Ernest Buckler Alan R. Young - Essay

Alan R. Young

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ernest Buckler's The Mountain and the Valley (1952) is a fine example of the pastoral impulse, and its meaning is greatly illuminated when viewed within the framework of the pastoral tradition. When the novel is considered in these terms, one is able to perceive the profound manner in which Buckler transforms his geographically-, chronologically- and morally-defined pastoral world into a spiritual landscape itself symbolic of the mind of his semi-autobiographical protagonist, David Canaan….

Like some special form of latter-day enclosed garden, Entremont [the novel's geographical setting] (as the name suggests) is bounded by North and South Mountains and for David Canaan, by a river to the north "cut wide by the Fundy tides" … and a stream to the south. These natural barriers, which are constantly referred to in the novel, offer David a choice between the world of the Valley and the world beyond, and, as the novel develops, it becomes clear that this choice symbolizes the spiritual dilemma that confronts him throughout the thirty years of his life described in the novel. (p. 220)

In chronological terms Buckler's pastoral is set in the recent past, presenting an image of rural Nova Scotia prior to the Second World War. It is a world that has now largely disappeared but, as so often in modern pastoral, its disappearance is recent enough for the reader's nostalgia (and even guilt if he shares the environmentalist's sense of responsibility) to be made especially acute. As such the externals of the choice that David faces are close to us. We may live in an urbanised environment by choice or necessity, but we remain aware of the garden that has so recently been desecrated. At the same time, Buckler presents his pastoral world as the childhood memory of his literary persona David. The Theocritean pastoral pattern, in typically post-Romantic fashion, is transformed into a journey from childhood to maturity and from innocence to experience. In these terms David's choice between Mountain and Valley is a choice between failure (or refusal) to accept himself and full self-recognition.

The moral pattern of life in Buckler's Valley derives from a fundamental sense of community, manifested in [communal rituals]…. Coupled with this is the reverence accorded to the family unit…. In the Valley, man lives in harmony with nature and feels himself part of an eternal historical process. (pp. 220-21)

The positive attributes of...

(The entire section is 1028 words.)