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Sinclair Ross's "As for Me and My House"

Sinclair Ross's "As for Me and My House": Five Decades of Criticism

Edited by David Stouck
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 288
  • Book Info
    Sinclair Ross's "As for Me and My House"
    Book Description:

    In the past twenty years, as the structures of Canadian culture have begun to change, so has the fate of As For Me and My House.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7995-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Prefatory Note
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction ‘The Reception of As For Me and My House’
    (pp. 3-8)

    Fifty years ago, in an uncannily perceptive review, Robertson Davies foretold the future of Sinclair Ross’sAs For Me and My House.He welcomed the novel as ‘a remarkable addition to our small stock of Canadian books of first-rate importance,’ one that would be read, he predicted, outside of Canada and would reflect credit on the country. He conceded the book was not lively or optimistic in tone, but found it ‘deeply stimulating,’ written with great sensitivity and skill. This book, he announced, was likely to be put on university reading lists, and thus he foresaw the classic status it...

  6. Reviews (1941)
    (pp. 9-24)

    The reviews ofAs For Me and My Housedivide sharply between American and Canadian notices. The novel was published in the United States with no dust-jacket explanation of Sinclair Ross’s identity (one reviewer guessed that Ross was probably a woman), and reviewers had no context in which to judge the novel. McClelland and Stewart, however, distributed some copies of the novel in Canada with an advertisement identifying Ross as a young fiction writer from Saskatchewan, employed by the Royal Bank in Winnipeg, and this focus of expectations resulted in a number of enthusiastic and informed reviews.

    The American reviews...

  7. Opinion
    (pp. 25-32)

    AlthoughAs For Me and My Housesold only a few hundred copies when it was published, it nonetheless established itself as a major work in the eyes of readers concerned with Canada’s literary culture. In the first book-length study of western Canadian fiction (1949), Edward McCourt observes that ‘Ross’s one novel and his few short stories comprise the most important body of fiction written about the Canadian West’ (95). Although he judges the characters inAs For Me and My Houseto be static and the plot somewhat artificial, McCourt has unstinting praise for the writing itself and for...

  8. Critical Essays

    • ‘Introduction’ to As For Me and My House (1957)
      (pp. 35-40)
      Roy Daniells

      The opportunity to write a few introductory remarks for the reissue ofAs For Me and My Housegives one a feeling of privilege and pleasure which may seem excessive for a book so unfamiliar to the Canadian public. To make clear the source of this pleasure and excitement is perhaps in itself sufficient introduction.

      There is a strong family resemblance among Canadian novelists writing in English. (French-Canadian fiction, which has its own cachet, needs separate consideration.) The novels graze all one way, as the lie of the land compels, and are formed by ingestion and rumination. This is inevitable...

    • from ‘Wolf in the Snow’ (1960)
      (pp. 41-44)
      Warren Tallman

      The bleak assumption of this beautiful novel is that Philip Bentley has no ground whatsoever upon which he might stand, no communion at all through which he might recover saving dimensions of self. The overwhelming desolation which rims Horizon around – the hostile wind, the suffocating dust and sand and the even more suffocating and claustrophobic heat – recurs on the pages of Mrs Bentley’s diary as outward manifestation of the inner desolation felt by her husband. All that Philip can claim or cling to is his maddeningly inarticulate impulse to create. The novel is less likely a story than it is...

    • from Butterfly on Rock (1970)
      (pp. 44-48)
      D.G. Jones

      In Sinclair Ross’sAs For Me and My House,the characters are divided within and against themselves. And the land which embodies the authentic life of the Rev. and Mrs Bentley becomes the more sinister and haunting as it reveals unconsciously their own suppressed vitality.

      Philip Bentley has become a minister more or less by accident. Himself a bastard, child of the outcast culture, he was taken into the community and trained by the Church. Though he has never been convinced of either the Church’s motives or its theology, he accepted its offer to send him to divinity school. He...

    • ‘Sinclair Ross’s Ambivalent World’ (1969)
      (pp. 48-54)
      W.H. New

      One of the most haunting phrases in all of Canadian fiction has to me always been the last line of Sinclair Ross’sAs For Me and My House.The ambivalence of it puzzles, irritates, confuses. When Philip Bentley at that time protests that to name his illegitimate son Philip would be to raise the possibility of not knowing which of them is which, his wife – the central character-narrator – writes in her diary: ‘That’s right, Philip, I want it so.’ And so the novel closes. At first that‘I want it’seems to reveal a great deal; it speaks the voice...

