F.R. Scott: an Interpreted Life

Sandra Djwa, The Politics of the Imagination: A Life of F.R. Scott. Toronto: MeClelland and Stewart, 1987. xii + 516 pp.

This is the first full-scale scholarly biography of a Canadian Modernist poet of the first generation, and that is one of the most important facts of the book.  Pratt has found his biographer, Layton his, but the sandwiched Modernists associated with the McGill Fortnightly Review of the 1920s, or those peripheral to it (Glassco, Klein), or those contemporary with it (Livesay, Ross), appear to have slipped through the critical sieve in recent years.  Livesay and Klein receive the most attention of the bunch, perhaps because they may be taken to represent "minority" constituencies of particular contemporary interest.  Thanks to Canadian Poetry, Smith and Glassco received a flurry of attention in special issues published at their deaths; the same journal published a tribute-issue to F.R. Scott in the late seventies.  Despite these efforts, there is really no consolidated critical impulse to read Smith or Scott or Glassco or Kennedy in any detail, certainly no impulse comparable to that which drives the Layton or Atwood industries.  This is in keeping with the prevailing tone of most brief references to these poets; to Tom Marshall they were the Canadian "miniaturists,"1 to Louis Dudek they were the "meticulous moderns."2  Too few would be troubled (I don't mean in the lecture hall, but in their guts) to be told that the "real" Canadian poetry began in the 1940s; most would want to nod in the direction of the Fortnightly generation with a filial gratitude, but some solid criticism would do the generation, now mostly dead, more good.

     For reasons like these I am delighted that Sandra Djwa undertook and has completed her impressive The Politics of the Imagination: A Life of F.R. Scott.  The book is a signal: Scott and the others of his generation are worth and will reward exhaustive treatment.  The variety of Scott's energies makes his at once the most difficult and the easiest of the Modernist biographies (that will, I hope, continue to appear): Smith's career as academic and as poet will show much less differentiation, and his biographer will have a more difficult task varying the pace and shifting the focus of the book.  On the other hand, the historical, political, legal and literary significance of Scott's life has meant that his biographer has had to master an enormous amount of extra-literary material, a task before which most of her colleagues, I among them, would hastily retreat.  Throughout Djwa's book there is evidence of such extraordinary energy and yet such persistent love of her subject that on at least one level one doesn't want to review it: gratitude seems at least as important as criticism here.

     All the apparatus of a seminal biography is included: an overwhelming amount of fact; opinion and interpretation, backed up with careful documentation, an appealing loosely chronological narrative and a first-rate index.  There is a plenitude of anecdotal delight: fascinating to hear that Pierre Elliott Trudeau was one of the readers of Preview in the 1940s (319); astonishing that Scott could have burst through a ring of threatening separatist picketers at the age of seventy, shoving their placards back with his cane while they, out of respect for his age and his past achievements on Quebec's behalf, retreated (417).  My prejudices against Sir Arthur Currie, former Principal of McGill, prejudices largely engineered by the Fortnightly's editors who did not view him kindly, were thoroughly shaken by his defence of Scott on the grounds of academic freedom against an RCMP inquiry into "Communists at McGill" (133).  I have studied Scott for some years without learning that he had travelled early on to the Soviet Union (154-7), that his friendship with Trudeau went back to the latter's student days (236), that Trudeau was his companion on the Mackenzie River journey (322-6), or that Scott had (or wanted to have — of which more later) two extra-marital affairs.  This information not only helps me understand Scott but also Trudeau and to some extent contemporary Canadian history and politics: our present-day constitutional struggles appear mockingly repetitive after reading Scott's various opinions on the same questions from the 1930s until his death.  Can one ask more of a biography than this?  Isn't it supposed to be (laying aside theoretical angst for the moment) a factual genre, one which supplies information?

