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Theresa and Albert Moritz. Leacock: A Biography Stoddart. 363. $26.95 Leacock: A Biography by Theresa and Albert Moritz is as thorough a portrait as we are likely to get of a writer who both courted the cult of personality and dodged most attempts to probe his private life. But do we need another biography, however thorough, that adds little to the existing testimonies to Leacock's creation of that timelessly intriguing characterhis public self? And even if we could use a biography-cum-refresher on Leacock, do we want one whose chief virtue - its thoroughness - is also its greatest failing? This is not to say that the book has no other virtues (I will presently enumerate them), but I must touch further upon its chief fault - its numbing thoroughness. This biography fails by sinning against the very spirit of its subject. Leacock: A Biography, as its unimaginative title forewarns, makes Leacock boring. The writing is of that ponderous sort that gives academic prose its Victorian flavour and bad reputation. Yet the book is not useful as a scholarly biography. The system of documentation will frustrate those who think it important to check source authorities. No in-text note numbers are used; instead, page numbers are listed consecutively at the back of the book, with each number being followed by an idiosyncratic documenting of whatever seemed to require documenting. Within the text, much information is repeated from chapter to chapter (and often in several chapters), as if to confirm that the authors designed the book to be sampled rather than read consecutively. Indeed, an occasional'dipping into' may be the most tolerable approach to Leacock: A Biography. Nonetheless, this biography has its virtues. The Moritzes give full and intelligent value for Leacock's much-maligned theory of humour, arguing rightly that for Leacock 'kindly' humour did not necessarily preclude incisive satire on those who deny their humanity - their kinship with their fellow men. The Moritzes also demonstrate that Leacock was a respected and internationally influential political economist, one whose advice was regularly sought by Prime Minister R.B. Bennett in the early 1930S. The chapteron Leacock's best works of humorous fiction, Sunshine Sketches ofa Little Tawn and Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich, is unusually rewarding in the criticism of Leacock's writings for the way in which it interprets those works in the context of Leacock's life and philosophy. And the Moritzes are convincing in their desire to shift some of the attention given exclusively to Leacock's humorous fiction to his delightful personal essays, espeCially those of his last years. Such portions of Leacock: A Biography make for worthwhile reading. But the reader should observe that those portions comprise one chapter and, say, two dozen pages in 363-page book. The Moritzes reveal, 214 pages into theirbook, that they apprehend the HUMANITIES 167 difficulty of writing a biography of Leacock that would justify itself with something truly new: 'The reticence Leacock displayed and inspired among those who knew and wrote about him continued unbroken throughout his life. It still stands between him and anyone attempting to understand the importance of his family to him. It is especially difficult to pierce this barrierin the late 1920S, when Beatrix [his wife] died and Stevie [his son] was seriously ill.' As a result of the condition that they describe, the Moritzes can only repeat what has long been known of Leacock from the numerous biographies, reminiscences, and oral histories. Imagination, perhaps imaginative writing, may be required ifwe are to proceed further in our understanding of Leacock's life. A biography that would illuminate, not the husband-wife relationship, but the ambivalent mother-son relationship would be most welcome. A book that would approach Leacock through the eyes of his only and dwarfish son Stevie, who was a pathetic parody of his father, would be worth its price. (GERALD LYNCH) Ronald Binns. Malcolm Lowry Contemporary Writers Series. Methuen. 96. $4ยท75 paper Ronald Binns's Malcolm Lowry is partofa series on major post-war writers, the intention of which is 'to map the contemporary, to describe its aesthetic and moral topography' (p 6). Although his study is concise and articulate...


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