The Kiss and the Ghost: Sylvia Ashton-Warner and New Zealand

The Kiss and the Ghost

Edited Alison Jones and Sue Middleton
Publisher NZCER Press
ISBN 978 1 877398 47 6
GT Issue 2009 T4

Having earlier fea­tured the book Who is Sylvia? The Diary of the Biographer by Lynley Hood it made sense to jump at the oppor­tun­ity to read and edit this book most cap­ably edited by Jones and Middleton. And indeed the last chapter in The Kiss and the Ghost is one by Lynley Hood – the story of the bio­graphy we reviewed.
(The review is avail­able here)

Jones and Middleton while edit­ing a book which looks at Sylvia as an inspired edu­ca­tional the­or­ist also have within the chapters they have edited numer­ous ques­tions which hint at answers yet are not resolved.
Was Sylvia an inspir­a­tional genius?
Did her pro­cess trans­late to use by oth­ers or was it really only suited to her per­son­al­ity?
Was all her work ori­ginal thought or did she know­ingly or unknow­ingly absorb what oth­ers were doing, adopt it and mould it to fit her style?
Why are there such con­trasts in the recol­lec­tions of her inter­ac­tion with Maori chil­dren?
Why, when employed as a teacher (Infant Mistress), did she arrive at school at morn­ing tea time?
Should all her work really be cred­ited to her in its entirety or to the young man who strove to make it legible?
Why are there so many ver­sions of the same event (see Lynley Hood’s chapter)? and…
Was she, as her son Eliot said, ‘the most dif­fi­cult woman in the world?

Sylvia Ashton Warner could be described as a most com­plex char­ac­ter… most prob­ably cap­able of all the above.
In Tauranga there are many more col­lo­quial tales of exploits which enter into con­ver­sa­tions when her name is men­tioned which have never been writ­ten about.
The book cov­ers a wide range of snap­shots, from Sylvias ‘Creative Teaching Scheme’, recol­lec­tions from the time spent in Waiomatatini, a fas­cin­at­ing dis­cus­sion with CK Stead talk­ing to Robert Gottlieb… all leav­ing the reader want­ing to know more.

Were Jones and Middleton to research fur­ther into the world of this enig­matic woman and her life then The Kiss and The Ghost could well have sequels.

An inter­est­ing and read­able book espe­cially for those with an interest in this fas­cin­at­ing woman.

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