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Wilfrid Eggleston. Literary Friends Borealis Press. vi, '34. $19.95 cloth, $12.95 paper George Woodcock. The World of Canadian Writing: Critiques and Recollections Douglas and McIntyre. ix, )06. $16.95 Directly or indirectly, both these books approach the category of literary memoir, reminding us not only that the period of serious artistic activity and achievement in Canada is now extensive, but also that there is a wealth of oral evidence and testimony about our writers and their lives that will pass into oblivion if not preserved in print. Both Eggleston and Woodcock are prairie-born, but they belong to different generations almost , one is tempted to say, to different worlds. Eggleston's is the world of Bliss Carman poetry-readings, picnics with Charles G.D. Roberts and family, conversations with the Groves and Duncan Campbell Scott; Woodcock's is a post-war Canada, recalling older figures like Ethel Wilson, Roderick Haig-Brown, and John Glassco butalso coming to terms critically with younger writers as diverse as Margaret Atwood, Matt Cohen, and Pat Lowther. Eggleston was essentially an amateur in Canadian letters, his literary activities packed into whatever time was left after a full day's work as journalistor parliamentary reporter; Woodcock is very much the professional man of letters but also, in Grove's phrase, a latter-day pioneer patiently creating a literary milieu in which to be a full-time man of letters in Canada comes within the realm of possibility. Wilfrid Eggleston has already written his autobiography, and Literary Friends is less an account of himself than amemoir of the numerous literary acquaintances he made over the course of a long and active life. It provides fascinating but equivocal evidence for the perilous exercise of comparing past with present. 'Looking back,' he writes, 'I realize that up to my nineteenth birthday [in 1920] my cultural opportunities were much inferior to what might have been enjoyed by any boy in Bonn or Boston or Sheffield a hundred years earlier.' Perhaps, but on the next page he reports how in 1919 he had attended Regina Collegiate, where 'high school students played Chopin on the piano of the school auditorium during the lunch hour.' Today we have a flourishing, officially sanctioned 'Canadian literature' but what are the chances of hearing Chopin at the equivalent of Regina Collegiate now? Later he can refer casually to Maclean's as a literary and intellectual attraction of Toronto, whereupon one is tempted to look back to those palmy cultured days with amazement and envy. Then he goes on to describe his early years on the Toronto Star where the reporters' room seemed pOSitively cluttered with poets; most of them, admittedly, are forgotten now, but who can believe that any modem-day Canadian newspaper has so many employees seriously and creatively concerned with words? 158 LEITERS IN CANADA 1980 Eggleston's later chapters are devoted to genial memories of specific literary figures - particularly Lloyd Roberts, Grove, Scott, and the Knisters. He quotes generously from personal letters and from his well-kept files from his days as conscientious journalist. What is most valuable, perhaps, is his capacity to reproduce his own sense of buoyant enthusiasm, evoking the days when a fully-fledged Canadian literature was still a dream and a vision, when the frustrations must have been considerable but the sense of standing on the threshold of a literary renaissance both dizzying and inspiring. At a time when practically every book of quality has to be heavily subsidized and 'Canadian literature' has become a subject for solemn study rather than a joy and a discovery, this warmly human series of reminiscences reproduces the freshness of an early world that we lose contact with at our peril. Somewhere in the course ofmy education (if! may reminisce myself for a moment) Irememberbeing told that Coleridge was the lastmanwho could legitimately claim to have read everything. Faced with another book by George Woodcock, one wonders if one should not perhaps think again. His range, even when he confines himself to Canadian material, is staggering. The World of Canadian Writing, like its predecessor Odysseus Ever Returning, is a gathering of previously published articles and reviews, and it therefore makes no...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 157-159
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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