Posts Tagged ‘1954 Novel’

New Canadian Library paoperback, circa 1990. Another inappropriate NCL cover illustration – who the heck was in charge of selecting these? The E.J. Hughes painting depics Shawnigan Lake, on Vancouver Island. Sure, it’s a lake, and it’s even in British Columbia, but it’s a far, far way away from the Kamloops bush and the interior lake where most of the action of Swamp Angel takes place.

Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson ~ 1954. This edition: McClelland and Stewart, 1990. Afterword by Georger Bowering. Paperback. ISBN: 0-7710-8958-9. 216 pages.

Maggie walks away from her deplorable second marriage, and goes to earth at a remote fishing lodge northeast of Kamloops.

Nell, with the help of a small pearl-handled revolver, puts Maggie’s abusive husband absolutely in his place.

Hilda, Nell’s daughter, watches from the sidelines, taking it all in, storing it all up.

And Vera, reluctant resident at the fish camp, sees Maggie both as a saviour and as a very personal devil.

Intrigued? Good.

Find it. Read it. The book is probably Ethel Wilson’s most well-known; copies from its multiple printings are easy as pie to come by, at least in every used book shop I’ve been in here in the writer’s home province.

Grand stuff from the brilliant and not nearly prolific enough British Columbian writer Ethel Wilson. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this gem of a small novel, this delicate and complex story of suffering and personal redemption? (A quick online search brings an embarrassment of riches in the way of scholarly discussion.)

Maggie Lloyd, our main character in that the story follows her most intimately, is a woman of uncompromising integrity, and though that may sound dull, it’s not, not at all. Her moral sense drives her actions, her intelligence makes those actions generally successful, and her wry sense of humour – well-tamped down for understandable reasons (Maggie’s had more than her share of personal tragedy) but still active – keeps her likeable.

Maggie rescues herself from an unbearable situation, and proceeds to remake her life as a solo operator, making this something of a feminist manifesto. But while most of Swamp Angel’s main characters are women, the men in Ethel Wilson’s cast are memorable, too, whether swinish or heroic or stoic or just plain decent.

Early edition (first edition?) dust jacket. Those who’ve read the novel will know immediately what this depicts; I won’t give it away to those who still have to experience the quiet joys of Ethel Wilson’s little masterpiece of personal redemption.

Wilson paints her word pictures with brushes both broad and finely delicate; her pacing might well be described as variable (uneven sounds like a critique, so I won’t use that term, though it is also apt); her frequent descriptive passages sometimes stray into sentiment; but mostly it all clicks.

As a native British Columbian, I found an extra piquancy in the place descriptions, which Ethel Wilson made something of a specialty of, portraying mood as much as scenery. Very much about genius loci, as I touched on in my recent post on Hetty Dorval. Not sure if these passages will appeal quite so strongly to those not from here, but I am deeply appreciative of this element in her work.

A good strong 9/10.

 

 

 

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