Page 1: Early years
Frame, Janet Paterson
This biography, written by Patrick Evans, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.
Early family life
Janet Frame was born on 28 August 1924 at St Helen’s Hospital, Dunedin, to Lottie Clarice Godfrey (who had worked as a maid in the Picton home of Katherine Mansfield’s family, the Beauchamps), and her husband George Samuel Frame, a railway fireman. After their marriage in Wellington in 1916, their first three children, Myrtle Jean, George and Janet Paterson, were born in Dunedin. Two further daughters, Isabel May and Phyllis Mary Evelyn June, were born as the family moved around with George Frame’s railway career.
Early in 1931, the family settled in Ōamaru, Janet’s father’s home town, which Janet later called her ‘kingdom by the sea’.1 Although poor, the family was sustained through the economic depression by Janet’s father’s continuing employment as a railwayman, and her mother’s earnest Christadelphianism and sales of her poetry from door to door.
Late in 1934 Janet was awarded library membership as dux of Ōamaru North School, and she too entered the world of literature, soon attempting to write poetry. She pursued this through largely successful years at Waitaki Girls’ Junior School (1935–36) and Waitaki Girls’ High School (1937–42). Her childhood was darkened by the onset in 1932 of her brother’s epilepsy, which devastated her family’s internal relationships. Her sister Myrtle’s drowning in the Oamaru Tepid Baths on 5 March 1937 added more distress. Her brother George’s increasingly public eccentricity – later in life he regularly wore Highland regalia – created further difficulties and embarrassments that continued through much of Janet’s life, leading eventually to their estrangement.
In March 1943 Frame began two years in Dunedin, where she studied English and French at the University of Otago and attended Dunedin Teachers’ Training College. Shy and socially inept, she struggled to relate to the aunt and uncle she boarded with. In 1945 she taught at Arthur Street School and attended evening university lectures in psychology taught by John Money, the first of a series of significant male mentors in her life. Increasingly dependent on contact with Money, she attempted suicide when he could not keep a formal appointment. Unable to cope with the visit of a school inspector, she abandoned her schoolroom and teaching career.