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Marian Engel

Marian Engel: Life in Letters

Christl Verduyn
Kathleen Garay
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 350
  • Book Info
    Marian Engel
    Book Description:

    Marian Engel was a writer's writer - an iconoclast, deeply admired and loved by a generation of Canadian authors and critics. Informal gatherings were often held at Engel's Toronto house, and it was there that Engel's many literary friendships were first nurtured, later to blossom through the exchange of numerous and extraordinary letters, which are variously funny, insightful, irreverent, and moving. Engel's lively epistolary practice offers a view of the literary landscape in Canada from 1965 to 1985 as seen through her correspondence with mentor Hugh MacLennan, and friends and colleagues Robertson Davies, Dennis Lee, Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence, Matt Cohen, Robert Weaver, and Graeme Gibson, to name but a few.

    In the spring of 2001, the Marian Engel Archive in Hamilton, Ontario received an exciting and unexpected new installment of Engel correspondence.Marian Engel: Life in Lettersis born of that gift. In making their selection, Christl Verduyn and Kathleen Garay have chosen correspondence that specifically captures Engel's life as a writer, a narrative that spans her early youthful travels in Europe to her early death in 1985. In addition to the letters sent to her friends, this startling and important collection includes letters by Engel to critics, to editors, to granting officers, to publishers, and a brilliant letter to a chief librarian lambasting him for, among other pungent criticisms, the library's prejudice against 'Domesticity' amongst other categories. Thoughtfully presented and accompanied by insightful commentary, these letters are rich in their detail, filling in the fine points in the life of not only one Canadian writer, but of a nation of writers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7705-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)

    The correspondence collected in this volume offers a view of the literary landscape in Canada from 1960 to 1985 as seen in letters to and from a key contributor to the writing community of the time - novelist Marian Engel (1933-85). Author of seven novels, including the Governor Generalʼs Award-winningBear(1976), two collections of short stories, two books for children, a nonfiction book on islands, and many essays and articles, Engel was also a lively and prolific letter writer. Active and visible on the Canadian literary scene throughout her career, a key proponent of Public Lending Right for writers,...

  5. Chronology
    (pp. xxvii-xxxii)
  6. Illustrations
    (pp. xxxiii-2)
  7. 1 Woman Travelling, 1960-1965
    (pp. 3-49)

    Marian Engelʼs travels abroad in the early 1960s would have lasting impact on her life and writing. A prestigious Rotary Foundation Fellowship in 1960 allowed Engel to study for a year in Aixen-Provence in the south of France. While abroad, she travelled and explored Europe from Sweden to Cyprus. A mature and not unsophisticated twenty-seven-year-old, Engel had already studied and worked outside her native Ontario.¹ This was her first experience, however, of life beyond North America, and letters from Sweden, England, France, and Italy express her delight with her widening world. She reported regularly on her travels, with details about...

  8. 2 Waiting for Honeyman, 1965–1970
    (pp. 50-78)

    Marian Engel was a prolific correspondent during her travels and time abroad. This productivity slowed down in the immediate period following her return to Toronto, as the more modest number of letters in this chapter suggests. A major development contributed to the decrease in Engelʼs letter writing. Twins Charlotte and William were born 30 April 1965. Surviving letters to Engel significantly outnumber those written by her during the latter half of the 1960s, which are dominated by the two concerns of writing and domesticity — now with the added dimension of motherhood.

    Leaving Cyprus, Engel had expressed high hopes for...

  9. 3 Growing Up at Forty, 1971-1975
    (pp. 79-150)

    The 1970s opened on an auspicious professional note for Marian Engel with the publication of her second novel,The Honeyman Festival. During the next few years, Engelʼs literary life expanded to include a generous measure of activism on behalf of Canadian writers like herself. She was closely involved with the formation of the Writersʼ Union of Canada and instrumental in the establishment of Public Lending Right for authors.

    Officially established in 1973, the Writersʼ Union of Canada was a response to the increased production and professionalization of Canadian writing in the 1960s. Poets in Canada had been provided with the...

  10. 4 Changing the Landscape, 1976-1980
    (pp. 151-207)

    Marian Engel shared two major items of news with her friend Pauline McGibbon in a New Yearʼs letter of 10 January 1976. First, she had moved with the children into a house of her own on Marchmount Road in Toronto. The Engels had separated and would later divorce. Second, Engel had completed a ʻvery strange and rather obscene bookʼ - the future Governor Generalʼs Award–winningBear. This novel about a bookish woman who has a love affair with a bear marked a turning point in Engel’s literary career. She had also moved in a professional sense, from a small...

  11. 5 A Woman among Friends, 1981-1985
    (pp. 208-276)

    Engel’s travels abroad, her terms as writer-in-residence, her literary activism, and her writing generated many friendships; as she remarked to Margaret Laurence, 30 March 1984, ‘friends old & new’ wrote with care and concern about her health and wellbeing. This final chapter includes a sampling of letters that arrived during the early 1980s as Engel battled with cancer. Judith Rodriguez (26 March 1982) and Heidi von Born (6 October 1982), for example, were writers befriended on travels to Australia and Sweden respectively.¹ Closer to home, Jack McClelland, Claire Mowat, Alice Munro, and Helen Weinzweig, among others, sent letters,² while Margaret Atwood,...

  12. Envoi
    (pp. 277-278)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-280)
  14. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 281-282)
  15. Index
    (pp. 283-295)