by Paul Stuewe
THE IMAGE OF the stern Victorian patriarch, ordering his family`s life along rigid moral lines, is one of the standard cliches of both conventional social history and current feminist discourse. Although stereotypes usually do have some problematic relation to reality, Hugh Palmer`s Circumnavigating Father (Hancock House, 176 pages, $1295 paper) shows us the other side of the coin: a blustering figurehead who would be quite helpless without the support system provided by his wife and children, a ruler whose reign is a kind of elaborate practical joke sustained by affection rather than fear.
This is an anecdotal rather than analytic narrative, and its amusing vignettes of a Vancouver family`s post-First World War experiences add up to a thoroughly enjoyable read. Unlike many such just-plainfolks reminiscences, it is extremely well written; and since it ends in the early 1930s, a sequel or two would seem to be in order. If you appreciated John Mortimer`s A Voyage Round My Father -to which the title of Circumnavigating Father may pay the sincerest form of flattery - this should impress as a similarly vigorous expose of the myth of the Victorian male tyrant.