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328 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 basket-collecting craze of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, extended narratives describing the Hickox family and their world, and a useful analysis of Lower Klamath weaving conventions and design use. In addition, the book contains sixty-four superb colour plates that illustrate both the author's assessment of the Hickox's work and their mastery of their medium. (STEVEN L. GRAFE) Douglas Fetherling. The Gentle Anarchist: A Life ofGeorge Woodcock Douglas and McIntyre. xx, 244. $35.00 To say that this is the sort of biography that George Woodcock might have written is to indicate both the strengths 'and limitations of Douglas Fetherling's The Gentle Anarchist: A Life of George Woodcock. Woodcock's biographical studies of Aphra Behn, Proudhon, Godwin, Kropotkin, Orwelt Huxley, and Herbert Read are notable for their relative brevity, traditional approach, and readability. Likehis many travel books, however, they rarely surprise or shock the reader with a daring conjecture or surprising revelation or insight. Woodcock was usually more reliable than original. He also assumed that there are limits to what the biographer should reveal and discuss, an attitude reflected in his lifelong lack of interest in Freud. Writing Woodcock's biography less than a decade after his death, Fetherling has produced a book his subject would doubtless approve. Thoroughly researched and lean and clearly written, it offers an overview of the man, his relationships, and his times, and comments intelligently on some of the more important ofWoodcock's 150 books and pamphlets. With the exception of an unrequited love, about which Fetherling is reticent, and the surprising emigration in 1949 from England to Canada, Woodcock's life, for the most part, was as bookish as the lives of those academics from whom he tried to keep his distance despite his seventeen-year editorship of Canadian Literature. The book's skeleton is a calendar of Woodcock's travels and the writing and publication of articles and books. The refusal of Woodcock's wife, Inge, to be interviewed for what isin all other respects an authorized biography leaves a curious gap at its centre. We learn a great deal of detail about the marriage, but as in a weak novel we never feel it, never get a sense of it as a living relationship. As in the book's several photographs of Woodcock, where he is rarely without a tie, one can't help wondering whether there was another Woodcock, less placid, less self-contained, more, as they say in contemporary rock, 'unplugged'? A case in point is his relationship with Orwell, in many respects his model as a man and a writer. One can read both Woodcock (in The Crystal Spirit) and Fetherling on the relationship and still be left wondering about Woodcock's feelings. His friendships with Canadian HUMANITIES 329 writers show a reticence and reserve. The letters to Al Purdy and Earle Birney that I have seen in their papers, for instance, rarely touch personal issues. Woodcock's attitude to autobiography and biography - his refusal to probe or speculate - is reflected in the narrowness of his literary criticism. Though he edited the country's most influential critical journal, his own writing rarely entered into dialogue with the works that changed the intellectual climate of our time. One can read widely in Woodcock and never come across a reference to Heidegger, Sartre, Levi-Strauss, or Foucault. Even when he deals effectively with a writer, one rarely has the sense of seeing a writer or his work in a new way. Considering how much Woodcock wrote about Canadian literature, it's surprising that none ofrus essays or books strike one as having classic or canonical status. They are well written, lucid, and intelligent, and rarely cited. In fact, I doubt whether any of Woodcock's literary or travel books will have the staying power of Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. As Fetherling's title emphasizes, however, Woodcock, as one would expect, was an anarchist of the'gentle' kind. His politics were the reason for his claiming the status of a conscientious objector during the Second World War. In Canada, they underlay his lifelong journalistic jousting with the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 328-329
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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