Pas de Deux
- David Staines (Editor)
Margaret Laurence: Critical Reflections. University of Ottawa Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Camille La Bossiere (Editor) and Linda M. Morra (Editor)
Robertson Davies: A Mingling of Contrarieties. University of Ottawa Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Lorna Hutchinson
Margaret Laurence: Critical Reflections is one of the most recent collections to emerge from the Reappraisals: Canadian Writers series, in which the "best" papers presented at the University of Ottawa’s annual literary conference are chosen for publication. The collection brings together a splendid array of viewpoints from literary critics, authors, academics, and colleagues and friends of Laurence. The combination of perspectives on and approaches to Laurence and her art by Helen M. Buss, Aritha Van Herk, Robert Kroetsch, Joyce Marshall, and John Lennox (to name a few) accounts for the diversity, richness, and indeed quirkiness of the collection as a whole. The penchant of the majority of the essays towards personal connections to, or biographical aspects of, Laurence and her work—her values and work ethic; correspondence and professional relationships— distinguishes the collection from the rows of text-centred academic essay collections devoted to a single writer, and from the study of Robertson Davies reviewed here.
A strong sense of respect and affection for Laurence permeates the collection: the critics implicate themselves at a personal and engagingly emotional level that sensitizes the reader to the complexity of Laurence and her oeuvre. For example, in a study that grapples with Laurence’s approach to children’s storytelling, Janet Lunn candidly criticizes Laurence’s failure to connect with her young audience, all the while revealing some of the major strengths of Laurence’s adult fiction. Nora Foster Stovel’s research on the professional relationship between Laurence and Judith Jones, editor of The Diviners, explores her own concerns about the radical editing process of the novel. In her discussion of The Diviners as fiction about fiction she asks, "Did Laurence’s editors miss her metafictional aim?" And John Lennox (who does not hide his delight at "working with exchanges of letters between gifted correspondents") reveals the growth of a writer and the creative, motivating influence of great friendships in his compelling analysis of Laurence’s correspondence with Adele Wiseman and Al Purdy. The collection should be of interest to Laurence scholars and to "non-academic" readers as well.
Robertson Davies: A Mingling of Contrarieties deals with my favourite literary themes and devices: binary opposition, paradox, ambivalence, and that elusive space connecting language to cognitive processes known as the "in-between." The collection boasts many playful approaches to the dodgery of Davies’s writings (and to the intriguing man himself, of course, as Michael Peterman explores in the first essay: "The Concert of His Life: Perspectives on the Masks of Robertson Davies"). The collection provides a timely, sophisticated look at the work of one of Canada’s most prolific and well-known writers.
Perhaps less known to Davies’s general readership is the writer’s involvement with the theatre, which began, Lois Sherlow tells us, through his work as a playwright in the thirties. Sherlow situates Davies’s dramatic writings within the movements of Canadian theatre, arguing that "In a Davies play, as in a Davies novel, the authorial voice always eventually overrides the play of difference," and thus "it is always the moralist, not the magician, who prevails." Mark Silverberg points to a similar function of the doubling technique evident in World of Wonders, in which the great magi cian’s attempts to dominate both text and reader (as well as his audience within the story itself) are thwarted by a chorus of competitive narrative voices. These essays resound with a running theme in the collection: Davies’s construction of tension through contrariety in his work illuminates the unknown opposite, which is somehow, somewhere, just another facet of the self.
Different approaches to the theme of contrariety include explorations of the grotesque, humour, and grotesque humour, as in K.P. Stich’s entertaining study of the literary motif of alcohol; myth and magic, formal considerations of self-authenticating fiction, and "the conjunction of reader and writer" in narration (Andrea C. Cole). A highlight of the collection is its final essay, a collaborative work by Rick Davis, M.D., and Peter Brigg. Similar to one of the final essays in the Laurence compilation, in which Lois Wilson, a minister and long-time friend of Laurence cites the writer’s views on vocation, grace, and justice, "’Medical Consultation’ for Murther and Walking Spirits and The Cunning Man" is a performance piece about Davies’s collaborations with a medical doctor. It is as humorous (for its morbid medical information) as it is illuminating of the purposeful side of Davies. A strong quality of the collection, including Camille LaBossière’s introduction, is its success in portraying Davies as a controversial figure both admired and criticized by his literary audience.
- Context Is All by Coral Ann Howell
Books reviewed: Margaret Atwood: Feminism and Fiction by Fiona Tolan
- Conceptualism by Clint Burnham
Books reviewed: Island Thought: An Archipelagic Journey Published at Irregular Intervals. #1 by Robert Graham
- Making Mourning Work by Elizabeth Hodgson
Books reviewed: Response to Death: The Literary Work of Mourning by Christian Riegel
- Diasporic Imaginaries by Donna McCormack
Books reviewed: Transnational Poetics: Asian Canadian Women's Fiction of the 1990s by Pilar Cuder-Domínguez, Belén Martín-Lucas, and Sonia Villegas-López
- Marshall as I Knew Him by David Thomson
Books reviewed: The Virtual Marshall McLuhan by Donald F. Theall
MLA: Hutchinson, Lorna. Pas de Deux. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #180 (Spring 2004), (Montgomery, Carson, Bissoondath, Goodridge). (pg. 181 - 182)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.