Grove in Canada
- Margaret R. Stobie (Author)
Frederick Philip Grove. Twayne Publishers (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Stanley E. McMullinMARGARET STOBIE, with a study of Grove's Canadian years, provides the most recent insight into the many lives of F.P.G. By working with correspon- dence to and from Grove, and by track- ing down people who remembered him, Dr. Stobie has provided a lucid and objective chronicle of Grove's life from 1913 until his death in 1948. There is little information available concerning the years between 1909, when Felix Paul Grève arrived in North America, and 1913, when Philip Grove appears in Haskett, Manitoba, but Dr. Stobie feels that the Haskett letters prove that Grove was "beyond question a pro- fessional and professionally trained ele- mentary school teacher before he arrived in Manitoba". Dr. Stobie is at her best when she deals with Grove's relationships with his con- temporaries. She has tracked down people in small towns like Winkler, Virden, and Gladstone where Grove taught, and we hear first-hand reports that he was a good teacher, a strong disciplinarian, and a teller of tall tales about himself which the students enjoyed even if they knew them to be fancy. Grove did not get on well with authority and inevitably he had conflicts with his school boards. His longest tenure as a teacher was two years. Particularly useful is the description she provides of Grove's Canadian Club tours of 1928-29. Exalted by the response of his Ontario audiences in 1928, Grove was moved to observe in a letter to his wife that "they all know that the rest of Canadian writers are pigmies by my side". Dr. Stobie's chapters on Grove's rela- tionships with his publishers — he had business dealings with most of the Cana- dian houses — and her research into the fortunes of Grove at Graphic Press are also illuminating. Grove always gave the impression that the failure of Graphic Press was one more slap from a malig- nant fate which had left him financially depressed. Dr. Stobie notes that in fact Grove was the only person to make money from Graphic, taking seven thousand dollars away from Ottawa when he re- signed his position. Dr. Stobie has managed to penetrate Grove's romantic smokescreen, and she reveals how often his actual state of affairs was different from the picture he wished to present. It is not easy to deal with this undercover Grove, since he is often not a pleasant man. Confrontations with Lome Pierce of Ryerson Press or with Simcoe's mayor, Percy Carter, leave one with the distinct impression that few people could love F.P.G. Dr. Stobie main- tains objectivity and records biographical events with tact and understanding. Douglas Spettigue has recently brought out his biography of Grove's European years, and Desmond Pacey will soon release his edition of Grove's correspon- dence. Sooner or later, someone will find the missing pieces explaining where Grove went in 1909, and what happened to him between then and 1913. The materials for a definitive biography on Grove are gradually coming together, and Dr. Stobie's book offers valuable insights into Grove's years in Canada. No one can complain about a lack of interest or poor scholarship in terms of solving the biographical mystery sur- rounding Grove. What is lacking is sound critical evaluation of his work. It is in her critical commentary that Dr. Stobie's book is weak. While she does a fine job of maintaining objectivity in the bio- graphical chapters, it quickly becomes evident from her critical comments that she has little use for Grove as a writer of prose. With the exception of A Search for America, and Consider Her Ways, none of the books receives balanced criticism. The remaining Grove canon is described in negatives: Our Daily Bread is written "on the level of a not very good soap opera of noncredible characters uttering nonhuman dialogue". It Needs to be Said is dismissed as "a potboiler". Master of the Mill is "a voluminous notebook, out of which a novel could be formed". Search for Myself is called "thin and unrewarding" with the last section read- ing like "not much more than an anno- tated ledger". Over Prairie Trails degene- rates as it progresses: Turn of the Year is "pretentious". Dr. Stobie does not do justice to herself by substantiating these negative responses, or to Grove in evalu- ating his strengths. In her attempt to isolate the sources of Grove's ideas, it is suggested that "Rous- seau's two Discourses and his Emile to- gether with Thoreau's Waiden, provide most of the ideas to be found in Grove's novels." Such a claim is too simplistic. That Rousseau and Thoreau played a role in the formation of Grove's artistic sensibility will not be denied, but to limit the source of most of his ideas to Rousseau and Thoreau is to deny clear evi- dence in the correspondence with Richard Crouse and Watson Kirconnell that Grove was continuously reading and absorbing ideas from a broad span of European and North American authors. In later years, for instance, he read D. H. Lawrence, Oswald Spengler, and T . S. Eliot. One wishes that critics would start examining how Canadian authors modify, adapt, and change ideas to shape their own philosophical perceptions. For example, Rousseau or Thoreau do not explain Grove's frequent vision of nature as hostile, nor do they explain the cyclic patterns of cultural and family life. Both of these themes are of major significance. An attempt is made to deal with some of the themes in Grove's work, but at best the result is to leave them ill-defined. Her comments on the hermaphroditic figures are intriguing but left undeveloped. That Grove's perception of life in North Amer- ica follows a consistent and logical pat- tern of its own was demonstrated at the Grove Symposium at the University of Ottawa in May of 1973. If Dr. Stobie had not confused issues by expecting Grove's views to parallel Rousseau's or Thoreau's and had looked for Grove's own views instead, a number of apparent inconsistencies would have disappeared. For example she says that in Master of the Mill, "the cycling movement is, of course, at variance with the evolutionary theory which had been the carefully con- structed framework of the whole novel". Had she looked at the way Grove used ideas of evolution and historical pattern the conflict would resolve itself. Perhaps such critical brevity is the necessary result of working within the Twayne format which seems to demand extensive plot summaries rather than extended critical evaluations. Ultimately, the excellence of the biographical chapters dealing with Grove and his contemporaries over-ride the critical failings a n d make this a book worth owning.
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MLA: McMullin, Stanley E. Grove in Canada. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 11 June 2013. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #60 (Spring 1974), Contemporary Canadian Poets. (pg. 107 - 109)
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