Canadian Odyssey

Canadian Odyssey: A Reading of Hugh Hood's The New Age/Le nouveau siècle

W.J. KEITH
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 218
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt80chz
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  • Book Info
    Canadian Odyssey
    Book Description:

    Published between 1975 and 2000 and completed shortly before his death, Hugh Hood's twelve-volume novel-series The New Age/Le nouveau siècle represents a major achievement in Canadian fiction. Hood takes us on a remarkable, though challenging, journey in time and space while chronicling the life of his intellectually inquisitive protagonist, Matt Goderich. Moving from history and politics to literature and the arts, from popular song to the vagaries of fashion, from urban stress to the relaxations of cottage-country, these novels explore the texture of Canadian life with a depth and comprehensiveness that, when fully grasped, are dazzling.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7008-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introductory: Reading Hugh Hood
    (pp. 3-14)

    This book is written out of a conviction that Hugh Hood’sThe New Age / Le nouveau siècle(generally abbreviated, in the interests of concision, toThe New Age) represents a major achievement in Canadian literature, and even a substantial contribution to the art of fiction in the English-speaking world. A twelve-volume novel-series written over a period of a quarter of a century represents by any standards a feat of creative achievement, butThe New Ageis much more than that. It is certainly the most ambitious literary undertaking to date in English-speaking Canada, though comparable works have been produced...

  5. PART ONE: “THE MYTHOS OF CANADIAN LIFE”
    • The Making of The New Age
      (pp. 17-25)

      On 23 February 1969 Hugh Hood typed out a memorandum concerning a future fictional project which, as he noted in block capitals, “MAY TURN OUT TO BE THE GRAND OVERRIDING WORK OF MY LIFE.” The main statement reads as follows: “Possible enormous twelve-volumeroman-fleuve. A combination twelve-volume novel-book of annalsmemoir. My reason for conceiving it is that I’m so much at the center of life in Canada now, seem to know everybody or know somebody who knows everybody, without being at the center of power myself. This would be the first time such a book (Saint-Simon, Proust, Powell) has ever...

    • Roman-Fleuve
      (pp. 26-32)

      In his first written statement about the work of art that was to develop intoThe New Age, Hood employed, as we have seen, the phrase “roman-fleuve” (“Elephant” 101). Clearly, he had been thinking about the aesthetic implications of an extended fictional series and was aware of a critical category that recognized ambitious structures of the kind he envisaged. As a term, however, “roman-fleuve” is extremely slippery and difficult to pin down with any precision. It is perhaps significant that no adequate synonym exists in English. Critics in that language, indeed, have been remarkably reluctant to attempt any definition, conscious...

    • Hood and His Precursors
      (pp. 33-48)

      No literary work develops in a vacuum. To speak of influences is not to accept some simplistic theory of imitation but, rather, to acknowledge that even the most original of writers build upon what has already been achieved by their predecessors. An earlier author’s accomplishment enables a later artist to venture further, though not necessarily in precisely the same direction. The masterpieces inherited from the past may sometimes seem a burden, but without them a new writer would lack hints, pointers, examples for emulation and extension.

      In Hood’s case, the names of numerous earlier writers can be cited as potential...

  6. PART TWO: TOWARDS THE NEW AGE
    • The Swing in the Garden
      (pp. 51-63)

      As readers, we approach any book we open with certain generic expectations.The Swing in the Gardenis described and classified as a novel, so we naturally anticipate a work of fiction. After the first few pages, however, we may well begin to wonder whether we have been deceived by an error in cataloguing. The book does notfeellike a novel; we register a distinct impression of recollection rather than invention. Further thought – and further reading – will soon bring the realization that a deliberate blending of generic effects is involved. “On the face of it,” Keith Garebian has written,...

    • A New Athens
      (pp. 64-73)

      “AlthoughThe Swing in the Gardenis full of documentary importance, it does not satisfy on the documentary level alone” (Lecker 189). The foregoing discussion has fully confirmed Robert Lecker’s assertion, which will also be found applicable, albeit in very different ways, to the rest of the series. Thus when we turn from the close of the first novel to the opening chapter ofA New Athens, we find ourselves not only in a different decade but in a decidedly different kind of novel which requires to be read in a radically different way. The documentary features are still conspicuous,...

    • Reservoir Ravine
      (pp. 74-88)

      At a first reading,Reservoir Ravineis likely to be regarded as a blend of the dominating modes ofThe Swing in the GardenandA New Athens– documentary historical detail leading to visionary moments of emotional power. It consists, seemingly, of a series of tableaux illustrating various cultural and behavioural aspects of the 1920s. Further consideration, however, will reveal a surprising number of effects that distinguish this novel from its predecessors. Most obviously, an apparently omniscient third-person narrative method is employed (though this is boldly challenged towards the end of the novel), and the chronological scheme of the whole...

    • Black and White Keys
      (pp. 89-101)

      Commentators aware of Hood’s almost ostentatious assertions of his positive Christian beliefs have not infrequently expressed doubts about his capacity to portray with any adequacy the harshness and evil so clearly manifest in the world. One of the more cogent of these critics is Sam Solecki, who while reviewingReservoir Ravineunder the title “Songs of Innocence,” suggested that a liability of Hood’s affirmative vision was his “unwillingness to deal with evil” (30).Black and White Keys, though planned long before the review appeared, reads almost as a deliberate answer to this charge, and it is not surprising that Solecki’s...

