27 April 2009


John Masefield

1908 – 1911


John Mackenzie Ross

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts in English

University of Auckland


The major event in Masefield scholarship in the twenty-five-odd years since this Masters thesis was composed is undoubtedly the appearance of Philip W. Errington's massive John Masefield: The "Great Auk" of English Literature. A Bibliography (London: The British Library / New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2004). This 900-page tome looks set to become the Bible of Masefield studies; it clears up a number of questions and problems, bibliographical and otherwise, and focuses attention back where it should be: on the complexity of Masefield's work, rather than his fading reputation as a rhymester and old sea dog.

Masefield has to be seen as a figure of great cultural interest, if only because he published so much, in so many different fields, and enjoyed such a variety of responses at different times in his long career. His separate reputations as poet, dramatist, novelist, and popular historian have tended to be seen in isolation from one another, but (put together, as they should be) they continue to shine a revealing light on the ups-and-downs of literary life in the twentieth century.

Besides that, though, he's well worth reading in his own right. His writing is uneven but (at its best) unmatchable. The strongest among his novels (Lost Endeavour, Sard Harker, The Box of Delights, The Bird of Dawning, and Dead Ned, to name just a few), alongside the cream of his narrative verse, together with the various fascinating collections of letters which have come out since his death, combine into a body of work which has to be seen as at least equal to that of many far more highly rated contemporaries.

Errington's work (in particular), as well as the ongoing work of his fellow-enthusiasts in the John Masefield Society, gives every promise of keeping interest in him alive well into the twenty-first century.

- Dr Jack Ross, Massey Albany, November 2009

[John Masefield: A Mainsail Haul (1905)]

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