Hugh Hood Essay - Hood, Hugh (Short Story Criticism)

Hood, Hugh (Short Story Criticism)

Introduction

Hugh Hood 1928–-

(Born Hugh John Blagdon Hood) Canadian novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and biographer.

Considered one of Canada's most versatile authors, Hood is an intellectual whose prose is deceptively simple. Although he has described himself as a “Catholic novelist,” his views are often unorthodox and are rooted as much in philosophy as religion. The tone of his fiction shifts between the serious and satirical, creating a fictive atmosphere at once realistic and fantastic, or as Hood has defined it, “super-realistic.”

Biographical Information

Hood was born in Toronto on April 30, 1928. Raised in a Roman Catholic family, he attended Catholic school as a child and developed a strong interest in religious literature and theology. Moreover, his adventures as a youth in the city of Toronto became a frequent subject for his later fiction. In 1947 he attended Saint Michael's College at the University of Toronto; he earned his B.A. in 1950 and an M.A. in 1952. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1955, he taught at St. Joseph College in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1961 he began to teach at the University of Montreal. He continues to teach and live in Montreal, and the city has been a recurring setting for his work.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Hood's short fiction manifests a comprehensive knowledge of Catholic theology, music, architecture, philosophy, literature, and popular culture. In his first collection of stories, Flying a Red Kite, he explores the ways in which heritage and myth impact the present. Around the Mountain, his next collection, is comprised of a series of twelve sketches set in Montreal based on an allegorical structure drawn from Edmund Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender. The stories of None Genuine Without This Signature are characterized by biblical analogies and a diversity of styles. In August Nights and The Isolation Booth, Hood once again considers the importance of history and heritage and contemplates the power of imagination. In You'll Catch Your Death, he explores—and often satirizes—the vagaries of popular culture.

Critical Reception

Critics commend Hood's concise diction, use of metaphor, and skillful craftsmanship, which is particularly evident in his short stories. Also notable in his short fiction is his ability to convey large moral and philosophical concepts through seemingly trivial events. Many commentators have considered the influence of the poet William Wordsworth and the English Romantics as well as Hood's use of literary allusions and mythology, particularly the Arthurian legend. Moreover, Hood is cited for his literary journalism, especially his ability to blend fact and fiction to evoke a particular milieu.

Principal Works

Flying a Red Kite 1962

Around the Mountain: Scenes from Montreal Life (sketches) 1967

The Fruit Man, The Meat Man & The Manager 1971

Dark Glasses 1976

Selected Stories 1978

None Genuine Without This Signature 1980

August Nights 1985

A Short Walk in the Rain: Collected Stories II 1989

The Isolation Booth: Collected Stories III 1991

You'll Catch Your Death 1992

White Figure, White Ground (novel) 1964

The Camera Always Lies (novel) 1967

A Game of Touch (novel) 1970

Strength Down Centre: The Jean Béliveau Story (biography) 1970

You Can't Get There from Here (novel) 1972

The Governor's Bridge Is Closed (essays) 1973

The Swing in the Garden (novel) 1975

A New Athens (novel) 1977

Reservoir Ravine (novel) 1979

Black and White Keys (novel) 1982

Trusting the Tale (essays) 1983

The Scenic Art (novel) 1984

Tony's Book (novel) 1988

Unsupported Assertions 1991

Be Sure To Close Your Eyes (novel) 1993

Dead Men's Watches (novel) 1995

Great Realizations (novel) 1997

Criticism

Dave Godfrey (review date 1963)

SOURCE: “Turning New Leaves,” in Canadian Forum, Vol. 42, January, 1963, pp. 229–30.

[In the following essay, Godfrey offers a mixed assessment of the stories comprising Flying a Red Kite.]

Mr. Hood, with three degrees from the University of Toronto and a position at the University of Montreal, is a member of that growing new corporation known as the academically supported writer. It appears to have done little but aid his prose style, which is as lyrical, precise, individual, and witty as that of anyone writing today; and he seems well aware of the strictures its inbred nature can produce. In “Where the Myth Touches Us,” (which will probably be the most discussed story if only because of its ad hominem portrayal of one David Wallace, née Morley Callaghan), Mr. Hood delineates the tightness of the modern literary marketing family:

Long before a new writer's name is known to the general public, sometimes several years before, the little group centred on New York, with trading posts in Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Toronto, knows all about him, what he can do, what his prospects are, whether he is ever likely to be any good. The writers themselves, though not so concentrated geographically, are even more inbred.

He is a little too kind, at least to the writers in the academic enclaves I have visited. They are not only inbred, but uncaring. You yourselves, readers, still hold the right to prove or disprove the concluding part of his thesis, “it is sometimes doubtful whether anybody reads new fiction except the two thousand men who write, edit and try to market it.” Mr. Hood writes, at his best, polished and complex stories. If you decide to add fuel to this slightly paranoiac conclusion, I can only sorrowfully admit that it will be your own loss. If you read them, they will stir and delight you.

