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Reviewed by:
  • Sheila Watson: Essays on Her Works ed. by Joseph Pivato
  • Anna St. Onge
Joseph Pivato, ed. Sheila Watson: Essays on Her Works. Guernica Editions. 248. $20.00

Joseph Pivato's collection of twelve essays, in addition to two paratextual chapters to bookend the work, includes what he considers "some of the best scholarship available on Sheila Watson." In addition to three essays of his own, Pivato includes work by E.D. Blodgett, Caterina Edwards, Mary G. Hamilton, George Melnyk, Margaret Morriss, Margot Northey, Glenn Willmott, and Sergiy Yakovenko. Some of these chapters are new contributions to scholarship on Watson, while four are reprints of articles published in the past forty years. Several chapters are more informal recollections of Watson during her time in Edmonton, where she taught English at the University of Alberta. It also includes two chapters attributed to Watson herself. At first glance, this work appears to be a compact and reasonably priced anthology focusing on the work of an important twentieth-century Canadian writer and a useful addition to academic libraries, reading lists, and syllabi. Unfortunately, closer inspection raises questions.

Copyediting errors, particularly in terms of citation irregularities, improper spelling of names, and editorial artifacts are found throughout the collection. They are small errors but lead the reader to question the overall integrity of the text.

The collection includes two selections of Watson's own work. One is an excerpt of instructional material on Joyce, which gives the reader a sense of Watson's teaching style. This sample is at once too much and too little, and one wonders why her work on Wyndham Lewis was not highlighted. The other is a disappointing patchwork of heavily edited extracts drawn from previously published interviews with Watson. Pivato provides glosses on each segment, but these efforts obscure rather than amplify Watson's voice.

Perhaps this is only an irritant to archivists, but the anthology fails to provide precise citations to primary sources. In truth, the reviewer's quarrel may lie with the vagueness of the Chicago Manual on archival citation, but the manner in which it is implemented here is troubling. Yes, passing reference is made to Watson's papers at the University of St. Michael's College, her husband Wilfred Watson's at the University of Alberta, and an important draft of The Double Hook available at the University of Toronto's Thomas Fisher Library. However, there are no direct citations to these primary sources, although they are easily obtained through online finding aids and descriptive databases. This lack of citation might be excused by the fact that Morriss's otherwise excellent study of the development of The Double Hook was published in 2002 when Watson's archives were still in the hands of her literary executor. However, if [End Page 305] Pivato elected to revise and update the citations in other chapters (including adding one of his own articles published in 2011 as a citation to a work by Blodgett originally published in 1988), why not apply such citation refreshment across the collection?

In addition, important sources of correspondence between Watson and her editors at McClelland & Stewart held at McMaster University are ignored in the bibliography by Hamilton, as is recent scholarship published since 2009. Some reference is made to a project to digitize the correspondence of Sheila and Wilfred, yet no citations are provided that would lead a reader to the digital outputs of this effort. It seems disingenuous to proclaim that the "international dissemination of all this information on the writing by and about Sheila Watson is now made easier by the internet" when all online scholarship in the bibliography is lumped under a miscellaneous category of "Selected Websites" which privileges the environment in which resources are found over their format and genre.

Finally, it is puzzling that for a collection published in 2015, no apparent effort was made to solicit an Indigenous perspective on Watson's two novels. Pivato closes one of his essays with a reference to Samara Walbohm's work which investigated how past critics waffled when addressing how Watson employed Indigenous themes, concluding "[l]et us hope that in future studies this reluctance will change." As editor, Pivato had...


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pp. 305-306
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