

Annabel Wilson 139.799 44

investigation of the text has provided another angle from

which to approach Frame’s pithy interplay with island

stories and self. In a way, this reading formed a ‘fifth

witness’ to the narrative. The delightful discovery of the

author as ‘triumphAnt ME’ on the final page of the

autobiography brings both a closure and an open-endedness

that I think the author may have found appealing. Like the

promise of islands in their circularity and separation,

the final five-word ‘FRAME’ memostic hints at reinvention

and independence. As I carried out the systematic process

of searching for the words like a code in the

autobiography, I found each of the other memostics drew

attention to Frame’s love of words and reminded the reader

of her recurring themes of upheaval, truth, loneliness,

place, identity and experience.

With an awareness of the potential of the desert island

metaphor and its connotation as the place for beginning

again, Frame shapes her identity whilst on Ibiza and

later, through the autobiography, complicitly with the

reader. As Lejeune notes, “ If autobiography is defined by

something outside the text, it is not on this side, by an

unverifiable resemblance to a real person, but on the

other side, by the type of reading it engenders, the

credence it exudes, and the qualities that are manifested

in the critical response to autobiographies” (30). The

author’s preoccupation with the ‘other place’, invites the

reader into a period when, for a time, Ibiza becomes both

places: the symbolic and the real. The island can be read

Annabel Wilson 139.799 45

as a type of tantalising paradise where the narrator

briefly enjoys the “sensuous sensual kind of luxury

enjoyed by the lotus eaters” (85). Through the text, the

author embraces the novelty of starting anew, adopting the

Spanish isla as her own, becoming Janetta, the escritora, and

embarking on her first love affair. Yet within the newness

there is also a clichéd narrative, which soon brings the

story a sourness experienced through loss. The jarring

effect of the narrator’s delightful yet dangerous

navigation between the ‘real’ world and the ‘fictional’

world is illustrated in the final pages of the last Ibiza

chapter. For Frame, the intersection of this world with the

‘other place’ whilst on the Balearic island is narrated as

a bittersweet paradox, which can also be seen as akin to

Camus’ comments on the human condition. The problem of

living experience versus the task of capturing experience, a

recurring motif in the Framian oeuvre, is also prevalent

in The Envoy from Mirror City. Through the Ibiza episodes, Frame

has (re)constructed her self in the same way that Camus

described man as defining himself, like the earth, as

“halfway between wretchedness and love” (74). Thus the

island, an is-land or place of eternal ‘nowness’ is the

desert island “known best once only” (65). For the reader,

this renders these chapters an enticing convergence of

experience and expression, and of now and then. Like the

Envoy character at the close of the autobiography, this

reader awaits the arrival of the fable written by Frame

whilst on Ibiza, to be published at the end of 2011.

Annabel Wilson 139.799 46

Perhaps this will provide a further insight into Frame’s

philosophy of living and writing.


The Mesostic poems derived from Janet Frame’s The Envoy fromMirror City

















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Annabel Wilson 139.799 49























Annabel Wilson 139.799 50




















James (Joyce)

sAmuel (Beckett)


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Barthes, R. “The Death of the Author.” Image-Music-Text

Heath, S. (trans.). London: Fontana, 1977, pp. 142-48.

Bazin, Claire. “From the rim of the farthest circle.”

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études sur les femmes. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004.

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Coover, Robert. Pricksongs and Descants: Fictions. New York: Grove

Press, 1969.

Deleuze, G. “Desert Islands.” Desert Islands and Other

Texts (1953-1974).

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Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press. 2004.

Finney, Vanessa. “What does ‘Janet Frame’ mean?” Journal

of NZ Literature: JNZL No. 11, 1993, pp. 193-205

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Frame, Janet. The Lagoon and other stories (1951). London:

Bloomsbury Classics, 1991.

Frame, Janet. Towards Another Summer. Auckland: Vintage,


Freud, S. “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” Standard Edition,

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King, Michael. Wrestling with the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame.

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O’Sickey, Ingeborg Majer. “Framing the Unheimlich –

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