     I'm going to answer "no" to that, not because a) the biographer is inevitably an interpreter, imposing upon the chaos of Scott's life a pattern based on her own interested preconceptions or b) there are no "facts" in Scott's life beyond his own subjective experience.  I answer "no" because in any biography there are facts and interpretations, and you have to applaud both for it to be entirely successful.  I like Djwa's facts, especially those that are provided entirely independently of her interpretations of Scott.  But the interpretative line of The Politics of the Imagination leaves me uneasy and hence disputatious, and I want to take it up as an independent thread of the biography, notwithstanding the praiseworthy detail that I have remarked above.

     This interpretative line is concisely and candidly summarized in Djwa's title.  She has wanted to show us the political as well as the imaginative man; moreover she has hoped to suggest that the two are fundamentally linked: the politics of the imagination, the imagination in the political life.  The dichotomous approach is hard to avoid when dealing with Scott; he himself "read" his life in this manner, as so many of the diary entries and interviews cited by Djwa demonstrate.  He wrote it into many of his poems, among them, most brilliant perhaps, "Overture," with its tension between the "old music" of a Mozart sonata and the "overtures of a [socialist] world being born."  The world of the imagination, the world of politics, Scott acknowledging the powerful attraction of each: this process is so deeply buried in Djwa's biography that she could have provided no apter title.

     To find the biographer's interpretation and her subject's self interpretation in unison, however, is a little disconcerting.  In the early chapters Djwa has appeared strained to demonstrate the exhaustive relevance of the dichotomy to all aspects of Scott's childhood and youth.  Small details are accorded a curious emphasis, like the music his mother performed as he fell asleep as a child: "she would sometimes play Beethoven sonatas, sometimes church hymns" (26).  Scott's version of the memory is reliable enough, no doubt, but his appreciating the two kinds of music, secular and religious, is taken by Djwa to have influenced his later reactions strikingly.  During his service as a choirboy in his father Canon F.G. Scott's church, he would apparently pull on his cassock with his eyes focussed on "Duty," one of his father's poems, framed on the vestry wall; later still, when he was twelve, his father added a ceremonial cross to the choir's procession.  Because of the concatenation of these various phenomena, Djwa argues, Scott "internalized the measures of the old church hymns [played by his mother] and the image of the cross.  Concepts often considered opposite — like duty and poetry, or religion and art — were fused for him" (28-9).  Thus "The choir, together with his mother's music, laid the foundation for Frank's strong aesthetic sense" (29), an aesthetic sense handily prepared for a vigorously dichotomized adulthood.  From such a childhood premise to "the politics of the imagination" — the two apparently opposite concepts revealed as one — there is not far to travel.

     If however it was indeed Scott's childhood tendency to "fuse" opposites on a higher aesthetic level, it was a habit of short duration.  In the chapters covering his young manhood and maturity, his biographer must shift her rhetoric to account for the increasingly ambivalent Scott persona.  During his years at Oxford (1920-1923) Scott began a journal, source of most of Djwa's accounts of the period; it shows a rather torn young man whose tendency was not to synthesize but to vacillate between the disparate facets of his nature: "Two voices report on Scott's years at Oxford, the first, and most clearly defined, is the public voice of the diaries, offering a calendar of events.   The second and smaller voice is a private one: it enters, usually at the end of the day's activities, often undertaking a spiritual inventory" (45).  His "calendar of events" was similarly doubled: he "loved beauty, whether it was found in the English countryside, the Bach Choir, or the art of Botticelli.  He also enjoyed physical activity" (49).  Djwa would want us I think to take this as evidence of Scott's harmonizing and synthetic personality, but her later opinion that such variety of interest reflected "the division between what he saw as the 'aesthete' and the 'philistine' in his own character," a duality that "made him feel guilty" (58), suggests not harmony but ambivalence and unease.  Indeed, one of the satiric poems he wrote at Oxford, "The Problem," "makes the same distinction between the active and the contemplative life" (60).  But the laughter-inspiring nature of "The Problem" does not so much reconcile as deflect and release the tension, in a pattern of emotional avoidance which Djwa frequently remarks to have been typical of Scott.

