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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