Iris Wilkinson was an esteemed New Zealand poet, mainly under the pen name Robin Hyde, who is most famous for her novels Passport to Hell, Nor the Years Condemn, and The Godwits Fly.
She was born in Cape Town, South Africa, to an English father and Australian mother, but moved to New Zealand when she was still an infant. She began writing poetry in school and was published in her school paper, and even heralded as a “Schoolgirl Poetess” by the The Dominion newspaper where she later got a job at age 17. While at the newspaper she ran the children’s section and later reported from the courts.
Alongside her fledgling career as a journalist, she struggled with a severe knee injury, which often required being confined to a hospital for months at a time. This chronic injury also led to a reliance on sedatives and pain medication, which she struggled with throughout her life. Wilkinson took leave from work to receive treatment for her knee in Rotorua where the thermal waters were recommended. It was here that she had an affair that resulted in her lover abandoning her during pregnancy.
Pregnant, at only 20 years old, Wilkinson moved to Sydney where she gave birth to her stillborn son whom she christened Robin Hyde, the name she later adopted for herself in her writing. She suffered a severe breakdown and was fetched home by her mother. Consequently, Wilkinson spent around a year recovering in the hospital but continued some writing as a means of therapy.
When she was released in 1927, she soon found a job at the Sun newspaper and in following years continued to contribute to various publications. However, in 1930 she gave birth to a son after an affair with a married journalist who then rejected her. She gave her son up for adoption, but rumours about her situation resulted in the loss of work.
Wilkinson later became an editor at the New Zealand Observer and wrote on a variety of issues and topics. However, in 1933 she tried to drown herself and entered into a mental hospital for four years, during which she produced a large body of her work.
After she was released in 1937, she became increasingly feminist in her writings but lived in extreme poverty. On her way to England in 1938 she was delayed in Hong Kong, which inspired her to stay longer in China and report on the Japanese occupation. She continued to write on what she saw until she got caught in Hsuchow when it was bombed and captured. In order to flee, Wilkinson walked along the railway lines until she reached the city of Tsingtao and was handed over to British authorities.
Wilkinson finally made it to London only to die by suicide a year later at the age of 33.