Hugh (John Blagdon) Hood Kent Thompson - Essay

Kent Thompson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

That Hugh Hood is a serious and accomplished Canadian artist of considerable significance is a fact that ought to be more widely known than it is…. [Some] of the best fiction in Canada is now being written in the short story form, and Hood is one of the masters of it. Furthermore, he is probably its most ambitious practitioner, demanding more of the form than almost any other writer, and he is one of the few who is concerned with the totality of a collection—seeing the collection, I think, as an entity which has its effect in sum and not in bits and pieces.

It seems to me, in fact, that this feeling for coherence is one of the most admirable aspects of Hood's work. All his work is of a piece, although it shifts focus, takes new directions, explores. It is not obviously avant-garde …, but it is always exploratory, always pushing on, expanding on its previous discoveries, looking more closely here and there, developing, broadening, and always deepening. Indeed, I think there is no predicting the eventual dimensions of his work—and that. I suppose, is part of the definition of an artist.

To give some idea how all this has developed, I suppose I am justified in briefly reviewing Hood's career. One ought begin with his first novel, White Figure, White Ground (1964), a novel of Canadian identity, history, and culture, and one which says a great deal about art. It is also a novel which deals with the relativity of space (conceptual and geographical) and time (conceptual and historical and spatial) and the artist who looks out at the universe from his own specifically individual perspective. In this case the artist is a Montreal-based painter who has married a French-Canadian beauty and returns to Nova Scotia in search of his ancestral identity. The point is made that meaning, in an abstractly relativistic universe, results from the individual creation and imposition of meaning. Thus, as a religion makes the universe coherent, so does an artist, and so does every man…. This sounds more complicated than it is (and I have reached into other parts of Hood's work to make my generalizations) because the weight of Hood's concern falls on the individual. His art deals with the individuals who live in the context just described. (pp. 116-17)

But the context is important, and the individual who ignores it does so at his peril. One has to consider one's time, place, and history in one's creation, and one has to decide if one's creation of an identity is valid and worthwhile. For example, in an early Hood story, "O Happy Melodist!", the heroine tries to create herself in the world of fashion, and the result is that she becomes so "in" that she's "out." That is, she disappears as an individual in becoming a representative of something fashionable. This is just one of the themes which Hood pursued in his second...

(The entire section is 1184 words.)