    • ‘No Other Way: Sinclair Ross’s Stories and Novels’ (1971)
      (pp. 54-65)
      Sandra Djwa

      The whole question of the ways of the Old Testament God to man is an important one for the characters of Ross’s fictional world and particularly in relation to the first novel,As For Me and My House.Here this question carries with it that latter-day Puritanism of the psychological search for self, often expressed in terms of the ‘way’ that must be taken. As in Rudy Wiebe’s novel of the prairies,Peace Shall Destroy Many,Harold Horwood’s description of Newfoundland,Tomorrow Will Be Sunday,or Margaret Laurence’sA Jest of God,the novel presents a world in which the...

    • ‘The Prairie Internalized: The Fiction of Sinclair Ross’ (1973)
      (pp. 66-75)
      Laurence Ricou

      In Sinclair Ross’s fiction the prairie, for the first time, is significantly internalized. ‘The inner and outer worlds of the Bentleys,’ Roy Daniells remarks, ‘correspond perfectly’ (vi). In his creation of character, Ross incorporates features and descriptive terms which apply equally to the prairie landscape. Mrs Bentley’s landscape is completely subjective. It is integral to her way of thinking and expression, so that not only major themes, like the yearning for assurance of one’s ‘existence and reality,’ but minor details, like Philip’s tone of speech, are expressed in terms which involve the surrounding prairie. In other words, Ross is the...

    • ‘Beyond Mrs Bentley: A Study of As For Me and My House’ (1973)
      (pp. 76-95)
      Wilfred Cude

      In his introductory remarks to the New Canadian Library edition ofAs For Me and My House,Roy Daniells asserts that the characters and the events of the novel are to be comprehended solely in terms of the analysis of them proffered by the narrator. According to Professor Daniells, Mrs Bentley’s narrative can be accepted without the slightest reservation. Mrs Bentley herself is ‘pure gold and wholly credible.’ She is ‘the more candid, selfless, and receptive soul, struggling less overtly but seeing herself, her husband, and indeed the whole situation with exquisite and painful clarity.’ This assessment of Mrs Bentley...

    • ‘The Mirror and the Lamp in Sinclair Ross’s As For Me and My House’ (1974)
      (pp. 95-103)
      David Stouck

      While discussions of Canadian literature invariably make some reference to Sinclair Ross as a distinguished writer of fiction from the prairies, it has not yet been shown thatAs For Me and My Houseis a novel which stands on its own apart from regional considerations. Perhaps the major reason for the limited critical appreciation of the book is the mistaken belief that because Mrs Bentley is the narrator, she is the novel’s central character. This assumption both relegates Philip to a secondary role and overlooks the artist’s story theme which gives the novel its universal interest. Critics have assumed...

    • ‘Mrs Bentley: Her Journal and Her Marriage’ (1979)
      (pp. 103-111)
      Lorraine McMullen

      Sinclair Ross tells us that originally he intendedAs For Me and My Houseto be the story of Philip narrated by his wife, who would be in a position to reveal him more perceptively and honestly than could Philip himself.¹ However, as the author himself admits, Mrs Bentley became more central than her creator had anticipated. In fact, the narrative acts in two directions: outwardly to reveal Philip, a simple, stark actor in the drama, and inwardly to reveal Mrs Bentley, a complex, sensitive sharer in the action as well as Philip’s reporter and interpreter. As writer of the...

    • ‘The Fear of Women in Prairie Fiction: An Erotics of Space’ (1979)
      (pp. 111-120)
      Robert Kroetsch

      How do you make love in a new country?

      In an allegorical passage in Willa Cather’s novel,My Ántonia,we learn that two men who batch together on the Nebraska plains are the same Pavel and Peter who, leaving a wedding party in Russia, fed the bride to pursuing wolves. Pavel tells his story to the newly arrived immigrant, Mr Shimerda, and shortly thereafter dies. The survivor, Peter, kisses his cow goodbye, eats at one sitting his entire winter supply of melons, and goes off to cook in a railway construction camp where gangs of Russians are employed.

      Yound Ántonia...

    • ‘El Greco in Canada: Sinclair Ross’s As For Me and My House’ (1981)
      (pp. 120-138)
      Barbara Godard

      Now that Modernism seems to be approaching its end, a spate of studies is being devoted to this period. Although its characteristics and chronology are yet a matter of debate, its dominant position in European and American letters of this century is unchallenged. Whether it has existed in British literature is a moot point and discussion on the subject sheds light on the position of Modernism in Canadian letters.

