The McGregor Syndrome; or, the Survival of Patterns of Isolated Butterflies on Rocks in the Haunted Wilderness of the Unnamed Bush Garden Beyond the Land Itself

Gaile McGregor. The Wacousta Syndrome: Explorations in the Canadian Langscape. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto, 1985. ix + 473 pp.

Fifteen years after publishing D.G. Jones's thematic study of Canadian literature, and ten years after releasing Margot Northey's The Haunted Wilderness, the University of Toronto Press has apparently decided that literary studies in this country require an updating. The task was entrusted to less of a critic than an enthusiast, Gaile McGregor. A self-styled "cultural analyst," she has taken up Jones's view that "it seems worth the risks" to assume "a relationship between literature and life that can never be defined with precision and that invariably involves one in a maze of circular arguments."1  With a similar unconcern for precision, The Wacousta Syndrome widens its panoramic survey beyond the perspectives adopted by Jones, by Atwood two years after him, and by several others during the 1970s; by invoking the jargon of sociology and psychology, McGregor has reduced Canadian literature to "data," each work accorded the same thematic value. The result is an unqualified disaster that alerts the serious student to the damage that a little knowledge in the wrong mind can wreak on the progress that had been made before 1970 in the careful criticism of Canadian literature, and that has resumed in the 1980s after the setbacks of the 'seventies.

     McGregor has merely enshrined the thematic enthusiasts: Frye, Jones, Atwood, Marcia Kline, and John Moss time and again provide the ''critical'' foci for her argument that Canadians have evolved a terrified, suspicious, ambivalent, doubtful response to their environment. She identifies this "retreat from nature" (p. 76) as the Wacousta syndrome — an ailment, sickness, incapacity, debility that she claims to see pervading the Canadian psyche onwards from at least 1832, when Major John Richardson first published Wacousta. In fact, McGregor proves only that she knows very little about Canadian literature and almost nothing about it prior to 1960. Despite its girth, The Wacousta Syndrome achieves little more than a myopic series of squints at characters and themes in Canadian literature; despite its claims, it concentrates extremely heavily on fiction published during the 'seventies and, rather tautologically, on the "critical" views published during the same decade by her mentors. Only ten works of literary criticism that were not published between 1970 and 1980 are consulted, and one — W.E. Collin's White Savannahs (1936) — is cited in one of only two brief references to Lampman in order to dismiss the poet as a "prime example" of a Canadian who suffered" 'a split between intention and performance'" (p. 32). In fact, what occurs here is McGregor's minor discovery, never acknowledged, perhaps not realized, that following Butterfly on Rock and Survival, some Canadian writers began writing fiction to affirm these studies' thematic views. However uninviting the prospect may seem to the readers of this review, the foregoing charges require substantiation.

     Whether one can stomach more Atwooden thematicism or not, several problems with this book make reading it a dismaying enterprise. First, the reader must involve himself in a considerable effort even to find the study's introduction because it does not come until the 449th page, where McGregor, in a preface to her "Catalogue of 'Primary' Sources," condescends to explain that "Since this book is not 'about' art or literature in any ordinary sense but, rather, focuses on the cultural ground from which these arise, considered as raw data both the articulated statements of specialists of every variety and the tacit opinions of the public at large carry equal weight with the formal artifact as 'expressions' of the communal vision." Only the reader who has survived the previous 448 pages reaches this point of enlightenment: curiosity, the need to look up a reference to a work by a Canadian author whose surname happens to begin with "A," or, least likely, a lucky leafing will have brought the reader to the book's introduction. McGregor talks about tacit, covert adumbrations in the literature: need her study be a mimesis of them? Nor can her disingenuous disclaimer be overlooked, for she never hesitates to pass judgements on and tell all she knows about Canadian art and literature.

