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The Bird of Paradise

VII. The Final Word

VII. The Final Word

The careful historical reader may wonder at a discrepancy; Dutton's daughter and son, as recorded in print, were named Ruby Oswald Dutton and Norman Edward Dutton, but The Bird of Paradise is dedicated to Victoria Ruby and Norman. This is explained within Dutton's fiction, when Eugene finally obtains custody of the children: 'To him their return was a foretaste of Heaven. He had but one poignant regret – the regret over the treachery of Marvel. From Pearly's name the name “Gould” was expunged and he called her instead “Guinevere”.'1

We have been mostly concerned with the act of using a historical story to read a work of fiction; the case of Ruby's name is an example of the opposite strategy, and this strategy may be followed in many subtler ways. Although Mary won her divorce, kept her children, and survived her former husband, it is his novel that has remained, to be made available online, and her story that must be extracted from old newspapers. Reading this novel, and then learning of its darker parallels, suggests a moral dilemma; does sympathy with Eugene imply a sympathy with Dutton? Are we taking sides by giving Dutton the last word? Perhaps we can draw some comfort from the death of the author, both specifically and formally; and return to being the “ordinary novel reader” described in the Witness review. But an introduction, which offers context, intrinsically defies the doctrine of the Death of the Author; so that any who have read thus far may simply have to live with the shades of William and Mary that lurk behind the page.

A postscript: I received a surprisingly large array of help for such a small piece of research. I wish to thank my supervisor, Jane Stafford, and my unofficial supervisor, Pip Howells, for inspiration and direction; Peter Whiteford, Sydney Shep, Nicola Frean, Noel Waite, Shef Rogers, Jennie Koerner, and Lydia Wevers for their interest and assistance; Max and Stuart for their patience and technomagery; Debby Foster for generously sharing her work; Joel for making my life easier with Science; and Nik, Cordelia, Tui, Amanda, Alana, Sam, Russ, Katie, and Matty for their sense of the absurd. May the sum live up to all who took part.

1 Dutton, William Henry. 1896. The Bird of Paradise. Dunedin: S. N. Brown and Co., p305.