Marian Engel Criticism - Essay

Elspeth Cameron (essay date 1977-1978)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cameron, Elspeth. “Midsummer Madness: Marian Engel's Bear.Journal of Canadian Fiction, no. 21 (1977-1978): 83-94.

[In the following essay, Cameron argues that the protagonist of Bear escapes alienation and “hibernation” by coming together with nature.]

“In this country, she thought, we have winter lives and summer lives of completely different quality.”1 Marian Engel's Bear presents the “summer life” of one Lou, a Toronto archivist, who goes to northern Ontario on a research assignment. The “winter life” Lou leaves resembles that of a hibernating animal as, mole-like, she digs among the maps and manuscripts...

(The entire section is 5818 words.)

Margaret Gail Osachoff (essay date 1979-1980)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Osachoff, Margaret Gail. “The Bearness of Bear.” University of Windsor Review 15, nos. 1-2 (1979-1980): 13-21.

[In the following essay, Osachoff finds the figure of the bear in Engel's novel to be a warning against romanticizing nature.]

Bear, by Marian Engel, has been taken as the perfect example of a modern pastoral idyll of the primitive type.1 Lou, the heroine, leaves a dull job and loveless sex with her boss in the city and goes to northern Ontario for the summer in search of a new identity. After experiencing love for a bear, she returns “clean and simple and proud,”2 reborn or revitalized and ready to start a new life...

(The entire section is 4046 words.)

S. A. Cowan (essay date October 1981)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cowan, S. A. “Return to Heart of Darkness: Echoes of Conrad in Marian Engel's Bear.Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 12, no. 4 (October 1981): 73-91.

[In the following essay, Cowan analyzes similarities in setting, plot, and theme between Bear and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.]

In Bear, Canadian novelist Marian Engel's heroine finds her identity and learns how to live her life through an encounter with reality in the form of the wilderness. The meeting is archetypal, reminiscent of the confrontation with the “night of first ages”1 experienced by Marlow and Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of...

(The entire section is 7234 words.)

Donald S. Hair (essay date spring 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hair, Donald S. “Marian Engel's Bear.Canadian Literature, no. 92 (spring 1982): 34-45.

[In the following essay, Hair explores mythical and specifically Canadian elements in Bear.]

Marian Engel's Bear has received a good deal of popular attention, part of it from readers who are attracted to the sort of thing promised by the blurb on the cover of the paperback edition: “The shocking, erotic novel of a woman in love.” The promise, one notes, is, for the most part, kept, but the novel is likely to be of interest for a good deal longer than most books of this sort because it is much more than the story of a woman in love with a bear. In...

(The entire section is 5990 words.)

Coral Ann Howells (essay date October 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Howells, Coral Ann. “Marian Engel's Bear: Pastoral, Porn, and Myth.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 17, no. 4 (October 1986): 105-14.

[In the following essay, Howells discusses Bear in the context of the Canadian wilderness myth.]

Sure, they're women's books, because they're about women and written by a woman … Remember that glorious song from The Music Man, “The Sadder but Wiser Girl for Me?” That's what I call a woman—and when I get letters and phone calls from intelligent women, I don't think the term “woman's writer” is perjorative, not at all. Who's afraid of women's books?...

(The entire section is 3811 words.)

Coral Ann Howells (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Howells, Coral Ann. “On Gender and Writing: Marian Engel's Bear and The Tattooed Woman.” In Narrative Strategies in Canadian Literature. Feminism and Postcolonialism, edited by Coral Ann Howells and Lynette Hunter, pp. 71-81. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Howells examines Engel's narrative shift between fantasy and realism in Bear and The Tattooed Woman, arguing that this shift speaks to Engel's position in feminist writing.]

Ordinary reality keeps turning on me. What I have to deal with is super-reality, that element in everyday life where the surreal shows itself without...

(The entire section is 5009 words.)

Christl Verduyn (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Verduyn, Christl. “Between the Lines: Marian Engel's Cahiers and Notebooks.” In Essays on Life Writing: From Genre to Critical Practice, edited by Marlene Kadar, pp. 28-41. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.

[In the following essay, Verduyn examines Engel's private notebooks, or cahiers, to determine their significance to écriture féminine.]

First thought: I am hooked on orthodoxy. Kosherdom classicism. Have to learn to accept that a lot of the good things are like me, somewhat between the lines.

I am autobiographical … I am told my novels are … But...

(The entire section is 5306 words.)

Christl Verduyn (essay date 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Verduyn, Christl. “Scratching Around: Early Writings and Unpublished Work.” In Lifelines: Marian Engel's Writings, pp. 44-61. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, Verduyn analyzes Engel's early and unpublished writings to explore her devotion to her writing, the evolution of her themes throughout her career, and the degree to which she realized the objectives she set out in her notebooks.]

Gap between exp[erience] & expression is what writer is aware of.

Marian Engel, notebook entry1

So you have to scratch...

(The entire section is 9092 words.)

Christl Verduyn (essay date 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Verduyn, Christl. “Translated without Transubstantiation: The Glassy Sea.” In Lifelines: Marian Engel's Writings, pp. 138-61. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, Verduyn discusses the dichotomy in women's lives between life and letters as explored by Engel in The Glassy Sea.]

I was going to have to turn human again so I could think.

Marian Engel, Joanne1

There were Marys and Marthas and I knew which kind I was.

Marian Engel, Joanne2


(The entire section is 12780 words.)

Christl Verduyn (essay date 2001)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Verduyn, Christl. “Personal Papers: Putting Lives on the Line—Working with the Marian Engel Archive.” In Working in Women's Archives: Researching Women's Private Literature and Archival Documents, edited by Helen M. Buss and Marlene Kadar, pp. 91-101. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2001.

[In the following essay, Verduyn discusses her experience studying Engel's personal archival papers and addresses questions of biographical and psychological issues related to such research.]

If this is my Golden Notebook I am getting into it a bit late. Better late than never.

—Marian Engel,...

(The entire section is 2720 words.)