     The first paragraph on the 412th page provides the table of contents. One could perhaps rejoice that it precedes the introduction, but there is every likelihood that most readers will find it a tad late. Pages v-vi do parade themselves as "Contents," but McGregor, a refugee from the jargonish 'sixties in this regard, chooses chapter titles void of denotation. Only, for example, after surviving a ninth chapter, entitled "Hat Tricks," does the reader begin to comprehend the significance of its title: apparently Canadian novels have so many magician characters that a chapter of sixty pages is needed to list them. Be that as it may, not until p. 412, at the outset of the twelfth and final chapter, can the reader understand that this ninth chapter, which contains much of the unnecessary flab" (p. vii) that the author herself finds in the work, slips into a larger context:

In earlier chapters we focused on the recoil from nature — the "Wacousta  Syndrome" — that historically backdropped the Canadian sense of self, and on the iconography in terms of which that critical initial reaction came, covertly, to be expressed. This allowed us to define the conceptual underpinnings of the Canadian imagination. We then proceeded to analyse some of the particulars of the fictional worlds that have been constructed on this foundation: character types ["Hat Tricks" bloats ill here, one surmises], relational models, recurrent themes and motifs. We ended by examining more general propensities: narrative reticence, a penchant for allegory, historical consciousness. It now remains only to take the results of our farreaching and ofttimes circuitous dissections and put the pieces back together in an attempt to discover what kind of literature [as it turns out, the focus of the study after all], considered generally, emerges from this meld; to define more specifically, in other words, the type of "map" our Canadian writers actually produce.

Much could be remarked upon here, especially McGregor's predilection for the nebulous, her implication of the reader by the first person plural pronoun, and the fact that her study is still endeavouring to get to its point at the start of the final chapter, but it is probably sufficient to call attention to the author's own acknowledgement of her morass of circuitous dissections," themselves perhaps faint copies of Jones's "circular arguments." These, presumably, constitute the "flab" to which McGregor alludes. (The word "flab", incidentally, might also apply to some of the literature of the 'seventies to which she addresses herself: in his review of Dennis Lee's anthology, The New Canadian Poets 1970-1985, Fraser Sutherland calls his generation of poets "'flabby' ."2) As has been said of Butterfly on Rock, the enthusiast merely offers his/her own self-indulgent musings. McGregor's claims to the contrary, just as Jones's book told more about how to read his own creative work, and Survival about how to read Atwood's, so The Wacousta Syndrome tells more (more than one could ever wish to know) about how to read McGregor's mind than about how to read Canadian literature.

     Leaving aside for the moment the question of the University of Toronto Press's wisdom in deciding to indulge nearly five hundred pages of groping towards a "personal revelation" (p.[vii]), one can move on, having located the table of contents and introduction, to ask where the study starts. Choosing from time to time, it seems, to compare Canadian with American culture, McGregor happens to have started the record of her revelation by comparing the responses to nature by Richardson and Cooper. From the outset, and, indeed, throughout the book (for even flab has its consistencies), the Canadian response is regarded as a syndrome:

Surprisingly enough for a genre which, by definition, explores a facet of man's relationship with nature, the descriptions of scenery in Wacousta are so rare and so scanty as to suggest that Richardson, to a large extent, doesn't "see" the landscape at all. Indeed, throughout the novel he seldom surpasses, in either length or particulars, the brief and conventional set-pieces that . . . seem especially inadequate when compared . . . with any of numerous landscape descriptions in Cooper. (p. 4)

For an author who earlier decries the failure of critics to have "fully explored" the differences between these two authors and their cultures, and who claims to reason from "exhaustive documentation" (p. [i]), one might reasonably expect more thoroughness; but she provides none. Despite the apparent significance to her thesis of Wacousta, McGregor has made a very poor choice of editions for comparison with Cooper's work. In her necessary consultation of W.F.E. Morley's A Bibliographical Study of Major John Richardson (1973), McGregor must have read that the chosen edition (the 1923 McClelland and Stewart) is only a reprint of the first American edition (1833). Morley quotes Richardson's own remark that the 1833 American edition is "incorrect, several of the most forcible passages in the book, being left out altogether."3  Of central importance to the present discussion is the fact that several of these passages constitute precisely what makes the original Wacousta something other than mere gothic terror romance set in an evil wilderness, which McGregor sees as a paradigm of the Canadian response to nature. Before considering briefly the character of those missing passages, it is worth noting, not only how impertinent is McGregor's selection of the American edition to prove how "Canadian" Richardson was, and that a first edition (1832) is available in London, Ontario, where McGregor informs her reader that she lives, but also that this shoddy scholarship is typical of a common practice among thematic enthusiasts of adopting for their panoramic overviews a distance from germane bibliographical matters that lends only a blithely distorted enchantment to their views.

