Your Unselfish Kindness: Robin Hyde’s Autobiographical Writings, edited by Mary Edmond-Paul, (Otago University Press, 2012) 327 pp., $40.
The Lodge, a big wooden house on the edge of Mt Albert, Auckland is a landmark I’ve passed hundreds of times; my sister lives nearby. It was once part of the mental hospital that, growing up, I knew as Carrington. For years I had a vague notion of the building’s one-time role as a place of rest and recovery, but I didn’t realise how important a place it was to the life and work of Robin Hyde. In the mid 1930s, the Lodge was to prove a sanctuary where Hyde was given the time and physical space to read and to write – including two substantial pieces, a 1934 autobiography, and a 1935 journal, published in their entirety for the first time here in Your Unselfish Kindness.
Hyde — born Iris Wilkinson in 1906 — arrived at the Lodge in the winter of 1933, after the second major breakdown in her life had culminated in a suicide attempt in the Waitemata Harbour. She’d been plucked from the sea and arrested, incarcerated in a bleak cell in Auckland Hospital that usually housed binge-drinkers. Hyde was a voluntary patient at the Lodge, her first visit lasting only a month before expulsion to the main hospital after getting caught trying to smuggle in morphine.
But by the end of 1933 Hyde was back there, under the benevolent care of psychiatrists Dr Henry Buchanan and — most crucially — Dr Gilbert Tothill, and lived at the Lodge off and on for almost four years. Her final departure was early in 1937, after Tothill had moved on and Hyde had lost her main confidante and protector. During her time at the Lodge, Hyde managed to secure a room of her own — first a bedroom, later an attic study where the clatter of her typewriter wouldn’t disturb anyone.