    • The Scenic Art
      (pp. 102-112)

      Black and White Keyshad been structured around the contrast between the banality and triviality of Matt’s Toronto and the seriousness of the earth-shaking events taking place in wartorn Europe. The story of hiss teenage years was sandwiched, as it were, between the accounts of Andrew’s secret and vital activities. But what then? In terms of theNew Age series, how does one follow the account of Mandel’s extraction from Dachau and the efforts for peace and decency in the explosive areas of Germany and what was then Palestine? The risk of anticlimax is considerable. Hood clearly foresaw the difficulty,...

    • The Motor Boys in Ottawa
      (pp. 113-122)

      The Scenic Artends with the celebration of a hundred years of Canadian political union in 1967 but also, insofar as Adam Sinclair and Sadie MacNamara are concerned, with marital breakup. The concluding scene is decidedly equivocal in tone, as Stoverville’s climactic drama festival ends in emotional disarray. “Why didn’t you warn us?” Valerie Essex asks Matt, and all he can answer is, “I didn’t know ... How would I know?” (253). The public and the private, the political and the personal, have come together – but with disturbing and unsettling results.

      This intermingling is continued and extended inThe Motor Boys...

    • Tony’s Book
      (pp. 123-135)

      WithTony’s Book, Hood initiated the second half of hisNew Ageseries, and it can in some respects be regarded as a second start. The opening books have established a flexible but firm narrative line (though this is to be blatantly severed here), and the main thematic concerns have been introduced. New patterns and approaches now become both possible and desirable. Once readers are familiar with the basic narrative elements and with the characters of the main participants, other preoccupations latent in the material can be explored. As a consequence, we begin to notice various possible subdivisions within the...

    • Property and Value
      (pp. 136-145)

      Hugh Hood acknowledgedProperty and Valueto be “as much a romance as I could have made it;”26but the decided contemporaneity of this particular romance is made evident when the narrator asks playfully and rhetorically: “Where else should loving encounters take place in late twentieth-century romance, if not in McDonald’s?” (70 ). Certainly, the romance mode is conspicuous here. The main setting is Venice, for many (including Proust’s narrator) a “romantic dream” (115 ), and we soon become aware of converging courses that are going to bring hero (Matt Goderich) and heroine (Linnet Olcott) together in a scene that...

    • Be Sure to Close Your Eyes
      (pp. 146-155)

      Be Sure to Close Your Eyesis a novel about the nature, origins, and vicissitudes of vision and the visionary experience, especially in relation to the arts. Hood, of course, had already examined this phenomenon in some detail inA New Athens, centring upon the work of May-Beth Codrington, but here, in a novel that takes us further back in time than any other book in the series, he considers the circumstances that led to May-Beth’s blossoming as an artist of a particular kind. Indeed, this book is Hood’s contribution to the genre of theKünstlerroman, a novel about the...

    • Dead Men’s Watches
      (pp. 156-166)

      We have seen that Hood’s novels have always been remarkable for their structural arrangement, for the way they are divided into meaningful parts, but nowhere is this more evident than inDead Men’s Watches. If we were ever tempted to wonder whether Hood had exhausted the possibilities of this aspect of his art, we should have been mistaken. This novel is surprisingly divided into two exactly equal parts, and at first sight at least, these parts constitute two separate, tonally contrasting, autonomous, novella-length stories. Indeed, we could be forgiven for doubting if, in the strictest sense, the book qualified as...

    • Great Realizations
      (pp. 167-177)

      Not “Great Expectations” but “GreatRealizations.” Published at the close of the twentieth century, the penultimate book in theNew Ageseries is set not, like Dickens’s novel, in the previous century but in the following century, which is now our own – the century that, as Hood announced long ago (see Fulford 68 ), is the new age alluded to in the overall title. Like its immediate predecessor,Dead Men’s Watches, this novel tells two stories that interconnect at various levels. One, on an international (indeed, interplanetary) level, is an account of the first manned space flight to Mars, presented...

    • Near Water
      (pp. 178-192)

      Near Water, the twelfth and final volume ofThe New Age / Le nouveau siècle, though it frequently refers back to people from the earlier books, resembles none of its predecessors. Indeed, Hood here develops an appropriate and distinctive, though initially bewildering, form for the culmination of his series; one might even suggest that an essential prerequisite for coming to terms with the book is to banish from one’s mind all previously held assumptions about traditional novels. Not the least unusual feature of the book – and one of which we become aware gradually in the course of reading – is the...

  7. Conclusion: Rereading Hugh Hood
    (pp. 193-196)

    “It is premature to start critical study until all the evidence is in, i.e., until all the words have been read. After the experience has been completed, we can move from experience to knowledge. A great mass of additional meaning that we missed in the sequential reading then becomes relevant, because all the images are metaphorically linked with all the other images, not merely with those that follow each other in the narrative.” So writes Northrop Frye inThe Great Code (63). He is, of course, discussing approaches to the Bible, but what he writes is applicable to all ambitious...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 197-202)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-208)
  10. Index
    (pp. 209-212)