     Douglas Cronk has noted that the 1833 American edition was bowdlerized, Americanized, and abridged: by bowdlerizing, Waldie (the Philadelphian editor) not only deleted nature description but also "changed Wacousta from being probably one of the first realistic historical novels into being just another romance."4   Thus, apart from objecting wrongly to Richardson's failure to describe nature, McGregor errs even in her denomination of "wilderness romance" (p. 3) as the intended "genre" of Wacousta. The 1838 advertisement for the proposed but never-published first Canadian edition of Wacousta describes Richardson as "the first and only writer of historical fiction the century has yet produced"5 (emphasis added); however, as Cronk notes, in the American edition (which one might now dubiously call the McGregor edition) most of the history, especially the "military aspect,"6 is, like many of the descriptions of nature, suppressed:

The execution [of Frank Halloway] is a major climax of the novel, but Waldie edits it into obscurity. To set up the catastrophe, Richardson, the romantic, contrasts Nature with the execution procession, but Waldie removes Richardson's romanticism. In the original version, Richardson's deification of "Nature" and his use of "Nature" can be readily observed. The landscape, the farms, the orchards, the streams, the crops, all the "romantic" countryside surrounds Fort Detroit. The abundant and idyllic environs of the Fort, enhanced by cultivation, suggest the benificence of Nature and the harmony of all things. But a storm of death and destruction signified by the low rumbling thunder of the guns as they roll over the drawbridge of the Fort quickly shatters the polish of life's surface. Waldie strikes out that evocative description. This "storm" had heightened the deleted romantic description in which deified Nature looks "gladly and complacently on her work."7

These bibliographical facts not only undermine McGregor's first points about generical expectations and descriptions of nature, but effectively disqualify all of these subsequent claims made by her: that Cooper "far surpasses Richardson in evoking the physical scene" (p. 4); that Cooper's skill in landscape description is certainly greater" (p. 5); that Nature, then, is here [in Wacousta] in a very real sense not merely ignored but denied" (p. 5) — denied perhaps, but denied by an American editor; that whereas Cooper's nature is always ready to reassume 'her mildest and most captivating form' "(p. 6), "in Richardson, in contrast, nature has only the one, terrible face" (p. 7); that "Mother Nature" is singularly absent from the Canadian scene" (p. 133); and that "Wacousta seems to pit a feminine garrison against a masculine gothic wilderness" (p. 135).