      Peter Ackroyd argues that Modernism never crossed the channel: British writers remained attached to traditional humanist and realistic values. On the other hand, John Fletcher and Malcolm Bradbury include Joyce, Woolf,...

    • ‘Mrs Bentley and the Bicameral Mind: A Hermeneutical Encounter with As For Me and My House’(1982)
      (pp. 138-148)
      John Moss

      Virtually all the criticism that has been written aboutAs For and My Households in common the intent to explain, to interpret the narrative as if it were a portion of real life, somehow isolated by the author through an act of genius or grace. Critics have offered diverse readings of Sinclair Ross’s novel, some of them intriguing, and yet the novel remains remarkably opaque. As much as I enjoy the commentaries by Wilf Cude, Lorraine McMullen, W.H. New, David Stouck, Sandra Djwa and others, I am no closer for reading them to comprehending the nature of Ross’s achievement....

    • ‘Who’s the Father of Mrs Bentley’s Child?: As For Me and My house and the Conventions of Dramatic Monologue’ (1986)
      (pp. 148-162)
      Evelyn J. Hinz and John J. Teunissen

      Criticism ofAs For Me and My Househas come a long way since Roy Daniells was ‘taken in’ by Mrs Bentley, but scholars still tend to take her at her own word, concentrating their critical attention on the things she wants us to think are key issues and overlooking things she tries to play down. Following Mrs Bentley’s directives, criticism has focused on aesthetic and religious concerns rather than on emotional and domestic matters, on hercurrentmarital difficulties rather than on the circumstancesleadingto her unhappy marriage, on Philip and Judith and ‘their’ child rather than on...

    • ‘“But do your Thing”: Conformity, Self-Reliance, and Sinclair Ross’s As For Me and My House’ (1986)
      (pp. 162-177)
      T.J. Matheson

      It comes as something of a surprise to discover how little agreement there is concerning even the most fundamental aspects of Sinclair Ross’sAs For Me and My House.Though most critics acknowledge the book’s power and complexity, many have had trouble determining its worth as literature; one has wondered if it was a novel at all (Daniells vii). Wilfred Cude considered the book ‘nothing short of brilliant,’ inviting ‘comparison with fiction in the first rank of English literature’ (3–18), but Paul Denham, finding the many ambiguities ‘baffling,’ believes we do it ‘a disservice if we call it a...

    • ‘The Conflicting Signs of As For Me and My House’ (1990)
      (pp. 178-190)
      Frank Davey

      Recent criticism ofAs For Me and My Househas read much of the selection and interpretation of events in that novel as specific to the character of Mrs Bentley, whose diary entries constitute the entirety of the text (Dooley 1979, Cude 1980, Denham 1980, Godard 1981). While this application of the Boothian concept of the unreliable narrator has often resulted in more complex readings of her narration, it has also tended to obscure the fact that Mrs Bentley herself is a textual construction. She is not a free-standing agent whose ‘personality’ can explain the emphases and omissions of the...

    • ‘Who are you, Mrs Bentley?: Feminist Re-vision and Sinclair Ross’s As For Me and My House’ (1990)
      (pp. 190-209)
      Helen M. Buss

      Adrienne Rich’s description of revision as a feminist literary activity has special meaning for feminist readers of Ross’s text. Seeking a Mrs Bentley that accords with female experience is an ‘act of survival’ that demands a revision of the critical reception ofAs For Me and My House,a reception which offers (in the majority of evaluations) viewpoints of the central female character which limit the reading act. But feminist revision also implies attention to the cultural situation of the revisioning critic, as exemplified by Rich’s autobiographical stance inOf Woman Born,in which she makes her own history a...

    • ‘A Linguistic Analysis of Sample Passages from As For Me and My House’ (1991)
      (pp. 209-224)
      Janet Giltrow

      1. The snow spun round us thick and slow like feathers till it seemed we were walking on and through a cloud. 2. The little town loomed up and fell away. 3. On the outskirts we took the railroad track, where the telegraph poles and double line of fence looked like a drawing from which all the horizontal strokes had been erased. 4. The spongy flakes kept melting and trickling down our cheeks, and we took off our gloves sometimes to feel their coolness on our hands. 5. We were silent most of the way. 6. There was a...

  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 225-230)
  10. Contributors
    (pp. 231-234)
  11. Index
    (pp. 235-238)