- Isabella Valancy Crawford: The Life and the Legends by Dorothy Farmiloe, and: Dry Water: A Novel of Western Canada by Robert Stead, and: The Poet and the Critic: A Literary Correspondence Between D.C. Scott and E.K. Brown ed. by Robert L. McDougall (review)
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 54, Number 4, Summer 1985
- pp. 435-438
- View Citation
- Additional Information
HUMANITIES 435 facts are already widely known. But a more serious fault is the lack of organizationand analysis that should offersomeinformativeperspectives on these more recent developments in prairie theatre. This is where Stuart's perhaps unconscious central Canadian bias most particularly informs his work. Although he speaks in his brief conclusion of ~the unique personality of the western region,' he has not really succeeded in conveying this in the body of his modem section; nor is there much sense anywhere of the creative energy of prairie theatre to be 'passed on as inspiration to the future.' Clearly the definite article should be dropped from the title of this history of prairie theatre. (DIANE BESSAI) Dorothy Farmiloe. Isabella Valancy Crawford: The Life and the Legends Tecumseh Press 1983. xvi, 90, illus. $8.95 paper Robert Stead. Dry Water: A Novel of Western Canada. Edited by Prem Varma Tecumseh Press 1983. xiii, 247. $19.95; $11.95 paper Robert L. McDougall, editor. The Poet and the Critic: A Literary Correspondence Between D.C. Scott and E.K. Brown Carleton University Press 1983. 308, illus. $12.95 paper The three books under review all focus upon Canadian writers of an earlier period. They are fruits of the increasing scholarly interest in Canadian literature as it existed before the outburst of creative activity that followed the Second World War. It may not be coincidental that all three are published in Ottawa, partlybecause much ofthe material for this kind of research is to be found in the Public Archives, partly because a spur to such activity has recently been given by the Carleton University project for editing early Canadian texts. Dorothy Farmiloe's Isabella Valancy Crawford: The Lifeand the Legends is a gathering together of all the scanty information we possess concerning the nineteenth-century poet. Very few solid facts are available, and Farmiloehas had to rely onnewspaperarticles, journalisticmemoirs, stray entries in local histories, and what she has been able to add from the memories and traditions preserved by relatives. As such, it represents easily the most substantial biographical account that we have. There are, however, some serious problems with the book as a whole. When, for example, Farmiloe states that one account is 'in error' (p 12) because it is contradicted by another, she doesn't tell us why the latter is more reliable than the former. And although the full titleimplies thatsheis going to separate the life from the legends, she is not above contributing to the legends themselves. In chapter 5 she clearly wants to believe that Crawford had a love affair while living at Lakefield, and builds - out of 436 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 very doubtful evidence indeed - a theory that she used to make overnight trips to Stony Lake to meet Theodore Clementi. True, she acknowledges that this is only a theory, butthe space devoted to itis out ofall proportion to the likelihood of the whole incident. Farmiloe tries to read poems like 'The Lily Bed' as autobiographical, and never pauses to consider that such poetry, with all its erotic imagery, is at least as likely to arise from frustrated as from consummated love. None the less, the biographical parts of the book remain useful. When Farmiloe turns to literary commentary, however, she reveals herself as hopelessly uncritical. 'The Earth Waxeth Old' is a pleasant but rather obvious minor Victorian product; Farmiloe- her own experience as a poet notwithstanding - considers it 'comparable in spirit to Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill'" (p 7n)! 'Malcolm's Katie' is not 'an epic masterpiece' (p 16), and the abuse ofsuch terminologymerely leads to more reasonable claims being treated with scepticism. On p 25 she quotes a cliche-filled stanza from 'TheHidden Room,' which is neverfar from doggerel, and praises its ,exquisite rhythm and haunting phraseology.' All this is, frankly, embarrassing. Indeed, herchampionship leads her to the indefensible. 'War' is quoted with approval and becomes an excuse for a rather shrill diatribe on the evils of empire-building (pp 52-3). But what, Iwondered, of 'The Rose of a Nation's Thanks,' an unpleasantly jingoistic poem Crawford wrote on the putting down of the Riel rebellion in 1885? The empire-builders in that case are...