Waddington Selected and New

Miriam Waddington, Apartment Seven, Essays Selected and New.
Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1989, x + 214 pp.

Miriam Waddington's Apartment Seven is her fourteenth major publication of her own work since 1945, and consists of nineteen pieces at least four of which can be properly described as memoir/reminiscence. Of the others, five are essays which, although already in print, are, she acknowledges, not "easily to be found.. ."; three others had their genesis as academic papers, each with a quite specific focus, "whose last footnotes I could never find and therefore did not complete for publication until now." The remainder can be divided into two groups: those that intone Waddington's position on literary culture, the idea of a Canadian literary tradition, and her aesthetic stance on poetry; and the four concluding pieces with a decidely feminist cast.

     The voice we hear throughout the volume is a personal one, taking us into an easy confidence with warmth and intimacy so that we are led to share her view of the world in general and of literary matters specifically. In some of the pieces the intimate voice works well. We experience vicariously the problems of the young girl in one of the memoir pieces as the family moves from the defined and beloved space of a Winnipeg childhood to the strange environment of the then small-town Ottawa. We share the young girl's sense of bewilder ment and anxiety at having to cope with the new situation. We share, too, her sense of kindredship of spirit with Mrs. Maza, whose Montreal salon provided the budding writer with the encouragement she needed, and who, personally, served as a role model with her sensitivity to literature, poets and would-be artists of all sorts. We share further in her sense of accomplishment later on as she learns about shopping and the domestic arts from the two sisters, Birdie and Angela Donald, who lived and with whom she boarded while a student at the University of Toronto, "in a tall narrow house on Hazelton Avenue."

     In the more obviously academic pieces such as "The Heroes of Mis fortune," "Moshe Nadir: The Yiddish Stephen Leacock," "Canadian Tradition and Canadian Literature," and the two on A.M. Klein, "The Cloudless Day: A.M. Klein's Radical Poems," and "Alone: Klein's Rocking Chair", there is an uneasy tension between Waddington's desire to maintain her easy familiarity of tone and what she feels is the appropriate formal tone for an academic paper. She writes well and, for the most part, convincingly, but it is clear that Waddington is not at her most comfortable in this sort of work. There seems to be too much concern over whether or not she has properly and sufficiently documented her material so that it will pass proper academic muster. And, even at her most formal, the informal, intimate voice keeps breaking in. It is, finally, this voice, guiding rather than preaching, speaking from a warmly engaged humanity rather than from a coolly dispassionate objectivity, that is most convincing in her attempt to get us to view things as she does, to enlarge our understanding.

     In this way, we are apt to see as appropriate, given the points from which she starts, conclusions that we might not otherwise draw for ourselves. So it is that in a brief historical survey she can conclude that there are "two main approaches to the understanding of Canadian tradition as it affects our literature — the mythopoeic and the historical" ("Canadian Tradition and Canadian Literature"), and identifies the principal early exponents of these approaches as Lionel Stevenson on the one hand and Archibald MacMechan on the other. However, nothing daunted by these critics (or indeed by any of the others cited in the essay), Waddington suggests, after noting the diversity of ethnic traditions in the Canadian context: "There is, in fact, no real Canadian literary tradition but only a social matrix, an accumulation of historical events, full of contradictions, forces and counter-forces; we live in a sort of vast cultural chaos upon which all are free to draw." That we so seldom do draw, as for example in appreciating the richness of a contributing Yiddish tradition, suggests the narrowness and partiality of a vision that we so easily and perhaps arrogantly assume is a vision of the whole. Furthermore, she would have us see that Hugh Garner's realism ("Every Real Thing: Garner's Cabbagetown") "has its source in his desire to make his central character's experience, not only meaningful to himself, but useful to others." This intent, for Waddington, added to a writing which "is rich in metaphor, image, symbol and even myth", means that Garner's book is not at all mere "didactic reportage with little aesthetic value" but rather a means by which "people know their past and understand their present" and when they do, they rmay] start believing in a future they can influence and have a part in." If this book is all that Waddington claims it is, we can only conclude that Garner is one of the country's most unjustly neglected writers. She has here, as elsewhere, sought to enlarge our understanding and appreciation.

     Waddington tries to carry the same sort of easy familiarity through the final four pieces in the collection which are focused generally on the problem of being female in a world the chief precepts of which have been determined by men, even the language used by all. When she sharpens the focus, the problem is that encountered by the female writer in a field dominated by men even to the extent, claims Waddington, that only male writers are taken seriously on topics of general interest to the human race. Women writers can be taken seriously only when they address themselves to the topics considered (by men?) to be women's topics. Waddington is concerned that men's tendency to limit the female writer, together with the radical feminists' political agenda either to usurp the place now occupied by a 'male tyranny' or to create an entirely new and separate socio-political-intellectual entity, will combine to result in a ghettoizing of female writing of interest only to a segment of humanity. She feels keenly the need to overcome the barriers of the mind that lead to misunderstanding, lack of appreciation and an unwillinguess to accept positive contributions to the quality of the human enterprise, whatever the source. Waddington's own contributions as poet, short story writer, editor, critic and scholar, of which the selections in Apartment Seven are prime recent examples, help to make her case.