     By the time Scott emerges in adulthood, the "warring opposites of his personality" (122) are clearly etched.  When in 1935 he travels to Russia, he feels "divided in his reaction.  The poet in him loved the 'vision' of Russia while the intellectual balked at the reality of Russian totalitarianism" (154).   During the bombing of London in 1940, he found "The head was in conflict with the heart.  Intellectually he had been fighting British imperialism throughout the thirties . . . .  Yet despite all Scott's objections to Britam's international policies there persisted his strong love of the country forged in the twenties" (193).  The biography's initial vision of a personality in which "concepts often considered opposite . . . were fused" (29) is dropped in favour of a more familiar rhetoric of the divided self, torn between "poet" and "intellectual," "head" and "heart."  Not "the politics of the imagination" now, but politics on the one hand and imagination on the other, in habitual conflict.

     I highlight this rhetoric not because in any one instance I find it leads to a complete distortion of the apparent facts, but rather because it smacks of Scott's own self-assessments, and those self-assessments smack of rationalization and are unconvincing.  In short, the psychological model glimmering in Djwa's portrait of Scott is a superficial one that will bear little scrutiny.  I offer no alternative psychology, but neither my own experience nor that of the people I know with reasonable intimacy could be fairly summarized according to a pair of "warring opposites."   This leads to either of two conclusions: Scott was actually a more simply constructed individual than most, or he was an individual who consistently viewed his past experiences in a fairly simplistic framework involving apparent oppositions between the public-political and the private-imaginative man.  I doubt the former alternative entirely, and the latter enjoins the Scott biographer to look beyond the apparent structure of the subject-personality to some deeper, perhaps unconscious, psychological phenomena that were consistently triggering the rationalization-into-dichotomy.

     This is first to demand, of course, that the dualistic interpretation be seen as a rationalization.  Failing this, one must pursue explanations not of the rationalization process but of the two poles of the dichotomy, that is, of the more superficial aspects of the personality.  Thus Djwa has sought, in the early chapters, to illuminate Scott's later personae of artist and politician by locating specific incidents or situations in his past which "caused" their emergence.  The story of his father's poem and the processional cross is one such incident: the metaphysical conclusion that "duty and poetry, religion and art" may be linked, not opposed, concepts stemmed from an habitual focussing of his eyes in the vestry.  Cynics may well wonder if Scott was that exemplary choirboy whose thoughts were always centred on his ritual tasks on a Sunday morning, and skeptics may feel uncomfortable with this explication of psycho-spiritual phenomena by causal relation to material phenomena.  Significantly, the interpretation of his choir service is documented only by Scott himself, in interviews with his biographer; the biographer has in this instance provided no mediating point of view, whether as cynic, skeptic or researcher.

     Other childhood anecdotes are couched in a similar causal rhetoric.  On those occasions when Canon Scott would gather his children round to hear his latest poem, "Frank would stand there listening, not knowing quite what to do or how to express his feelings.  He learned not to say anything at all, to shy away from demands on his emotional responses, or to deflect them by turning the highly serious into the humorous or satiric" (26).  This is biography by retroactive analysis: the adult satirist with a tendency to shield his emotions is explained through the child, but the child himself is little illuminated: the complex of his reactions (which must surely have been more various than this) is subordinated to an interpretation of the man he was to become.   Again, his father's early morning departures to preach "in all weather" helped "a small boy . . . to understand that 'duty,' or Christian service, must always come before personal comfort" (28).  When young Frank played an angel in a nativity play his father had written for Christmas 1913, "The tableau gave [him] a poetic sense of the starry heavens and their great distance from earth.  He, the younger child, the smallest angel, was absorbing a tangible sense of a relation between the religious infinite and human beings" (29).  In these accounts the boy sounds more like a finely tuned receptor of moral exempla than a healthy child.