     McGregor finds that Wacousta "lacks the sense of movement," which she identifies as one of the basic impulses of the romance form" (p. 7). To some extent this lack is unsurprising to the reader of the first edition, which narrates, among other things, a state of siege during the Pontiac conspiracy. Why be surprised then, to find the novel opening, like Hamlet, in military confusion and some dread? Meanwhile, Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales are not historical romances. To place Richardson alongside Cooper then is to place him, as Cronk puts it, in a tradition in which he does not belong." Thus, these books are generically not comparable. And neither can these works, if Wacousta is read even in the American edition of 1833, be said wholly to represent their cultures. Between the time that Cooper wrote the first three (1823, 1826, 1827) and the last two (1840, 1841) Leatherstocking Tales, an enormously popular genre of American frontier fiction had evolved in reaction against Last of the Mohicans and Cooper's portrait of the Indian as the Noble Savage. This genre, partly in response to the Black Hawk War of 1832, gothicized the wilderness, made Indians entire villains, and turned the Cooperian Natty Bumppo figure, mediating between wilderness and civilization, into a schizophrenic. It was probably in response to the success of this genre that in 1833 Waldie turned Morton/Wacousta into a complete villain — as Cronk puts it, Wa1die cuts any expression of sympathy for Wacousta or any passage which sentimentalizes him"8 — Richardson's Indians into purely gothic devils — Waldie eliminated Richardson's view that Indians were refugees from the aggressively expanding American colonies"9 — and the setting into the United States — Before printing his text Waldie adds a Note to the first American edition'[:]. . . 'Although the following work has been received with great favour by the reading public in England, it is in this country, where the scene is laid, and where we are familiar with the Indian character, that its merits can be best tested'."10  Thus, not only does McGregor's edition provide a polarized view of whites and Indians that Richardson did not intend and did not, himself the product probably of mixed blood, feel, but it is altered apparently to fit a genre that arose in the United States in reaction against Cooper's Noble Savage and Natty Bumppo. To take one example, in James Montgomery Bird's Nick of the Woods (1837), the white men who go over to the Indian side are the real villains of the piece, and the Indians are merely Thruel, untrustworthy, and barbarous" scalpers set Thlearly in sharp reaction against Cooper and all those who see the red man as the gentlemanly noble savage' of Romantic social theory."11  Furthermore, Nathan Slaughter, Bird's opposite number to Natty Bumppo, is a paradoxical figure who fails to reconcile his civilized Quaker past with his violent revenge of Indians on the frontier: "a pacifist who is also the bloodiest angel of vengeance on the frontier," he sports a schizophrenic "double nature [that] is a manifestation of a moral and spiritual duality."'12  Here is a figure much like the Americanized Wacousta, one whose appearance in fiction demonstrates not only that the Americanized Wacousta, far from failing to ape the early Leatherstocking Tales, was intended as a reaction against them, but also that Cooper hardly can be said by McGregor to represent all American culture in his positive depiction of the white man and Indian on the frontier (Bird's book, by the way, enjoyed as much popularity in the United States as any of Cooper's). Furthermore, and lastly, McGregor's claim that no such mediating presence as the Bumppo figure occurs in Wacousta ignores Richardson's subtle presentation of the French Canadian community, a community whose significance is muted by the American editor, who must have been convinced that a French Canadian community could only confuse his readership by needlessly complicating a thriller now set in the United States.

      When the unnecessary and incorrect aspects of McGregor's opening gambit are cleared out, what remains of the first chapter is an untenable distinction between Richardson and Cooper. Since this distinction was made by McGregor to legitimize not only dozens of subsequent distinctions between Canadian and American cultures, but also her definition in new jargon — Wacousta syndrome, langscape — of the garrison mentality, her entire flabby study loses any spine it might have hoped to possess. McGregor has apparently sensed this loss, for the next four hundred pages are vainly propped up by a series of disclaimers, hectorings ("The fact is. . ."), drolly ingenious qualifications, tautologies, and conditional posturings ("seems," "would tend to show," "I would claim," "could"). What remains is to wade through a number of instances in The Wacousta Syndrome where McGregor evinces only the slightest and notional knowledge of Canadian literature, art, and culture.

     Shielding herself with the disclaimer that "Any survey that lends itself to the kind of broad generalizations we are dealing with here is necessarily going to be both superficial and subjective" (p. 16), McGregor leaves behind the "unidimensionally negative view [of nature] illustrated in Wacousta" and proceeds to a "quick scan" of early Canadian art. This aspect of the survey is wretchedly single-minded: taking as its authority one part of one person's view of east coast colonial art, one opinion of west coast art, and one article about prairie painting, it wields the scythe of the broad generalization. First, Mary Sparling's M.A. thesis, rather than her exhibition catalogue,13 is quoted for its views on the work of Moses Harris at Halifax. In fact, McGregor follows Sparling slavishly throughout this one-page discussion, and then draws the wrong conclusion. Sparling had observed that the European ignored the wilderness, concentrating his art on the order that he had carved out of it. On balance, this idea is not incorrect but is an oversimplification: early colonial art is art made by naval and military topographers whose job it normally was to record what was done to the land by the European, not what the aesthetic properties of it might have been. Moreover, of course, these early painters painted, as anyone else would paint, the subject matter that conventions of representation had been formed by their cultures to portray. Thus, in summing up their response, McGregor is quite wrong to align their neglect of "nature qua nature" with what she earlier and mistakenly perceived as the denial of the wilderness in Wacousta. Not to distinguish between, on the one hand, a failure to be excited by 'and, on the other, a terrified refusal to acknowledge, nature, represents a grave lack of discrimination on McGregor's part; this might be regarded as one aspect then of McGregor's own syndrome. Moreover, not to proceed beyond Sparling's introductory discussion of the very first British painters on the east coast in the middle of the eighteenth century constitutes not just a superficial, but also an inaccurate and, therefore, unavailing survey.