     Less admirable are those notes of complaint which, as Desmond Pacey in commenting on the poetry some time ago noted, constitute an annoying and unconvincing querulousness with few redeeming features. The inclusion of such personal examples as Waddington's losing her room in a roominghouse while she was a second year university student because the landlady felt that "men were less trouble," the discrimination that Waddington apparently feels subjected to by hostesses, maitres d'hotel, and receptionists in hotels and motels, and the imputation that a 'male conspiracy' shows itself even in the fact that of the two scholars who are on record as having consulted the Waddington manuscript material held by the National Library only the male has had his material published, in any list of truly significant discriminatory practices simply trivializes that which ought to be of genuine concern. Wad dington could surely have cited more convincing examples than these to make a case. Furthermore, for what it may be worth, Waddington is hardly the only one who has had to endure that condescending question, "A table for just one?" or to be sent off to a room the view from which is the parking lot, the corner gas station or another brick wall. A glance at the names of those who have addressed themselves in a more than casual way to Waddington's work, either on its own merits or in combination with other art forms, (Frye, Pacey, Sowton, Keith, Djwa, Constance Rooke, Crawley, Marriott, Livesay, Stevens, Morley among the more prominent), and from the publication of her first collection, Green World in 1945, surely suggests that no one has limited Waddington the writer in the way that she seems to fear. But this note of annoying querulousness, bordering on the unworthy at times, is a minor part of what is, after all, a thoroughly commendable position on the sterility of fragmentation in a world in which it already seems that the centre will not hold.

     In addition to the positive aspects of Waddington's integrative feminism, and the enlightening comments on her own work and the aesthetic context out of which it is created — it seems lamentable for the state of criticism in this country that Waddington may still be the best critic of her own work — the most valuable parts of Apartment Seven are those dealing with her memoirs/ reminiscences. Her editor, Richard Telecky, is not only one who has encouraged her to commit to printed form her memories of people, places, and events of times past. But Waddington has always been concerned that such interest may be just a mask for a prurient curiosity and seems unwilling, certainly not unable, to gratify such prying. To the extent that the curiosity is only that, her concern is well-grounded and her discretion in silence praiseworthy. There really is no literary point in our speculating on "the secret perversions of each other's lives" as Klein has it in Portrait of the Poet as Landscape. But there are other reasons and other objects than knowing who bedded whom for having as much pertinent biographic and socio-historical fact and sense impression available as possible. It is only when such material is made available that we are able to get any idea of the context in which imaginative creation takes place. It is only from such impressions as those of the people actually engaged in and living the experience that a valuable aspect of social history can emerge. None of the other sources of which I am aware is so forthcoming about the reasons for the Dworkin family move from Winnipeg to Ottawa and its implications for the developing person and writer as is Waddington's own in "Mrs. Maza's Salon." Similarly, no other source that I know of has so much as hinted at the sort of relationship that Waddington indicates existed between Arthur Smith and Margaret Avison in "Apartment Seven" And Waddington's comments on Frank Scott, now almost an iconic figure in Canadian cultural and political history, serve as a reminder that no matter how well the public figure has been evoked by such excellent studies as Sandra Djwa's, there is another side, a darker and as yet not fully explored side, to this seemingly well-known and certainly well-respected figure.

     Despite the reticence that Waddington shows in describing the activities and comings and goings of those associated together in the Preview and First Statement groups, Canadian literary historians and others will continue to have a lively (and healthy) interest in all that helps to provide a context for the work of 'Dee' Livesay, Patrick Anderson, Waddington herself, her husband Patrick, Sutherland, Scott, Smith, Layton and the others. Not only do such accounts help to contextualize the work, the writers and the times, they also can help to humanize the figures behind the poems, plays, essays, stories and novels. In effect, the writer, the mere name on a printed page, comes alive as a person. Sooner or later someone will have the courage to do the book of Canadian literary anecdotes which will contain such items as Charles (You Can't Print That) Lynch's account—livelier in the telling than anything in Adams' recent biography — of the phone call Elsie Pomeroy made to Charles Roberts' apartment to reclaim her things after the horror of her discovery of Roberts' surprise marriage to Joan Montgomery, Earle Birney's discovery of the 'lost' Bliss Carman on the UEC campus (Spreading Time) and the, to me anyway, screamingiy funny account of what happened when the well-inten tioned idea to honour the long and unjustly neglected Howard O'Hagan with an honorary degree from McGill was set in motion. But in the meantime, what we have to help us in our attempts to enlarge our understanding are such items as may be offered in conversation and in reminiscences and memoirs like Waddington's in Apartment Seven. What we might do to help rectify the situation as it currently exists with respect to the missing pieces of our social and literary history is to join Richard Telecky and others like him in urging Waddington, Ralph Gustafson, Louis Dudek, Michael Gnarowski, Irving Layton, Leonard Cohen, P.K. Page, Alfred Bailey, Phylis Webb, Fred Cogswell and others like them to commit to some publicly accessible medium the things that posterity would not willingly let die and that help to define what and who we are.

S.R. MacGillivray