     Not to say that the adult Scott's emotional reticence, spirit of duty and sense of the infinite bear no relation whatsoever to these incidents, but rather that these incidents should not be taken up only insofar as they are explicative of the adult Scott.  The child is too obviously and too easily father of the man in The Politics of the Imagination, largely because of a psychological causality that has determined his portrait.  But this is in keeping with the larger purpose of the biography: in order to apply the politics-imagination dichotomy successfully (which is itself, as I have remarked, a psychological simplification), all material extraneous to it — especially the richly extraneous and random experiences of a normal childhood — must be made peripheral or made to contribute to the dichotomy in some manner.  As a result, by the time we come to the chapters dealing with the mature Scott, he is already too familiar to us: the biographer's dualistic version of his personality has been too carefully prepared, and one has little sense of Scott's personal growth or depth in middle and later chapters.  They offer an increasing number of interesting and useful facts, but they do not broaden and deepen our sense of the man.

     Should any dichotomy be allowed to stand for the whole of a life in this way?  What room is there between politics and imagination for the sexual Scott, for the religious Scott, for Scott the father and husband?  These aspects of Scott's life, all alluded to by Djwa, are given markedly short shrift in a biographical structure which alternates regularly between chapters dealing with the poet and chapters dealing with the lawyer-politician.  They also appear to be areas upon which Scott himself was unwilling to touch, and one fears that some of his prudishness and emotional reticence has spilled over into the biographical sensibility of his interlocutor.  As a result the biography raises more questions than it answers in these areas: for instance, with what religious or irreligious beliefs did Scott die? what were his views of fatherhood, and how successfully did he enact them? who were the two women, one an artist, with whom he had brief affairs, and how did these relations develop and terminate? why did his championship of civil and human rights not affect his wife's apparently traditional role in the family? Granted, these are personal questions, some of them pertaining to people still living who have a right to their continuing privacy.  The affairs, for instance, each of which receives a few cryptic lines in Djwa's account (249, 302), may have been hushed up out of respect to someone's wishes, but we are left with so little information regarding them that we don't even know whether they were platonic or sexual, prolonged or brief, terminated abruptly or continued into later friendship.  Djwa rightly remarks in the Oxford chapter that Scott's moral indignation at the sexual spectacle of the Folies Bergères in Paris, recorded primly in his diary, "masked, even from himself, the strength of a normal sexual response" (50).  The same primness unfortunately shrouds Scott's sexual responses as material for the biogra phy, much as they would have enriched (and perhaps worked against) the fairly straight-laced implications of Djwa's title.  Licentious detail can be avoided without suppressing the implications of Scott's extramarital relationships; they seem a fairly vital part of his personal history and so are necessary to a rounded biography.  Whatever the reasons for their suppression, it is in keeping with the general division of the book into political Scott and imaginative Scott, which tends to peripheralize all personal detail not immediately related to his public works or his literary creativity.

     As there is a remarkable consonance between Scott's versions of himself and Djwa's, it is not surprising that the vast majority of her documentation is in the form of interviews with Scott and the principal actors in his life.  This essential source-material is supplemented with reference to let ters and diaries and fleshed out with frequent quotation of Scott's publications and of historical documents which illuminate a given period of his life.  The painstaking work involved in collecting this material deserves com mendation, but one has the profound impression that the supplementary material was garnered after Djwa's longstanding relationship with Scott had been established.  The impression ought to be the reverse: the interviews should appear to have been the supplementary personal information used to flesh out documentary and historical sketches.  (The status of author-interviews and their intellectual value in Canadian literary study is a subject worth opening at greater length than this review can afford, but I will remark both their proliferation in the discipline and the rather uncritical reverence with which they are usually quoted.)  In an "Afterword" Djwa acknowledges that the interviews dealing with his first three decades often provided suspect interpretations which she set out to verify in relation to "diaries, letters and other contemporary accounts." She remarks, "It is a commonplace of autobiographical writing that most individuals remake their vision of their past with each passing decade.  Scott was no exception to this general rule" (456).  Her laudable skepticism should I think have been pushed further, to a greater skepticism about the diaries themselves and about Scott's interpretations of his later years and of his life as a whole.  It is hard not to conclude that his own constant references to a dualistic life of action and contemplation, law and poetry, and his pain at the tension, have largely inspired Djwa's own vision.