      A worse travesty is visited on west-coast art when McGregor — who, incidentally, must represent the first art critic sufficiently fearless to survey a nation's art without providing either illustrations or any more documentation of paintings than their mere titles — roots indiscriminately into Tippett and Cole's From Desolation to Splendour (1977), unearths all the desolation she can find, and shuts the book before the chapters on splendour begin. Obviously, the work's significant subtitle, Changing Perceptions of the British Columbia Landscape (emphasis added) is of no concern to her. Moreover, McGregor, whose surveys are themselves confined to a select group of other surveys, errs again. In an attempt to prove her bald assertion that "the way it [the wilderness] is depicted, though, implies a repulsion as intense as that which we sense in Richardson's work" (pp. 12-13), she seizes on three pictures from Cook's and Vancouver's voyages that represent scenes where the Britons felt most at their ease with nature. She does not bother to note, for example, that Cook and his officers, who, after all, named their month-long mooring at Nootka Sound, "Friendly Cove," were impressed by the extreme hospital ity of the Nootka Indians, the "clemate" [sic], which Cook found "infinately [sic] milder than on the East Coast of America under the same parallel of latitude," and, what mattered most to the Royal Navy, a seemingly endless supply of wood:

The wood in general is Fir, there are different kinds of it, and such a variety of Sizes, that in going a very inconsiderable distance, you may cut Sticks of every gradation, from a Main Mast for your Ship, to one for your Jolly Boat; and these I suppose as good as are to be procur'd in any part of the World.14

This last point accounts in the paintings for the representation of what McGregor mistakenly identifies as "a diminutive British ship at anchor [appearing] to be almost completely hemmed in by a dense, forbidding wall of forest" (p. 13). The effect of the composition might impress McGregor in her "personal revelations as "claustrophobic in the extreme," but the intention in these pictures of Nootka Sound on either Cook's or Vancouver's voyage- was to convey quite the opposite, and, thereby, to confirm the written record.

      Dismissing the west-coast response in a paragraph, McGregor concludes "our survey of first responses" with a pathetically distorted glimpse at early prairies art, arguing that such techniques as peopled foregrounds and horizon lines blurred by smoke or clouds in the work of Kane, Hind, Verner, and Warre (whose name she misspells twice in three tries [pp. 13, 24, 472]) signify a turning against nature: "Why? The obvious conjecture is that the early Canadian artist was simply repelled by what he saw 'out there' "(p. 13). All in all, her survey is useless and her conclusions erroneous, not least because from these paintings, almost all of which were executed by British naval artists or by travellers, McGregor distills a typical attitude to nature by colonists.

     But error is, one supposes, at least a more dignified blemish than ignorance, which is what the reader encounters next in this "study." Although McGregor acknowledges that the early American response to nature was never uniformly positive, she apparently knows only Canadian responses that for her communicate terror or denial. Thus, the reader encounters great difficulty in determining what for McGregor constitutes a correct response to nature. In her brief survey of nineteenth-century fiction, which seems confined almost entirely to Richardson, Moodie, Traill, and selected stories from Arnason's Nineteenth Century Canadian Short Stories, she includes as denials both "conventionalization" (pp. 15-17, 32) and "domestication" (p. 39), and speaks only enigmatically of the presumed alternative — focusing on "nature qua nature" (p. 29). Naive as this last notion is — after all, nearly thirty years ago, E.H. Gombrich settled the matter of the perception of nature being necessarily conditioned by any culture's conventional ways of seeing — McGregor goes on to imply that "the palpable absence of Rousseau" (p. 27) constitutes the root problem:

Canadian literary writing both before and after Richardson yields surprisingly little of that passionate idealization of nature which, at least until the latter decades of the nineteenth century, served as a virtual donnée among both poets and romancers south of the border. (p. 27)

