Jack Hodgins Susan Beckmann

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Susan Beckmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There are two distinct tones discernible in The Invention of the World: one results in a powerful and apparently serious examination of history, legend, and myth in both Old World and New World contexts, a consideration of the physical, psychological, and spiritual problems of the immigrant and contemporary Canadian as types of nineteenth- and twentieth-century man; the other amounts to a burlesquing of Old and New World conventions, traditions, legends, and myths, and is satiric of the very things that in other parts of the book are looked at in a seemingly serious fashion.

Undeniably, mythic stories and archetypal patterns are a primary focus of interest in Hodgins' novel. The tale of Donal Keneally, for example, is constructed from a variety of mythic and folktale sources. (p. 106)

The Invention of the World follows an archetypal pattern in its structure, too, for it is a book of journeys…. The focal journey … is the emigrant Irish peasants' flight from the enslaving political and economic forces of the Old World in search of a second Eden in the New. (p. 107)

The search for a New Eden is for Hodgins a primary fact of the history of Canadian settlement…. Having left the certainties of the Old World and its sense of rootedness, the immigrant characteristically feels home is somewhere else and so is rendered homeless—at least in the spiritual sense. Virtually all the major characters in The Invention of the World experience at some point in their lives a sense of homelessness and so embark on a search for home either literal or figurative. (p. 108)

[Central figures Maggie and Wade] settle in the House of Revelations and become the true Mother and Father, the new Adam and Eve, or as the narrator calls them "the new man and the new woman" … ready to invent the world in their own way….

The implication of course is that The Invention of the World is Maggie and Wade's form of immortality….

One of the book's primary concerns is how history, myth, and legend operate, a theme that has increasingly preoccupied Canadian writers of late. (p. 112)

Yet for all the novel's serious and sober consideration of the place and functioning of history, legend, and myth in our society, for all its striking parallels to the themes recurrent in so much of our literature, two of the chief virtues of The Invention of the World lie in its epic imagination and comic exuberance, qualities that are connected with its burlesquing spirit. (pp. 118-19)

[For example in the battle between rural and urban] Hodgins burlesques the antagonisms and weapons of both sides….

Incredibly, the reader is asked to accept that all this hostility is brought to a standstill … by the power of love! (p. 120) The wedding reception provides a mock-epic context for the battle and victory of love that balances the opening fracas of the book. The list of guests at the reception that runs from loggers to the Prime Minister of Canada, from relatives and friends of the couple to complete unknowns from the island and mainland, has truly epic proportions…. [But] only in the context of a mock-epic catalogue and a burlesquing of the excesses of wedding celebrations can the reader understand the description of the reception, its guests, food, brawl, and gifts; and only in the extravagances of an E. J. Pratt...

(The entire section is 825 words.)