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Litcrit Round-Up
by Michael Darling

ReVpraising Values Six recentcritical studies delve into our literary legacy SPECULATING ON HIS OWNlegacy, Northrop Frye once described himself as "a kind of lumber room forlater generations," an image that, if qualified by the word"infinite," conveys some sense of the multiplicity of intellectualstructures for which Frye`s ideas could serve as buildine materials. To judgefrom The Le2acv of interesting are Michael Fischer on "Frye and thePolitics of Romanticism" and J. Edward Chamberlin on the use ofmathematical analogies in the AnatomY of Criticism. James Reaney shows himself to be a true heir of Fryein a witty and utterly unparaphraseable excurNorthrop Frye (University ofToronto Press, 353 sion into the universe of the Word, and pages, $55 cloth,$24.95 paper), the proceedings of Sandra Djwa makes a solid case for aconference held at the University of Toronto in E. J. Pratt`s influence onFrye`s major 1992, the year after his death, Frye`s work continues works. to stimulate debate across a wide rangeof academic. It`s pleasant to be able to report that disciplines. It`s also fairto add that among the con-the volume is largely unmarred by jar tributorsto this volume, which is edited by Alvin A. gon of the kind that Frye himself Leeand Robert D. Denham, there are few who seek would never have perpetrated, andyet to contradict the master, and none who fail to pay one legacy of the manthat seems des him homage tined to fall on stony-eared ground is Thebook is arranged in four sections: the first his style. No theorist writingtoday deals with Frye`s writings on culture, religion, and possesses the samecombination of society; the second with his specifically Canadian wit,erudition, and flair for metaphor criticism; the third examines "Frye,Romanticism, that makes Frye`sbooks virtually the and the Modem"; and the fourth focuses on his the-only theoretical works one can recomoties of language and literature. There isalso an odemend to non-specialists. to Frye by Margaret Atwood, and an"auditory. Another symposium, rather more masque" by JamesReaney and John Beckwith, vague in its focus, is Context North whichuses music and sound effects to suggest the America: Canadian/U.S. Literary genesisof some of Frye`s ideas. Relations (University of Ottawa, 166 From the 50papers presented at the conference, pages, $22 paper), 18th in the the editors have selected 29that are exemplary in University of Ottawa`s series their disciplined focus onthe main topic, that is, to Reappraisals: Canadian Writers. Even identify thelegacy of Frye in each specific area and the editor, Camille R. La Bossiere is tosuggest how it might be put to use. Especially hard pressed in his introductionto find common ground on which to place the contributors. Some of the essaysfollow a familiar path in contrasting American mythology with the supposedCanadian lack of it. Also popular are comparisons between a pair of writers orworks. Robert Thacker discusses Willa Cather`s influence on Alice Munro; Michael Peterman compares SusannaMoodie to Caroline Kirkland; Sylvia Soderlind contrasts Timothy Findley`s The Wars with HuckleberryFinn. Lessnarrow in their focus are Carole Gerson`s scholarly investigation of"Canadian Women Writers and American Markets, 1880-1940" andRussell Brown`s brilliant thematic analysis of the differing meanings of"the road" in American and Canadian fiction. Brown suggests, withreference to a wide variety of novels, stories, and poems, that for Americanwriters the road has meant freedom, while for Canadians the road is simply theway home. The most recent book inthe Reappraisals series is Hugh MacLennan (University of Ottawa, 210 pages, $24paper), edited by Frank M. Tierney. An excellent candidate for reappraisal,MacLennan finds his position as, in Tierney`s words, "one of Canada`spremier novelists," not nearly so assured as it once was. Strangelythough, most of the contributors seem to be more preoccupied with interpretationthan assessment, and those who do make judgements reach familiar conclusions bycircuitous routes. For instance, Rosmarin Heidenreich uses Wolfgang Iser`s narratological theories to prove that -surprise! - the didactic element in Two Solitudes iseven stronger than supposed. David Leahy finds a phallocentric and nationalistbias at the heart of the novels. And Francis Zichy sees MacLennan as a writer of "didactic romance"whose reaction to modernism is "obtuse." Elspeth Cameron isconvincing in her argument that MacLennan compromised his artistic integrity bysubmitting to the public demand for a nationalist voice, but her contentionthat Gwethalyn Graham`s novel Earth andHigh Heaven "rankswith MacLennan`s best" ought to be grounds for reappraisal of her criticalfaculties. Perhaps the most stimulating of these essays is Francess Halpenny`scall for a study of the publication history and reception of MacLennan`s workswhich might show how this increasingly discredited writer could once have beenseen as Canada`s greatest novelist. As MacLennan`s star hasfallen, that