More than the faulty assumption underlying this generalization — that Rousseauistic enthusiasm constituted any less stylized or conventional a response than any other to nature — there is the ignorance displayed in the charge of an "absence of Rousseau." It will be recalled by McGregor's careful readers that an early Canadian text is known to have heavily influenced Rousseau himself, as well as the Encyclopedistes, in the formulation of the Noble Savage theory, and of the notion of virtuous wilderness life. Baron Lahontan's Supplément aux voyages (1703) comprises a series of fascinating dialogues with a mythical Indian, Adarlo, at Michilimackinac. The narrative is given over to the voice of the Indian, thought by some to be based on the local Huron chief, the Rat (who may be remembered by Richardson in his creation of the water-rat at Michilomac kinac), who philosophically questions the manners and mores of putatively civilized Europeans. Given that this information is available in such standard references as Story's Oxford Companion to Canadian History and Literature (p 423) (and, though unavailable to McGregor while she was writing, The Canadian Encyclopedia [11.966]), even a thematic surveyor could be expected to have happened across it.

     This ignorance brings up two other matters: McGregor's representative reading and her myopically selective reading. First, as to Canadian explorers, she has read only those selections available in Warkentin's The Western Interior of Canada (1964). Her reading, for example, of David Thompson is thus confined to fifteen pages of text; from this she confidently plucks one quotation to inform her reader that "Canada's first visitors — judging by their reports — were almost universally repelled by their encounters with the land" (p. 26). This sort of effort is not just useless; it is perverse. The perversity is intensified by her sloppiness. Here is one of several instances of it. In canvassing Warkentin's anthology to show her reader that Canadians were much more terrified of their own land than Americans were of theirs, she quotes William Keating (pp. 33-4) and W.H. Keating (p. 78) — they are the same person. In the second case, a description of the valley of the Red River (though not properly identified by McGregor), which, it might be remembered, spends most of its course in American territory, McGregor uses Keating paradigmatically:

Keating's description of his experience evokes visually a striking analogy to the circular figure-and-ground structure that was a significant formal characteristic of Richardson's novel. It would thus seem that Richardson's perspective was not as idiosyncratic as it might have seemed. Given the Canadian mode of response — the recoil from otherness — the vaguely claustrophobic effect of even an ostensibly neutral landscape always tends to exert a centripetal influence on the imagination. (p. 78)

Remark need not be made again about several problems of deduction or of doublespeak in this typical "circuitous dissection"; however, the sloppiness in citation must be noted for it disqualifies utterly McGregor's claims here that Keating is representatively Canadian and that the Canadian response is distinct from the American. One need not revert to the original edition of Keating, for Warkentin states in his introduction of the four-and-one-half page excerpt that Keating was an American, "a 23-year-old mineralogist and chemist from Pennsylvania."15

     A review would be very long indeed that chronicled all such lapses in good scholarship perpetrated by McGregor. These instances will have to suffice, although note must be taken of the fact that she does not exempt her historical sources from incorrect exploitation. Suggesting inaccurately in an hilarious mixed metaphor that Lower, Burt, Sage, and Underhill jumped on the "bandwagon" of Turnerian frontierism, but "did not by any means swallow [Frederick Jackson] Turner whole" (p. 50), McGregor proceeds in a footnote (p. 68, #11) to quote a passage about Lower from Carl Berger's The Writing of Canadian History (1976) that effectively contradicts the claim of her text and suggests that any swallowing that was done on the bandwagon was done unwillingly. Next, McGregor quotes Berger to support her claim that these historians "followed him [Turner] in addressing themselves not to imperial relations, the traditional concern ofthe Canadian historians, but to 'the way in which British political institutions and attitudes to politics had been profoundly altered in North America by a different environment' (Berger, p. 147)" (p. 51). But McGregor has here sloppily wrenched a different meaning, one that ascribes much greater influence on the historians to Turner, out of Berger's description, which runs as follows (emphases added):

In the later twenties they [the constitutional historians] were criticized for failing to penetrate behind inherited labels and cherished images to examine how North American democracy and interest-group politics had changed the operation of the parliamentary system. Underhill and Lower found in [Charles A.] Beard's progressive historiography and in Turner's frontier thesis respectively suggestive points of departure for interpreting political history in a quite different fashion. What they and others were concerned with was the way in which British political institutions and attitudes to politics had been profoundly altered in North America by a different environment.16

