Hood, Hugh (Short Story Criticism)
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.”
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.
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.
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...
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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...
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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. Moreover, the collection should give a fuller sense of Mr. Hood's real merits and arouse interest in his future writing. But it is, nevertheless, uneven.
Two of the longer pieces, “Silver Bugles, Cymbals, Golden Silks” and “Recollections of the Works Department”, are autobiographical renderings of events that must have had meaning to the author. But set these two beside similar narratives by such different writers as Mencken, Orwell, or Nabokov, and we see at once how much the essence of the experiences remains unexpressed. Another piece, “After the Sirens”, about a nuclear bombing, is fictionalized journalism that renders the immediate physical circumstances of such a catastrophe with intensity.
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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 book that looked as though it were deliberately fishing for a film option. Perhaps Hood has realized this himself, because in one story in his new collection—The Fruit Man, The Meat Man, and the Manager—he writes of the predicament of a writer who feels he is losing touch with the concrete stuff of life. Titled “The Tolstoy Touch,” it recounts the experience of a man of some critical prestige who is courted blatantly by a film company and conned into writing a book on order. Still undecided, he muses as he walks along the street:
“I love my friends, I love my wife, I love God, but things are beginning to melt on me and run off the table. What am I going to do if they go...
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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 the forefront of the narrative. If this were the problem of only the weaker of Hood's stories, I would simply praise Dark Glasses (Hood's fourth collection of short stories) for containing three or four of the best examples in all of literature of how the short story works. The weaker of the twelve stories could be dismissed on the assumption that they were included because of Hood's predilection for arranging his “pieces according to complex numerologies” that provide “a scaffolding for the imagination”: “I once wrote the rough draft of a book in two main sections and when I had finished each half of the manuscript was precisely 144 pages long: twelve twelves doubled.” Such structural patterns have been Hood's rule. The...
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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 effects your Ph.D. thesis subject had on your own thinking, and could you say something about the subjects and style of those early unpublished novels?
[Hood]: I think that the main thing that doing that doctoral thesis did for me was to show me how to manage a long work. It's not nearly so much a question of the ideas to go in it, but of getting some estimate of how much work you can reasonably get through in a given time of writing, in a given day's work, so that you can budget your strength, your concentration, your working time. I have always thought the use of a Ph.D. thesis is not so much the contribution it makes to learning, but first of all the training it gives you in staying with a long work, learning how not to...
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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 realists, yet more transcendent than the most vaporous allegorist. … Now let me put it to you that since I am both a realist and a transcendentalist allegorist that I cannot be bound by the forms of ordinary realism.1
These remarks imply that no critical approach based on the expectation of a purely mimetic realism can come adequately to terms with his work. In another letter, published in Essays on Canadian Writing, Hood (responding to a review of Dark Glasses) provides a specific suggestion for his interpreters. After insisting that his fiction stands outside the tradition of “Flaubertian psychological analysis,” he goes on to say:
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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 for satire, but it's pleasant to watch Hood scoring his bull's-eyes, especially in the first story, “God Has Manifested Himself Unto Us as Canadian Tire.” The couple in it, Dreamy and A. O., buy almost everything they see advertised, and discuss their possessions in a heightened version of the style of “Mrs. Wilson's Diary” that used to run on the back page of Private Eye in the days of Harold Wilson:
After supper Dreamy comes and snuggles up beside me on the arm of our Naugahyde Recliner.
“I want the eight-ply steel-belted Polyester Radials,” she whispers, “with the added protection of Hiway-Biway Winter Big Paws.”…...
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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 Torontonian: I do not consider it the centre of Canada—let alone, of the universe. Like many urban residents, I frequently yearn for country living but would probably find it irksome if I got there. As a city, Toronto is at least (at present) habitable, but the shades of a megalopolitan wasteland are upon it. Besides, Torontonians bother me. The number of phonies per acre is growing rapidly. I dislike the weekend men in their slightly jazzed-up business suits, while the parody human beings with buttons on their lapels and slogans on their sweatshirts are acutely depressing. An epiphany (though not, perhaps, in Hood's sense): I am walking close to Casa Loma when a burst of acid rock blares forth behind me; I am passed by a jogger clutching a...
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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.]