There are nine of them in Flying a Red Kite, plus two autobiographical pieces. Although I doubt that the order was intentional (beyond saving the two flag-wavers for the last), I can't help using it to support my own theories of what a good formal short story should accomplish. The first pair are duds of frippery. You can tell how delicate is the style from the titles alone, but a hurricane could not lift the matter. “Fallings from us, Vanishings,” concerns an Arthur Merlin of Pulse Magazine who attempts to scuttle backwards in time onto a twenty-three-year-old Gloria whom he used to safeguard from the waves while enraptured of her butterscotch-flanked mother. Gloria has a little too much insight into Arthur, “she couldn't compete for his attentions with a host of spirits, and least of all with the spirit of her mother,” so that it becomes somehow possible to guess that no matter how often she ejaculates her “oh God, didn't you bring me here tonight to tell me that you love me's” at him, Arthur is going to find his consolation, when she dumps him, in a torch song tune. “I'd rather be lonely,” he sings, “than happy with somebody new.” In “O, Happy Melodist,” Miss Alexandra Ellicott of Signorina magazine (seemingly a companion television-side favourite to Pulse Magazine), plays games not with the past but with her peer and peasant groups. Occasionally she finds herself interested in her neice or nephew, “surrendered herself to the sweetness of the perception, the unawareness, the piteous drift and sleep of the affections, of the little girl”; but the lifeless manner in which she buries herself in the In-Out games of the New York affluent is neither satirically, nor bloodlessly, nor accurately enough presented to Daumiate her caricature.

The two autobiographical pieces, on the other hand, reek pleasantly of life. There is no sudden revelation of character, no bending of the iron bar: but there are unimitated people running around playing silver bugles for the Oakdale Boys Band and patching holes in Huron and Jarvis Streets. “Silver Bugles, Cymbals, Golden Silks” leaves the “bugle bells” of Tommy “The Best Drum-Major in Canada” Thompson (even if those bells did have a fatal flaw and “gave the correct sequence of notes, but only very softly, having...

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Lauriat Lane, Jr. (review date 1963)

SOURCE: “Fiction and Fact,” in Queen's Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 3, Autumn, 1963, pp. 451–52.

[In the following review of Flying a Red Kite, Lane deems the stories in the collection uneven and awkward.]

It's hard to know just how to judge this collection of short stories and other prose pieces [Flying a Red Kite] by Hugh Hood. It meets two understandable desires: that of a writer to get his magazine writings into a more permanent form without waiting in Victorian fashion for the last six volumes of a posthumous 30-volume collected works, and that of a publisher, eager to publish Canadian writing, to have a volume of Canadian writing to publish....

(The entire section is 431 words.)

Phyllis Grosskurth (review date 1971)

SOURCE: “There's No Doubt He Loves the Place,” in Saturday Night, Vol. 86, December, 1971, p. 42.

[In the following essay on The Fruit Man, the Meat Man, and the Manager, Grosskurth traces the influence of the writer Morley Callaghan on Hood's short fiction.]

Hugh Hood's short stories seem to get better and better. Perhaps this is because he has finally accepted what kind of writer he is and has relaxed into writing the way that comes naturally to him.

I had some pejorative things to say about Hood's novel, The Camera Always Lies, because it struck me as phony. Exotic, glamorous Hollywood types in a series of contrived situations: a...

(The entire section is 929 words.)

David Latham (essay date 1977)

SOURCE: “Optical Allusions,” in Essays on Canadian Writing, Nos. 7–8, Fall, 1977, pp. 105–08.

[In the following essay, Latham provides a mixed review of Dark Glasses.]

Oscar Wilde warned that “all art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.” While a work of fiction such as Swift's Tale of a Tub may demonstrate the peril of both a literal and an interpretive reading, the problem with Hugh Hood's fiction is that it rarely threatens the reader with either peril. The surface seldom is engaging enough to stand alone and the symbol often remains too insistently at...

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Hugh Hood with J. R. (Tim) Struthers (interview date 1978)

SOURCE: “An Interview with Hugh Hood,” in Before the Flood: Hugh Hood's Work in Progress, edited by J. R. (Tim) Struthers, ECW Press, 1979, pp. 21–93.

[In the following interview, which was conducted in 1978, Hood discusses the major influences on his writing as well as his major stylistic and thematic concerns.]

[Struthers]: The stories in your first published book, Flying a Red Kite, were written between 1960 and 1962; but before that time you had written a Ph.D. thesis on “Theories of Imagination in English Thinkers 1650–1790” and two unpublished novels, God Rest You Merry and Hungry Generations. Could you describe the...

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Lawrence Mathews (essay date 1978–79)

SOURCE: “The Secular and the Sacral: Notes on A New Athens” and “Three Stories, by Hugh Hood” in Essays on Canadian Writing, Vols. 13–14, Winter-Spring, 1978–79, pp. 211–29.

