Wilson, Ethel Davis
Wilson, Ethel Davis 1890–
A Canadian novelist, Wilson centers her novels in British Columbia. She uses a shifting point of view to examine the "equations of love" between people, particularly those of the working class. She also examines the role of memory as it plays upon the tension between changing time and static space.
Helen W. Sonthoff
The distinctive element in Ethel Wilson's fiction is its tone. It seems as if the centre of each book were not a main character, or a theme, or a plot, but an attitude toward the life of the tale. The subject matter with which Ethel Wilson deals varies considerably in event, character, setting. So does the form. But the tone, though not the same in each work, has certain recognizable characteristics.
It is, for one thing, quiet. It is persistently undramatic, allowing no sustained plot interest, no profound involvement with any character. Moments of wonder or sharp delight are followed by ordinary distractions; moments of concern or intense sympathy are commented on with wry humour. The tone is often funny, urbane, curious, inclusive. And what it primarily does is to render any subject matter in such a way that the reader's journey through it is very like his journey through any natural landscape, any ordinary day of his living. Meaning, in these novels as in living, comes upon him and fades. He encounters these characters as he might people in his own life, watching their surface, their manner and acts, knowing them, drifting away, doubting, hearing again, sometimes losing sight of them entirely. Should he for a moment lose himself in a scene or a gesture or mood, he will be brought back to his role as observer; he will have restored to him a perspective that persuades him to regard this fiction with a kind of equanimity....
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W. H. New
[The Innocent Traveller] explores innocence, independence, and order, and in presenting the character of Topaz it interprets both twentieth-century life and the necessary relationship that must exist between people in any society whose stability is, like this one, precariously founded in time.
Mrs. Wilson has in various places and in various ways been likened to Willa Cather, Jane Austen, Proust, Defoe, Blake, Butler, Trollope, and Bennett: an awesome group…. Mrs. Wilson's success in creating live people leads to one of the comparisons; her concern with time, her social consciousness, her irony, and her control of words lead to others. But the observation of likenesses only serves to clarify the nature of individual parts of a novel, and all those listed here exist in The Innocent Traveller not separately, like borrowings, but unified into a work of art. (pp. 22-3)
Hetty Dorval, the first of Ethel Wilson's works, studies the nebulous influence which the experienced title character has on a young girl. It is not just an opposition between youth and age, or between innocence and sophistication. What it explores, with reference to the whole question of morality and amorality, is the extent to which Hetty, though using the worlds through which she moves, can be an individual by exempting herself from ordinarily accepted codes of behaviour. The two novellas which make up The Equations of Love...
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C. M. McLAY
Ethel Wilson's short story "Mrs. Golightly and the First Convention" concerns a theme popular in these days of women's liberation, the initiation of an ordinary housewife with three children into her society, her movement, within certain defined limits, from innocence to experience, and her achievement of an individual identity. Mrs. Golightly's aim, expressed at a moment of recognition when it seems unattainable, is to be "a woman of the world."… The deliberate simplicity of the theme, the concentration of wish, recognition, and fulfilment within one or two days, the play of contrast and repetition and the surface naivety of the style all contribute to the total effect of a tale which, however slight it may at first appear, has a definite and continuing appeal and makes a serious statement about life.
The essential simplicity of theme and style conceals the sly sophistication of Mrs. Wilson's approach.
In those days when a man said rather importantly, I am going to a convention, someone was quite liable to ask What is a Convention? Everyone seemed to think that they must be quite a good thing, which of course they are….
The tone of the "historical note" and the choice of language in phrases such as "a very good thing" satirize both our desire for information and the vague flatness of our everyday diction. Moreover Mrs. Wilson cleverly turns the argument on us...
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P. M. Hinchcliffe
There is nothing provincial about Ethel Wilson's writing. Her novels and stories display a sensibility that is sophisticated and urbane. They are patently the work of an artist who has no patience with any kind of cultural or moral narrowness. Even if her characters are not always aware of their place in a larger world, Mrs. Wilson herself is, and she makes sure that her readers are aware of it too. But she has always been a determinedly regional writer…. A few of her stories are set outside British Columbia, but her home ground is Vancouver and the river valleys and mountain lakes that make up what dwellers on the British Columbia coast call "the Interior", and which they regard as their hinterland. Her novels and stories are filled with loving descriptions of Vancouver's streets and mountains and with favourite scenes from the Interior, like the marriage of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers and the flight of migrating geese, repeated again and again.
These scenes never take over the stories in which they appear because Ethel Wilson's centre of interest is not topography. It is the moral and effective lives of her characters, most of them women, who are all solitary persons to some degree, and who never merge with or are overcome by the landscapes in which they are placed….
Just as her stories are set in the enclosed spatial region of British Columbia but with a constant awareness of the rest of the world outside...
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