Berger's work, whose index lists only three references to Turner (references that describe him either as less of an influence on Underhill's economic thinking than such other American historiographers as Beard, or as providing Lower alone with "attractive and compelling views"17), has been entirely distorted by McGregor to serve her own thesis. Finally, McGregor actually misrepresents Berger when she implicitly ascribes to him the views of John Dafoe which Berger cites without judging one way or another. McGregor's conclusion, based on this misrepresentation, is that "by the second quarter of the century Canadians had come to define themselves in largely American terms. . . . An uncritical [emphasis added] acceptance of the Turner view of frontier society on the part of the public soon began to bear fruit in terms of mass changes in culture" (p. 51). Dafoe may have hoped and believed as much; Berger, however implicated by McGregor, does not. In a passage that McGregor obviously could not bring herself to quote, Berger sets the record straight:

Canadian historians who began a critical appraisal of Turner's ideas in the late twenties realized that the concept of the frontier could only be applied to Canada with a careful selectivity and an acknowledgement of major differences between the two North American nations. It was obvious, for instance, that whatever might have been true of the United States, the frontier in Canada had not unfolded in one continuous and unbroken line. In addition, as John L. McDougall pointed out in 1929, no society in North America had been more thoroughly exposed to the influence of the frontier than that of French Canada, and yet in spite of the penetration of her explorers and traders into the interior and of prolonged warfare with the Indians, the French had maintained "an excessively stable, unadventurous, society. . . . They created on the banks of the St. Lawrence a replica of the French society which they had left." . . . The social cohesiveness of French Canada appeared to be a major exception to Turner's generalizations.
     Another was the deeply held Canadian conviction that western settlement had been more orderly than was the case south of the border. Even supporters of the Turner hypothesis had to admit that the Canadian frontier was "never so lawless as the American frontier". . . .18

Is any comment required on the travesty of scholarship committed by McGregor in order to champion precisely what Berger discounts? How can the author expect her opinions to be regarded as in any way authoritative if she works in such a fashion?

     A very much longer review would be required to document the problems that occur when McGregor settles into what is obviously her principal interest: the fiction of the 'seventies. The questions remain: what persuaded her to think, and how did she persuade the editors of the University of Toronto Press to believe, that she could make any salutary contributions to any other aspect of Canadian literature, art, or, most curious of all, culture? Readers of this journal will be dismayed to learn of McGregor's evident view that Canadian culture can be defined without more than passing reference to poetry. Even at that, many remarks comprise only lukewarm regurgitations of Atwood, Jones, and Frye (one of whose comments takes care of "our nineteenth-century poets" [p. 36]), with, therefore, predictably copious mentions of Pratt and Birney. Only forty references to poems or poets occur and most are one-sentence judgements, or just references to titles. Parts of four poems are quoted, but only in support of thematic claims. Unsurprisingly, and perhaps thank fully, no articles published by Canadian Poetry are cited.  

   Such negligence, coupled with the previously noted deficiencies, speak loudly to the truth that the isolation of a single theme for a four-hundred page treatment necessarily alters or forsakes much more than it includes of what is now known about Canadian culture. Without doubt, terror and isolation remain themes of some Canadian literature, but they have, as in the original edition of Wacousta, always claimed to be only one in a panoply of responses to the Canadian environment. Surely what must strike even thematic enthusiasts most forcibly now about the art and literature (including poetry) of any period is its diversity of responses. And many of those responses will seem, for a variety of reasons, similar to American ones: if, for example, any message is to be gleaned from the works shown in the summer of 1985 at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, in the show entitled "Niagara: Two Centuries of Changing Attitudes, 1697-1901," it is the impossibility of guessing the nationality of the painter by a work's style of response. Indeed, the catalogue of this show, though unavailable to McGregor in time for her consideration (most of her references stop with work published in 1980), presents an ideal opportunity for comparing responses to nature because it brings together paintings of the same landscape by painters from a wealth of different cultures and centuries. Without question, every one of the qualities that McGregor claims (without providing illustrations) to find more often in early Canadian than in early American art can be seen as often in the work of American painters, and vice versa.19