of A.M. Klein has risen to the point where he now seems to beregarded as the most important Canadian poet of the first half of this century.Zailig Pollock`s A. M. Klein: The Story of the Poet (University of Toronto, 324pages, $60 cloth, $25.95 paper) is one of those rare works of Canadian literarycriticism that manages to be both scholarly and stylistically fluid -sophi sticated but not turgid. As the editor of Klein`s poems, Pollock knowshis subject intimately, but is sufficiently detached to be able to evaluate aswell as interpret. This is the kind of book that was needed but never writtenin Canada in the 1970s before the native strain of thematic criticism wassteamrollered by the cosmopolitan juggernaut of theory. Pollock`s thesis is thatKlein`s literary career was directed by his "vision of the One in theMany" and that his most important works -"Out of the Pulver andthe Polished Lens," "Portrait of the Poet as Landscape," and The Second Scroll exhibit a dialecticalstruggle between his yearning for a transcendent unity and the limitations thathistory imposes. Pollock shows how this tension lies at the heart of Klein`spoetry, fiction, and criticism, and how it contributed to his breakdown andultimate silence. Convincing as his argument is, it cannot completely escapethe charge of distorting Klein`s work to fit the "totalizingtendency" of the thesis Pollock imposes on it. Thus, although the book refersto well over 200 of Klein`s works, barely a dozen are discussed in detail, andalways with reference to their relationship to the three major works. Also,while sound on Mein`s sources and symbolism, Pollock is not always so skfful inhis treatment of the technical aspects of Klein`s poetry, specifically hisdiction and versification. This is not the last word on Klein, then, perhapsnot even the best introduction to his work, assuming as it does the reader`sfamiliarity with the circumstances of his life, but it is likely to remain forsome time the work to be confronted by Klein scholars. Directed towards a wideraudience is Anne Compton`s A. J. M. Smith: Canadian Metaphysical (ECW, 250pages, $25 paper). Like Pollock`s, Compton`s book has a rigid thesis -that Smith`s poetry is a fusion of two traditions: the native and themetaphysical, of which the latter is the most important. Unlike the Klein book,however, this one bears signs of being a reworked dissertation. There is, forinstance, the need to defer to every critic who has had something to say aboutSmith, and the continual resituation of the subject within the history ofCanadian poetry. Unfortunate also are the many awkward phrases of which theauthor is guilty. How could an editor have allowed a sentence like this:"Connected with the question of Smith`s Canadianism is the issue of hisbeing derivative"? Nevertheless, there ismuch to praise in this book. Compton identifies many of Smith`s sources in theMetaphysical poets he studied for his own dissertation, and she offers detailedand lucid readings of a number of Smith`s poems that have not previously beenexamined. In this respect, her study is no mere addendum to Sandra Djwa`s well-knownarticle on Smith as a metaphysical poet. Compton`s research in the Smith Papersat Trent University and elsewhere throws a good deal of new light on theauthor`s career. And the enthusiasm she brings to her subject carries her over theobstacles posed by her stylistic lapses and enables her to make an originalcontribution to Smith scholarship, as well as providing an overview that can berecommended to undergraduates reading Smith for the first time. Stella Algoo-Baksh`sAustin C. Clarke: A Biography (ECW, 234 pages, $14.95 paper) is the first bookdevoted to Clarke. Previously, only a handful of articles have appeared on thework of "Canada`s first major black writer." And as Clarke`s fictionis rooted in the circumstances of his own life, this biography is a welcomecomplement to Clarke`s own autobiographical writings. Bom in Barbados in 1934,Clarke overcame an impoverished childhood to earn a scholarship to theUniversity of Toronto, where he first began to publish poems. After a briefstint as a journalist in Northern Ontario, Clarke returned to Toronto to writefiction, and ultimately to pursue a career as teacher, civil servant, andcommunity organizer. He has published 15 volumes, and yet remains outside themainstream of Canadian literature. Based on interviews andcorrespondence with Clarke, and extensive research into his papers at McMasterUniversity, Algoo-Baksh`s biography is probably as detailed an account ofthe life and literary career of Austin Clarke as it would be possible toproduce at this time. However, the author seems to be too close to her subjectto judge his character. We are left with the impression that Clarke hasinspired strong feelings, both positive and negative, in those who have knownhim intimately, but his biographer seems unwilling to advance any conclusionsthat might help the reader to gain any more than a superficial understanding ofwhat she calls his "contradictory nature."

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