     Quite apart from these questions of psychology and biography, Djwa has necessarily appeared throughout the biography in her more familiar role as a critic of Canadian Modernist poetry.  Especially fine is her reading of Scott's "Laurentian Shield," which blends information about the poem's genesis with a careful consideration of the socialist concern informing the poem and of its presentation of landscape detail (225-8).  Djwa feels that the period of the poem's composition (1946) saw Scott moving "away from politics and into the period of his best poems" (228).  "A Grain of Rice," "Departure" and "Creed" receive similar attentions in a later chapter (253-8).  This kind of reading is Djwa's forte, and one can only wish that considerations of space (and perhaps of the book's purely legal or political readers) had permitted her more of the same.

     It is chiefly when she deals with Scott's earliest poetry and with the McGill Fortnightly Review as a whole that I find myself in frequent disagreement with her, perhaps because in these discussions the careful readings are sidelined for a more broad and general treatment of the transition in Scott's work from pre-modern to modern poetry.  She believes for instance that Scott's "Lament after Reading the Results from Schools" written after his Oxford disappointment (and later republished with a revised title in the Fortnightly) "asserts Scott's modernism, for the satiric temper [in it], endemic in the post-war years, develops as an attempt to gain balance" (62).  The witty sonnet is indeed ironically self-abashed, but I find it difficult to think this tame little jest "modernist" simply because it responds to disappointment with satire or because it tries to "gain balance." Scott's Modernism was a McGill phenomenon having something to do with A.J.M. Smith's example; the cheeky poetry of the Oxford days shows him iconoclastic and ready for Modernism, perhaps, but no more.

     Djwa's discussion of the McGill Fortnightly Review (82-96), like those of her colleagues, interprets the student publication as a Modernist achievement.  The seminal role of the Fortnightly in Canadian literary history has accorded it a legendary status not always in keeping with the material, much of it rather Aesthetic or Decadent and much of that by Scott himself, in its pages.  Although she admits in a different chapter of the book that Scott was at the time of the Fortnightly "engaged by the Decadents" (101), for instance, she acknowledges in and quotes from the journal only those Scott poems which prefigure the Modernist poet of later years.  Smith receives the same treatment; when Djwa quotes from "The Lonely Land," referring explicitly to its Fortnightly appearance in January 1926, she quotes only the most familiar stanza of a version which did not appear until July 1927 in the Canadian Forum (88).3  Later stanzas of the Fortnightly version, referring romantically to the landscape's "monstrous plaint against the sky" and the poet's "tired heart," are not mentioned.  And when the last two stanzas of Scott's "The Canadian Authors Meet" are quoted (92), they are quoted from the Collected Poems of 1981, not from the Fortnightly, in which the poem contained a now-excised last stanza which adds at the least some witty detail and (in my reading) substantially alters the satiric point of view adopted.

     The facts are that the Fortnightly contains as much Aesthetic, Decadent and Georgian poetry, all told, as Modernist; that the real Modernist flavour of the review only emerges in the second year's run, 1926-1927, after Smith had met mathematics professor Lancelot Hogben, whose con tacts with the Bloomsbury group kept him very up to date on modern poetry; that Scott contributed a number of highly formal sonnets, in the Aesthetic and the Decadent manners, not merely in the first few issues but up to and including the last; and that although Smith certainly influenced Scott profoundly, it was not a question of Smith leading and Scott quickly following, because Scott's own poetic progress as glimpsed in the journal was slow and uncertain, and when the Fortnightly closed down in 1927 he had yet to consolidate his own Modernist poetic.  Djwa's Modernist version of the Fortnightly distorts most of this information, although she can hardly be blamed for mirroring attitudes to the review that have prevailed for the past fifty years.  A biography is not perhaps the ideal forum for an assault on such misconceptions.