     In her slide show of Canadian art and literature, which eclectically illuminates such works as Crackpot, The Wabeno Feast, A Candle to Light the Sun, The Atonement of Ashley Morden, Wooden Hunters, and The Day Before Tomorrow, while remaining silent on the works of too many important writers like Leacock, McGregor has, to adopt her own trite dismissal of nineteenth-century writers, merely seen "what [she] expected and wished to see" (p. 33). Guided by earlier thematic enthusiasts, her explorations in the Canadian langscape" are mere self-fulfilling, tautological premises than explorations, if by "exploration" is meant the breaking of new ground. On the other hand, were one to accept McGregor's own view of the word — "The whole idea of exploration. . . is in this country, on the rare occasions it is even considered, generally presented as a tragic experience" (p. 86) — then hers marks the epitome. Citing a disproportion ately high number of works about war and/or violence (Wacousta, Pratt's Dunkirk, Findley's The Wars, Bodsworth's The Atonement, Wiebe's The Temptations of Big Bear, the early chapters of Fifth Business, Williams' The Burning Wood) to confirm a notion of recoil from nature that can stand as "almost certainly diagnostic of broader patterns of psycho-social development" (p. 159), this sort of effort is notional, perverse, distorted, and, all-too-often, inaccurate. Must Canadian studies continue to expect a regular diet of"unnecessary flab" from the University of Toronto Press? It is to be hoped not. "Few Canadians," laments Douglas Cronk, have read the real edition of Wacousta"; on a more positive note, would that still fewer read The Wacousta Syndrome.


  1. Butterfly on Rock: A Study of Themes and Images in Canadian Literature, (Toronto: UTP, 1970), p. 4.[back]

  2. "Poetry from the Flabby Generation," The Globe and Mail, 13 July 1985, p. E6.[back]

  3. A Bibliographical Study of Major John Richardson, introd. by Derek F. Crawley (Toronto: Bibliographical Society of Canada, 1973), p. 68. [back]

  4. "The Americanization of Waco usta," in Recovering Canada's First Novelist: Proceedings from the John Richardson Conference [1976], ed. by Catherine Sheidrick Ross (Erin: Porcupine's Quill, 1984), p. 36. Though published too late in this forum for McGregor's consideration, Cronk's paper was read in London in 1976, and his M.A. Thesis on the editorial problems in Wacousta was completed at Simon Fraser University in April 1977. It may be noted that during the course of this first chapter, McGregor does demonstrate an awareness of the availability of M.A. Theses (11). In any event, the real problem is McGregor's failure to consult a first edition. [back]

  5. The advertisement is reprinted in Morley, A Bibliographical Study, p. 108. [back]
  6. "The Americanization of Wacousta," p. 47. [back]

  7. "The Americanization of Wacousta," pp. 43-4. [back]

  8. "The Americanization of Wacousta," p. 43. [back]

  9. "The Americanization of Wacousta," p. 46. [back]
  10. "The Americanization of Wacousta," p. 45. [back]

  11. Curtis DahI, "Introduction" to Nick of the Woods or the Jibbenainosay; A Tale of Kentucky (1837) (New Haven: College and University Press, 1967), p. 10.

  12. Daihl, "Introduction," pp. 11, 12. [back]

  13. Great Expectations: The European Vision in Nova Scotia 1749-1848, ed. with cat. descr. by Scott Robson (Halifax: Art Gallery, Mount Saint Vincent University, 1980). [back]

  14. The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery, ed. from orig. mss. by J.C. Beaglehole, 3 vols., Hakluyt Society extra ser., no. XXXVI (Cambridge: CUP for the Hakluyt Society, 1965), III.i. 309; III.ii. 1323. [back]

  15. The Western Interior of Canada: A Record of Geographical Discovery 1612-1917, ed. with introd. by John Warkentin, The Carleton Library, no. 15 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1964, 1969), p. 138.[back]

  16. The Writing of Canadian History: Aspects of English-Canadian Historical Writing: 1900-1970 (Toronto: OUP, 1976), p. 147.[back]
  17. Berger, The Writing of Canadian History, p. 119.[back]

  18. Berger, The Writing of Canadian History, p. 119.[back]

  19. Jeremy Elwell Adamson, Niagara: Two Centurics of Changing Attitudes, 1697-1901, with essays by Elizabeth McKinsey, Alfred Kunte, John F. Sears (Washington: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1985). [back]