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Ethel Wilson

Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1990. 108pp, paper, $5.95
ISBN 0-7710-8953-8. CIP


Ethel Wilson

Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1990. 243pp, paper, $6.95
ISBN 0-7710-89554. CIP

Grades 11 and up/Ages 16 and up
Reviewed by Katheryn Broughton.

Volume 19 Number 2
1991 March

The Innocent Traveller (first published in 1949 by Macmillan) is a fictionalized memoir, "part truth, part invention." Wilson's Aunt Eliza died in 1943 at one hundred years of age; Miss Topaz Edgeworth, her protagonist, also achieves a century of irrepressible living. Over the years she manages to outrage everyone and, oblivious to the events that shake the world in her lifetime, takes genuine pleasure in the small events of every day, cheerfully ignoring the difficulties she creates for those around her. The structure is episodic and for this reason the work is treated by critics sometimes as short stories and sometimes as a novel. P.K. Page contributes an afterword, which evaluates Wilson's achievement and adds much to this publication.

The novel Hetty Dorval was first published in 1947 but was written later than The Innocent Traveller. Northrop Frye reminds us in his Afterword that despite the title, the story is really about Frankie Burnaby, whose life is affected by the enigmatic Hetty and whose maturing depends on challenging the self-absorption of this beautiful, compel­ling, callous woman. Frye goes on to describe Hetty as "having the charm of the self-absorbed narcissist who inspires admiration but is never touched by it, a fascination endearing in a baby or housecat but frightening in an adult human."

The setting, Lytton, B.C., where the sparkling Columbia River joins and is lost in the murky waters of the Fraser, provides Wilson with her major symbol: the child Frankie meets the compelling Hetty and is infected by the letter's fatal charm. The harsh, desert-like landscape reflects the strength that Frankie has inherited from her parents and the countryside that shaped her.

Both these works, while dated, wear well and are musts for every library collection.


Katheryn Broughton, Thornhill, Ont.
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