[In the following essay, Mathews explores the “Christian aspect” of Hood's short fiction and the novel A New Athens.]

In an exchange of correspondence with John Mills published in The Fiddlehead, Hugh Hood has defined his aim as a writer of fiction:

I am trying to assimilate the mode of the novel to the mode of fully-developed Christian allegory, in ways that I don't fully understand. I want to be more “real” than the...

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I. M. Owen (review date 1980)

SOURCE: “The Hood Line: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” in Books in Canada, Vol. 9, No. 7, August, 1980, p. 9.

[In the following essay, Owen offers a favorable review of None Genuine Without This Signature.]

In this one [None Genuine Without This Signature], there is as always enough entertainment and interest to justify the reviewer's recommendation; as usual, the entertainment and interest lie more in the stories' reporting and comment on the actual world than in specifically fictional, imaginative qualities.

There are two recurrent themes. One is the falseness of the consumer society whose wants are dictated by advertisers: an easy target...

(The entire section is 684 words.)

W. J. Keith (review date 1980)

SOURCE: “The Case for Hugh Hood,” in Canadian Forum, Vol. 60, No. 703, October, 1980, pp. 27–9.

[In the following review, Keith maintains that None Genuine Without This Signature offers precision of detail, delicacy of nuance, and firmness of structure.]

Is Hugh Hood important? If so, why?

The first question is (for me) readily answered: yes, definitely—though I have to admit that many whose opinions I respect would not share my certainty. But to offer reasons proves anything but easy. It requires as a preliminary a personal confession for which I apologize in advance.

Though I live in Toronto, I am no proper...

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J. R. (Tim) Struthers (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: “A Secular Liturgy: Hugh Hood's Aesthetics and Around the Mountain,” in Studies in Canadian Literature, Vol. 10, Nos. 1–2, 1985, pp. 110–35.

[In the following essay, Struthers examines the diverse characters, settings, and thematic concerns of the stories of Around the Mountain, contending that the pieces are connected by a strong Roman Catholic ideology.]

I

By means of a series of critical essays, letters, and interviews, Hugh Hood has sought to make his aesthetic intentions clearly understood by a wide readership. Two of the most instructive essays are “Sober Colouring: The Ontology of Super-Realism” and...

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Susan Copoloff-Mechanic (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: “Strategies for Immortality: Romanticism Revised in Flying a Red Kite,” in Pilgrim's Progress: A Study of the Short Stories of Hugh Hood, ECW Press, 1988, pp. 19–48.

[In the following essay, Copoloff-Mechanic explores the influence of a Romantic aesthetic on Hood's work, especially the stories comprising Flying a Red Kite.]

When Hood's first collection of short stories, Flying a Red Kite, appeared in 1962, critics responded to what Robert Fulford described in his review as its “unlikely blending of fiction and fact” (2). The collection's documentary impulse provided the focus for criticism until 1978, when J. R. (Tim) Struthers noted its...

(The entire section is 10667 words.)

Jerry Horton (review date 1993)

SOURCE: A review of You'll Catch Your Death, in Quill & Quire, Vol. 59, No. 1, January, 1993, p. 20.

[In the following essay, Horton offers a mixed review of You'll Catch Your Death.]

Let's get the minor kvetching out of the way right at the start. You'll Catch Your Death features an especially inappropriate book cover. Garish, heavy-handed, technically inept, and graceless, it is everything that Hood's stories are not.

“More Birds” opens this volume, a tale that manages to engage more moral and aesthetic issues in ten and a half pages than many novels. This is Hood at his best: compelling first-person voice; simple, elegant...

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John Mills (review date 1993)

SOURCE: “A Scriptible Text,” in Essays on Canadian Writing, Vol. 50, Fall, 1993, pp. 256–63.

[In the following assessment of The Isolation Booth, Mills maintains that although the collection contains “a fair amount of interesting and diverting material, it is, generally speaking, of low quality.”]

Recently I found myself in the dead centre of what used to be called West Germany teaching CanLit to a fourth-year university group of about a dozen highly articulate and well-motivated young women, students at the Institute of English and American Studies. Unlike our own people, these students approach Canadian fiction with no preconceptions about national...

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Douglas Ivison (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: “‘A Reader's Guide to the Intersection of Time and Space’: Urban Spatialization in Hugh Hood's Around the Mountain,” in Studies in Canadian Literature, Vol. 23, No. 1, 1998, pp. 238–49.

[In the following essay, Ivison analyzes the manner in which Hood utilizes space and setting in Around the Mountain in order to “render the dispersed urbanism of Montreal visible and comprehensible.”]

Criticism of Hugh Hood's 1967 sketch cycle, Around the Mountain: Scenes from Montréal Life, has mostly concentrated on the author's Romantic aesthetic strategies and has read the book as a religious and spiritual allegory deeply informed by...

(The entire section is 4923 words.)