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 “Before the Flood,” the former written near the beginning of the 1970s and the latter towards the end of the decade. “Sober Colouring: The Onotology of Super-Realism” comments on the development of Hood's ideas about art during the fourteen years since his turning to fiction writing in January 1957, immediately after Robert Weaver rejected an essay by Hood on “Rose Symbolism in the Novels of Morley Callaghan,” the first criticle article that Hood had written following the completion of his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto.1 The more recent essay, “Before the Flood,” discusses the imaginative influence of Hood's childhood reading and typifies the refined conceptions informing his writing in the 1970s, notably the...
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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 Wordsworthian “diction and concepts” (he cited “recollection,” “immortality,” “vanishing,” and “tranquillity” as conspicuous examples of its romantic undertone ). Five years later, Keith Garebian observed how Flying a Red Kite mixes Wordsworthian concepts with a “literal documentary” style (15–16). But while he acknowledged the structural cohesion of this collection, he neglected to explain how these approaches are shaped into a meaningful unity.1 No critic, in fact, has answered Fulford's question as to why Hood has combined “this material in this particular way,” stating that the documentary and Wordsworthian tones which divide critical attention were designed to express romantic...
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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 narrative line; evocative, resonant imagery; and a commitment to messy, life-affirming irresolution. “Getting Funding” follows, a rather facile bit of sarcastic fluff aimed at government arts councils and the CBC. Next up: “Third Time Unlucky,” a beautifully realized comic tale of paranoia that packs an O. Henry ending, and then “Deanna and the Ayatollah,” this reviewer's favourite, which finds an exiled Ayatollah Khomeini getting image tips from Disney and Warner Bros. cartoon characters via former child star Deanna Durbin.
A cultural theorist specializing in fast food—he cheers the triumph of the quarter-pounder over Marx, Darwin, and Freud—prefers an intensely romantic reverie to the instant gratification of...
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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 distinctions; neither are their literary intelligences contaminated, at least so far, by that North American tenure-track obsession with critical theory. Their more off-the-cuff comments on the four novels I chose for them were therefore fresh and interesting to me. Margaret Atwood's Surfacing they found needlessly complex; Alice Munro's Friend of My Youth they thought technically adroit but, taken as a whole, depressingly obsessed with failure and life denial; they praised Robertson Davies's Fifth Business for its vision of the human lot as a joyous adventure, but attacked the novel for the author's clumsy central device (a letter to the narrator's headmaster). Most of their praise was reserved for Michael Ondaatje's...
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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 Hood's Catholicism and his admiration of the Romantics.1 In particular, critics have noted Hood's employment of Wordsworthian “spots of time” at a number of points in the collection, and have remarked upon the fact that the first six stories represent an ascent up the mountain and then, after the narrator's epiphanic moment at the top of the mountain in “Looking Down from Above” (103), the succeeding stories trace a descent down the mountain into what Susan Copoloff-Mechanic describes as “a fallen world, subject to time and decay” (59). Hood's introduction to the 1994 edition, as well as his 1978 interview with Tim Struthers, works to ensure that the book is read in such a manner.2 For example, in the...
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Copoloff-Mechanic, Susan. Pilgrim's Progress: A Study of the Short Stories of Hugh Hood. Toronto: ECW Press, 1988, 155 p.
Full-length study of Hood's short fiction.
Erskine, J. S. Review of Flying a Red Kite, by Hugh Hood. The Dalhousie Review 43, No. 2 (Summer 1963): 264.
Asserts that Hood's stories are “pleasant, colloquial, effective.”
Kirkwood, Hilda. Review of The Fruit Man, The Meat Man, and the Manager, by Hugh Hood. Canadian Forum 52, No. 615 (April 1972): 53.
Positive review of The Fruit Man, The Meat Man, and the Manager.
Oughton, John. Review of A Short Walk in the Rain, by Hugh Hood. Books in Canada (January 1990): 20.
Negative review of A Short Walk in the Rain.
Smith, Michael. “Recycles Built for Two.” Books in Canada 8, No. 2 (February 1979): 22.
Praises Hood's stylistic control in Selected Stories.
Additional coverage of Hood's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49–52; Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 17; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 1, 33, 87; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 15, 28;...
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