The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3

By John Clement Ball | Go to book overview

M

MacLennan, Hugh
LAURA MOSS

From the publication of his first novel in 1941 until his death in 1990, Hugh MacLennan was regarded as one of the finest writers Canada had ever produced. His popularity stemmed from his timely grappling with Canada’s growing sense of itself as an emerging nation, his ability to bring Canadian geography to life, and his commitment to exposing the psychological and social consciousness of his characters. However, while some argued that MacLennan’s most powerful writing was that which unapologetically engaged nationalist themes in Canadian contexts, others saw this same commitment as parochial and agenda-driven. Indeed, throughout his writing life, MacLennan was adamant about the social role literature must play in nation building. Alongside Morley Callaghan, Sinclair Ross, and Ethel Wilson, MacLennan is recognized for the vital role he played in modernist Canadian fiction.

Born on March 20, 1907 in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, and raised in Halifax, MacLennan attended Dalhousie University, Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, and Princeton University, where he received a PhD in classics in 1935. With no university able to hire him in the middle of the Depression, he taught at Lower Canada College in Montreal, and later spent many years teaching English at McGill University. Although MacLennan became one of the preeminent writers of his day, financial stability eluded him. In his famous essay “Boy Meets Girl in Winnipeg and Who Cares?” (1960), he details the gamble writers take, given Canada’s small literate population, few local publishing outlets, long distances between urban centers making distribution costly, and lingering colonial mentality in which imported books dominated and Canadian writing was seen as inferior to American or British. To supplement his fiction writing, MacLennan regularly published essays in Canadian magazines and in his own esteemed essay collections, including the Governor General’s Award-winning Cross-Country (1949) and Thirty and Three (1954).

During his studies at Oxford and Princeton, MacLennan unsuccessfully followed Ernest Hemingway as a modernist model when he attempted two novels about war and social change in America and Europe. Failing to find a publisher, and at the urging of his American-born novelist wife Dorothy Duncan, MacLennan decided to experiment with writing a story that dealt with “universalist” themes in a Canadian context but not in a regionalist manner. The result was his breakthrough work, Barometer Rising (1941), a retelling of the Ulysses story set against World War I and the explosion of a munitions ship in the Halifax harbor, which the young MacLennan had witnessed on December 6, 1917. His experiment with a specifically Canadian story paid off, winning him his first Governor General’s Award and a popular following.

With the success of Barometer Rising, MacLennan announced that “Canadians are hungry for a spokesman” (Cameron 1981, 155) and obliged

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The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editors i
  • The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Literature WWW.Literatureencyclopedia.Com ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Notes on Contributors to Volume III xv
  • Introduction to Volume III 937
  • A 942
  • B 980
  • C 995
  • D 1034
  • E 1052
  • F 1066
  • G 1094
  • H 1121
  • I 1145
  • J 1154
  • K 1167
  • L 1180
  • M 1198
  • N 1252
  • O 1270
  • P 1277
  • Q 1296
  • R 1300
  • S 1325
  • T 1365
  • U 1370
  • V 1373
  • W 1378
  • Z 1398
  • Index 1400
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