Marian Engel’s Bear: Romance or Realism?


Critics have long noted their own widely varying responses to Marian Engel's work, and yet Beardrew uncharacteristically uniform praise. This paper positions this anomaly in its social historical context to explain why Bear was so esteemed in its time. I argue that, in this era when second-wave feminism and Canadian nationalism were dominant social movements, critics were impressed with portraits of successful female and national identity discovery. While most of Engel's work seemed pointed in its interference with the concept of unified identity, Bear was amenable to being read as romance in this regard. However, read as realism, this novel can be seen as consistent with Engel's skepticism about unified identity. Toward the end of her life, Engel saidBear was an "empty book," in that one could read anything into it. It remains a fascinating book precisely for this reason.

This article “Marian Engel’s Bear: Romance or Realism?” originally appeared in Predators and Gardens. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 197 (Summer 2008): 29-40.

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