     This question of Scott's early Decadent poetry is indeed an interesting one.  Djwa provides some fascinating glimpses of the young aesthete at Oxford, the man who brought a copy of George Moore's Confessions of a Young Man to the Henley Regatta, thus mixing his love of rowing (a "hearty" or "philistine" pursuit) with his passion for the literature of the Aesthetic period (60).  While Scott was a member of the Oxford Cadet Corps, for instance, "the command rang out, 'Fix bayonets!' But Scott, drinking in the beauty of the scene, remained motionless.  The whole Corps was immobilized.  Scott was demoted" (50).  A wonderful anecdote; but Djwa is at pains in later sections to deny the significance of this Aestheticism in Scott's development.  Although she hints briefly in a later chapter at some of the unquoted material in the Fortnightly ("Some of the poems written by Scott and Smith for the Fortnightly (mostly under pseudonyms) were characterized by a languid 'beauty' and by euphony.  But during the early thirties both poets began to write a new kind of poetry informed by social comment" [134]), she does so primarily to indicate its insignificance in Scott's maturing creativity.   She takes the Oxford journals to indicate Scott's ultimate disapproval of Oxonian Aestheticism, whatever the frissons it may have provided: "aesthetes at Oxford are looked at rather askance by undergraduates; and rightly so," he opines after a first reading of Moore's Confessions (62).  Djwa extrapolates: "The problem with aestheticism was that it was not compatible with Scott's primary aim.  He wanted to be 'great,' but to achieve greatness through the Christian way of service to others" (63).

     In fact Scott's Christianity or rejection of it is never really documented in this biography, but his brief flirtation with Aestheticism is, and if Djwa had added to that some of Scott's own Decadent poetry she might have been less hasty to dismiss Scott's Aestheticism as a brief toy of the young undergraduate.  I will not go on to anticipate the ways in which this material might be incorporated into the Scott canon and alter our perceptions of it,4 but I will remark that even Djwa herself finds it necessary to speak in vaguely Aesthetic terms at later points in Scott's career: "Throughout the thirties Scott's aestheticism was largely over-shadowed by the struggle for the social good.  But now, again, he began to rethink the old categories of the good, the true and the beautiful within the perspective of a humanist and internationalist framework.  In rethinking the concept of democracy he perceived its relation to beauty" (198).  If this is so, why such efforts to de-emphasize Scott's Oxford Aestheticism and to elide Scott's own Decadent poetry of the mid-twenties? In the 1950s Scott was to lecture on "The State as a Work of Art": "Is there an aesthetics of society?  Or are we stretching the meaning of the term 'the beautiful' if we apply it to an institution as well as to an art?  Scott believed it was not [stretching the term] . . ." (268).  Scott cites Burckhardt's Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy for his title, but anyone who has read Oscar Wilde's "The Soul of Man Under Socialism" will be familiar with Scott's formulations as well.  It might have enriched Djwa's sense of the Scott personality not to battle but to welcome Scott's youthful (and later) Aestheticism as an indication of complexities in his nature that throw new light on perhaps reach beyond the central dichotomy of her presentation.

     Ultimately therefore I find the biography most satisfying and helpful when it deals with Scott as lawyer, professor and political adviser, because this information is not easy for the literary critic to come by.  Considerations of space have prevented Djwa from dealing with the preparation of New Provinces in 1936, a lacuna she regrets (457), and Scott's role in Preview is accorded the shortest chapter in the book, despite that magazine's having "released the poet from some of the political activist's constraints" (217).  The variety of Scott's enthusiasms has enforced a lean treatment of his literary development, but that is in keeping with his own apparently constant fears that he had squandered a poetic life in favour of, variously, salary, prestige and political activism.

     Djwa treats this issue with circumspection, neither affirming nor denying, although she does feel that whatever his insecurities Scott "takes primacy before Smith" in the Canadian pantheon because his "poetic canvas is greater" and Smith never "had quite his influence on younger poets."  She does agree with Scott, however, that "in the larger poetic world of universals several of Smith's poems might well be ranked above Scott's" (445); would it be priggish to suggest that the critic ought to be trying however precariously to assess on the terms of that "larger world"?  Much of the Scott canon is embarrassing in a way little of the Smith canon is; Scott's 1930s satiric squibs at the expense of capitalism could have been criticized on aesthetic grounds much more firmly than Djwa has done.  Certainly it is not to Scott's credit that he "found this verse — 'pregnant doggerel,' as he called it — extraordinarily easy to write" (122).  A more critical view of Scott might have found means of relating this tendency in his verse to the frequently remarked emotional repressiveness in his nature, his tendency to "deflect" emotional situations into wit.  This in turn would serve to highlight the mature emotionalism that characterizes his best poems of the fifties, in which cleverness is more often set aside in favour of candour and aesthetic spontaneity.  But the opportunity is lost if the better and worse poetry is treated with the same indiscriminate kindness accorded the better and worse aspects of Scott's character.

