Quebec Studies

Book Reviews

Quebec Studies (1992), 14, (1), 129–149.


Québec Studies, No. 14, 1992 BOOK REVIEWS LITERATURE LEITH, LINDA. Introducing Hugh MacLennan's "Two Solitudes." Toronto: ECW Press, 1990. Pp. 92. Hugh MacLennan's landmark novel about English-French relations is the first text from Quebec to be included in ECWs new series of "Canadian Fiction Studies." (Volumes on Bonheur d 'occasion and Maria Chapdelaine are in preparation. ) Designed for senior high school and undergraduate students, each volume in the series contains a chronology of the author, introductory chapters on the importance and critical reception of the work, and an extended "reading of the text," followed by an annotated bibliography. The concept is thus roughly equivalent to the similar series devoted to world masterworks published by O.K. Hall. Although the format is a standard one, much depends on the critic's individual talent: combining basic exposition with fresh insight is not an easy task. Linda Leith's study certainly enriches the beginner's appreciation of Two Solitudes, but it offers a stimulating new interpretation for specialists as well. Critics of Two Solitudes have often distinguished between the worthiness of its theme and the awkwardness of its literary expression. The value of Leith's study lies in her revisionary approach to the book's duality, which she locates within the form of the novel itself. Leith suggests that Two Solitudes seeks to blend two very different genres. The first parts of the novel offer an epic view of Canadian history, in which broadly drawn characters like Athanase Tallard are meant to typify larger social forces whose significance is explained by an authoritative narrator. The book's second half belongs instead to the genre of the biidungsroman, depicting the young Paul Tallard's slow and tentative growth as a writer. Unfortunately, the techniques of characterization appropriate to the first half are carried over into the second, where greater subtlety and nuance were required. "The change of genre after the death of Alphonse Tallard... throws the simplifications and banalities, the implausibilties and inconsistencies of MacLennan's characterization into relief. What had been admirable and certainly necessary in the epic becomes, in the Biidungsroman, a flaw" (45). Leith develops this insight in a number of directions, showing the interconnections between formal and thematic issues throughout the story. The asymmetry of French-English relations is another of Leith's concerns. She shows how the half-English, unreligious Paul Tallard makes him "quite unrepresentative of French Canada" in the 1940s, for his relationship to his community is very different from that of his bride Heather, an Anglo pure laine. MacLennan's sympathetic portrayal of the Canadian duality is also undercut by the assumption that it is the French who must do more accommodating than the English in Québec. To clinch the point, she includes a section called "An Imaginary Anglo" in which she invents an English Canadian "whose sympathies for French Canada [would be] a match" for those of Athanase Tallard (63 ). Through this exercise in counter-imagination she shows very wittily just how the novel's premise is skewed in essential ways. In the chapter on the work's reception, Leith also explores the reasons for the different reactions to the book among French and English critics. Yet, while offering an interpretation of MacLennan's novel that takes full account ofcontemporary political and formal concerns, Leith helps us appreciate, in historical as well as literary terms, the real value of MacLennan's "attempt to find a form to accommodate the duality of the Canadian experience" (81). Written in a clear and lively style, it is a valuable contribution to the field and a most useful resource for the teaching of the Canadian or Québec novel. University of California, Los Angeles Patrick Coleman LEWIS DUFAULT, ROSEANNA. Metaphors of Identity. The Treatment of Childhood in Selected Québécois NoveL·. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1991. Pp.86.

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