Day 22: in Edmonton

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

We rolled in here right on schedule on Tuesday, enjoyed two events later that day and another yesterday, with two more today and then a day for more casual exploration.

Aside from continued progress through the Re-Tour according to plan, which is a very significant development indeed, the only significant development has been discovery of an article on Stephen Leacock in The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, copy of which in bookcase where we are staying.

The article is by Zailig Pollock, emeritus of Trent University, and is very interesting and useful. In particular Pollock emphasizes the tension between Leacock’s strong belief in “the continuing progress of humanity” (I would say both as an historic fact and a potential for the future), and his “essentially pessimistic vision of man in the modern industrial age”. I think Pollock has put his finger on what may be the ultimate Unsolved Riddle in the whole General Theory. We are internally compelled both to believe in the possibility of humane Progress and to cultivate those forces that work against it or at least render it ambiguous in all their multifarious ways.

I like also the insight in: “The most striking aspect of Leacock’s style is the illusion of a speaking voice, which is so strong in all his works.” We had a spirited discussion with a student at the University of Saskatchewan as to whether that voice (the narrator’s) in Sunshine Sketches is Leacock himself or a creation, self taking the latter position. More on that later, I am sure.

My only quibbles with Pollock’s conclusions are triggered first by his description of Sunshine Sketches as “a regional idyll portraying the essentially good-natured follies of Mariposa, a small Ontario town based on Orillia.” My doubts about that are amply shown elsewhere in these blogs, and will be expressed at length and in full in due course. I am much more in tune with Ed Jewinski’s moral ambiguity, fragmentation, incompleteness and inconclusiveness, turning Mariposa into a somewhat bleak but effective portrayal of pervasive Unsolved Riddles. Secondly, Pollock says that “Most readers of Leacock agree that his writing career shows little sign of development either intellectual or artistic.” I would suggest, and will prove I hope, that considerable development both ways is apparent from the 1903 thesis to the 1919 Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, through Sunshine Sketches and Arcadian Adventures, and even beyond although at a slower pace.

More about all this in due time. We leave here on Saturday for Calgary, then Medicine Hat, then on to the Pacific Coast for the finales.

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