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Edited by Stan Dragland.

Downsview (ON), ECW Press, c1983.
235pp, paper, $8.95.
ISBN 0-920802-64-8.

Reviewed by Robert E. Wheeler.

Volume 11 Number 4.
1983 July.

In this distinguished work of criticism, Professor Stan Dragland from the University of Western Ontario (where Reaney also teaches) presents, for the first time, the wide-ranging aspects of a truly idiosyncratic writer, artist, editor, teacher, and critic. Poets (George Bowering, Jay Macpherson), actors (Pat Ludwick), directors (Keith Turnbull), and noted scholars respond to Reaney's versatile accomplishments, and Reaney himself is interviewed by Jean MacKay. The essay by Stan Drag-land brings the divergent interpretations into perspective. Despite certain critical reservations expressed by Paul de Man and others, there is a general agreement that Reaney, because of his affirmative faith in the redeeming power of the creative faculty, represents a welcome change from nihilist overkill and misanthropic despair. It is possible, however, that in his zeal to reduce to an intelligible pattern a stubbornly refractory world, Reaney tends to favour a somewhat simplistic viewpoint that fails to comprehend the distressing ambiguity of experience. In the celebrated Donnelly trilogy, for instance, it seems that the stark confrontational sequences are presented in sharply Manichean terms which, though dramatically effective, evade the complex moral issues involved.

Reaney emerges as a dedicated and original teacher who believes in the symbiotic relationship of life and art. His mind is bravely adventurous and unfettered, always eager, like all born teachers, to kindle the imagination of his audience. Never contemptuous of sustaining traditions, he makes no attempt to conceal the Romantic influence of Blake, Yeats, Maeterlinck, and others. He is especially responsive to Blake's theory of childhood innocence, the beauty in simple things. As a student of Frye's, he is steeped in timeless symbols and ancient myths, which he adapts to contemporary needs. Still showing the influence of Frye, he believes in the liberating power of myth and metaphor, the amazing transformations that may be accomplished by "rousing the faculties," freeing the mind from institutionalized torpor. Cynics may scoff at what has been called Reaney's evangelical outlook, the attachment to bucolic, Wordsworthian serenity in a technological society. Nevertheless, there is an incan-tatory eloquence in Reaney's verbal imagery. As stated in "Listen to the Wind," he is repelled by "the abyss we live in," the mental squalor that we take to be the norm. The urban wasteland with its dull despair and constricted emotions has little appeal for one who has experienced the soaring aspirations of the spirit. Nature, like man, has been violated by material "progress." In his memorable Colours in the Dark, he deplores the dreary street "where it is increasingly difficult to find a green leaf."

The various approaches to Reaney's work combine to create a compelling portrait of a multi-faceted human being. His obvious affinity to William Blake suggests a relationship to another outstanding artist, the north German Romantic painter, Philipp Otto Runge, who also celebrated the unspoiled beauty of childhood. In an era of anti-art and Dadaist high-jinks, he is convinced that art should make a difference in the way we live. His relevance to our troubled age is demonstrated by the concluding chapter that stresses Reaney's humanist orientation, his openness to all "perceptual systems." Having known bitterness and uncertainty during his early undergraduate days in Toronto, Reaney managed to transcend a negative viewpoint. His A Suit of Nettles, a turning-point in his career, led to increased productivity and success. He appears to believe, along with Camus, that the absurd may be a symbol of hope and regeneration, the beginning of self-discovery .

Valuable insights relating to Reaney's innovative accomplishments as a director and playwright are offered by Jean MacKay. Especially illuminating is the account of Reaney's theatre workshop activities, all of which have fulfilled an essentially didactic function.

Finally, the book contains samples of Reaney's illustrations and an attractive colour cover of his watercolour, "Little Dan Bay Near Tobermory." Admirers of Reaney and readers interested in Canadian literature and its cultural background will find this volume a significant achievement.

Jean Farquharson, Brant ford C. I. & V. S., Brantford, ON.
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