     There is indeed a touch of hagiography in the book which tends to muffle and neutralize the portrait somewhat.  That "Scott habitually thought in terms of absolutes, of blacks and whites" (194) is a curiosity that might have more substantially informed the biography, to my mind, of one of Canada's "three primary modernists" (445).  His ironic authoritarianism when finally granted the Deanship of the Faculty of Law at McGill seems more than an accident of timing; if "many of his old ideals had rapidly vanished over the horizon" at this time (367), perhaps the autocratic nature that emerged in the Deanship had been latent in Scott all along and worthy of earlier forecasting.  None of this would detract from Scott's broader generosity of spirit and conviction, but it would perhaps cast useful light on the quirks of his modernity and altruism.  Djwa at one point refers to Scott's famous battles with Premier Duplessis of Quebec as 'jousts" (240); it's a small slip, but this rhetoric of knighthood has often stood in the way, to my mind, of a more complex portrait of the man.  It denies the Aestheticism of his nature, it excludes certain poems from presentation as typical of the Fortnightly, it appears to encourage the repression of his romantic-sexual history, and it sanctifies his best beliefs and actions while casting shadow over his demons.  I can't help feeling, despite all I have learned here, that there was another F.R. Scott, not radically different from the man in this book but nuanced differently, a less controlled and orderly figure: perhaps the man who was attacked at a poets' group for one of his poems and "wept, saying, 'I've spread myself too thin.  I've wanted to be a poet but I've spread myself too thin' " (286).

     Nevertheless, it was Djwa who provided me with that painful glimpse of the insecure poet, and that speaks to the factual and anecdotal comprehensiveness of the volume.  I have raised a number of questions of interpretation, but there can be no interpretation without primary materials, and Djwa's work is of great service in providing these.  There may indeed be room despite the scope of this book for a later "literary life," a more exclusive study of the progress of Scott as poet, taking up the questions of his early verse, specifying the stages of his contributions to the Fortnightly, analysing his role in the New Provinces arguments and so on; but in the interim, this book will satisfy every need of those who know Scott through the central and canonical poems of his maturity.

     Easily the most moving and intimate portions of the book come at the end, especially in those final chapters in which Scott enters old age and debility.  The scene Djwa has painted of his final hours could not have been more sensitively handled, and in this matter Djwa's long friendship with her subject has added much profundity to her portrait.   Despite the huge effort she must have expended in compiling and composing her information, despite what must have been a thousand tiny exasperations in the near-decade in which she worked on this book, Djwa's love for Scott is radiant in the final pages.   No one who shares that admiration will close the book much unsatisfied or immediately troubled by the disagreements I have raised with its analyses; and this is fitting, since one's first and perhaps more human response is, as I said at the start, gratitude for a monument achieved.


  1. Tom Marshall, Harsh and Lovely Land (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1979), p. 50. [back]

  2. Louis Dudek, "The Role of Little Magazines in Canada," Canadian Forum, July 1958; rpt. in The Making of Modern Poetry in Canada, eds. Louis Dudek and Michael Gnarowski (Toronto: Ryerson, 1967), p. 208. [back]

  3. A.J.M. Smith, "The Lonely Land," Canadian Forum (July, 1927), p. 309. [back]

  4. My Aestheticism and the Canadian Modernists: Aspects of a Poetic Influence (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1989), discusses Scott's early Decadence at length in its fourth chapter. [back]

    Brian Trehearne