I have to conclude with regret that Jane Urquhart deserves better. This first collection of essays on her writing is a short, sketchy gathering that uses book reviews and a couple of puzzling add-ons (brief unhelpful notes) to fill out a roster that includes only three substantive essays. Compared to the Guernica Writers Series collection on Nicole Brossard, for instance, it is a small-scale effort, fully a hundred pages shorter. Nevertheless, Laura Ferri has brought her evident enthusiasm for Urquhart's oeuvre to bear here. She has initiated the undertaking, gathered the contributors, sought breadth of coverage, and moulded a collection that will, in limited ways, provide critical guidance for readers.
Four components stand out. There is Ferri's interview with Urquhart. It is her second interview with the author; the first appeared in Descant (Summer 2000). It offers a warm, personalized exchange in which Urquhart talks lucidly about The Stone Carvers (2001), offers insight into her attraction to nineteenth-century Canada (it was then a 'remarkably naïve ... very, very unconscious country'), and wonders about the permanence of art and the goal of creating permanence in wake of the 9/11 catastrophe (only two months earlier). The other three are essays: Marlene Goldman's study of the characterization of Patrick and Maud in The Whirlpool, Anne Compton's tracing of the role of landscape in Urquhart's first three novels, and Caterina Ricciardi's 'Away and the Meaning of Colonization.' The rest of the pieces are more ephemeral, though reviews of The Stone Carvers by T.F. Rigelhof (who identifies himself as a recent Urquhart convert) and Allan Hepburn (who calls attention to her 'highly visual' and exuberant style) provide much more substance than one might expect to find. For his part, John Moss writes very positively – perhaps too positively for a first novel [End Page 599] – about the aesthetic achievement of The Whirlpool; he sees it as 'art of the highest order' and 'good post-modern fiction.'
In addition to its evident thinness, another of the collection's negatives is its proofreading and fact-checking. In Goldman's essay a key referent, Samuel Monk, is left out of 'Works Cited' while, in Ricciardi's, Loughbreeze Beach is designated the extreme southern 'region' of Ontario. In Compton's essay, in which Catharine Parr Traill is poorly used as a straw woman because of her scientific and unimaginative response to the natural world of Ontario, Traill's name is misspelled and her book, The Backwoods of Canada, is misdated.
But the aforementioned essays provide much food for critical thought. While Ricciardi studies the implications of emigration to the New World and incipient colonialization in Away, Ann Compton offers an extension on her 1998 essay in which Gaston Bachelard meets Urquhart's imagination. Drawing on Northrop Frye's definition of the romantic, Compton sees the Canadian landscape as the source of chaotic and visionary power that informs the arteries of Urquhart's sensibility. Certainly, no contemporary Canadian writer uses the word 'landscape' more often than Urquhart. Ontario's landscape is 'untam[e]able' and inspiring, even as it can be confusing and destructive to those who grapple with it. Her stories are made 'articulate' through landscape and the 'voice' of her characters is released through 'an internalization of landscape.' Landscape allows Urquhart to move seamlessly between the mimetic and the mythic, descending or ascending according to the patterns she applies. It provides her with her both 'mythhoard' and her 'wordpool,' overriding history as her prime narrative determiner.
Goldman's essay also takes up the 'nightmare' power of Ontario's landscape. Applying long-standing Old-World theories of the sublime, Goldman offers a reading of The Whirlpool that recognizes the growth of Maud Grady in contrast to the poet, Patrick. While Patrick blindly seeks escape in the Niagara landscape, he ultimately enacts a 'retreat from society' and authentic relationship when he swims the whirlpool, effectively committing suicide. Maud learns the value of what Goldman calls 'deterritorialization,' as she frees herself from the overwhelming entrapments of her life and moves forward as mother...