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442 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 As the title of the book suggests, the focus is upon Fanny Essler. The daughter of a respectable, working-class family - her father is a master blacksmith - Fanny is attractive without being beautiful, intelligent without being particularly insightful. One of Greve's accomplishments is that he maintains our interest in her despite the fact that she is neither very profound nor very likeable. He does so not simply by detailing the circumstances in which Fanny finds herself, butby usingher as a measure ofthe male-dominatedworldinwhich shemoves. Men are tested in Fanny Essler and found wanting: Baron Bruno, her first love, is her first disappointment; Friedrich Karl Reelen, her last love, would have been, . the last line of the book informs us, her greatest disappointment had not death intervened. I leave it to others to decide whether Fanny Essler is, as the editors claim, a woman's story. Despite a number of annoying typographical errors, it is certainly a very readable book and held my interest throughout. (PAUL HJARTARSON) David G. Pitt. E./. Pratt: The Truant Years, 1882-1927. University of Toronto Press. 414. $24.95; $14.95 paper The first volume of David G. Pitt's life of Pratt is the first contemporary biography of a major Canadian poet and it is as compelling as it is complete. Refusing to accept the conventional portrait ofPratt as an aloof, academic, and narrative poet settled into the world of Victoria College, Pitt concentrates on Pratt the man, the individual concerned about establishing his identity as a writer and his career as a poet. Recognizing that 'biography is not a science' but'a species of history' with no fixed explanations, especially of literary genius, Pitt provides an account of the development of Pratt's life from a sensitive Newfoundland youth destined for the ministry to the acknowledged leader ofCanadian poetry. Shaping the biography are three primary questions: how did an unlikely Newfoundlander who wrote no serious poetry until the age of thirty-five become Canada's leading poet of his time? How did this writer who essentially began with prose find his voice as a poet? How did his contradictory habits of caution and impetuosity find resolution in his personal and literary life to 1927, the terminus ad quem of the volume? As abiographer, Pittbenefitedfrom knowing Pratt, havingfirst methim in 1946 when Pitt arrived at the University of Toronto. In 1960 he approached Pratt about writing his life and the subject agreed with the proviso that it not appear until after his death. In 1969 - five years after Pratt's death - Pitt began to work conscientiously on the project, although it was not completed until the early eighties. The work, however, gained from the distance of time as well as from the numerous first-hand accounts of Pratt's life given by his contemporaries. To his HUMANITIES 443 credit, Pitt moderates his personalinvolvementwith the subject, yetlends enough of his own personality to engage the reader in a mutual appreciation of Pratt's development. But Pitt never lets others speak for his subject. In the tradition of Lockhart's life of Scott (but without its excesses), Pitt says: 'I have wherever possible let him speak for himself.' Surprisingly, that material is not voluminous, since Pratt kept no journal, diary, or even carbon copies of the letters he wrote. As a consequence, the biographer has to balance personal statements by Pratt against objective assessments and weigh anecdotes against evaluations. A debatable element in this literay life, however, is Pitt's decision not to analyse Pratt's writing. He provides no commentary or interpretation of Pratt's work, preferring to include only historical or compositional details such as the difficulties in finishing The Witches' Brew or of publishing Titans. But he contradicts this approach in freely using Pratt's writing 'to shed light on the man, his personality, mind and spirit.' This biographical treatment of the literature undermines the otherwise purposeful avoidance of literary criticism, although in a literary biography it would seem that the biographer has an obligation to assess the achievement of his subject. As HenryJames wrote, 'the artistis presentin everypage ofevery book from which he sought so assiduously...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 442-444
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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