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George Woodcock
Toronto, ECW Press, 1993, 174pp, Paper,
$25.00, ISBN 1-55022-140-X.
Both Distributed By General Distribution Services. CIP

Subject Heading:
Canadian poetry (English)-History and criticism.


George Woodcock
Toronto, ECW Press, 1993, 170pp, Paper,
$25.00, ISBN 1-55022-141-8.

Subject Heading:
Canadian fiction (English)-History and criticism.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up

Reviewed by Joanne Peters

Volume 22 Number 4
1994 September

It is no understatement for ECW Press to describe George Woodcock as "Canada's best-known literary critic"; certainly, he is one of the country's most prolific reviewers and critical essayists. His career as a critic has been a lengthy one and has given him the opportunity to observe and comment upon Canadian literature's development of an increasingly confident voice and its increasingly more serious consideration by the literary community both in the United States and internationally.

Nearly a decade ago ECW approached Woodcock with the intent of his writing a series of introductions to the series of critical analyses entitled  Canadian Writers and Their Works. These introductions, reworked and, in some cases, updated, form the body of these two volumes.

Attempting to condense nearly two centuries of writing, whether poetry or prose, into volumes of approximately 170 pages each naturally forces some hard choices as to which authors ought to be profiled and the depth in which each can be discussed. In this introduction to each volume, Woodcock frankly describes the difficulties of selection the original project imposed. And, while the concept behind these two works--the providing of a survey of English-Canadian literature--is admirable, readers can hardly expect depth in these commentaries on fifty prose writers and fifty poets.

Each chapter seeks to situate the writers not only in time and place but also in relation to others writing at the same time. Woodcock's citations of other critics are well referenced at the conclusion of each chapter, but for students, new to critical analysis (especially those in senior high school) and unfamiliar with literary criticism, these additional references may confuse rather than illuminate. Still, both works are highly readable and certainly not intimidating to an audience of upper senior high students or first-year university students.

Both volumes do what they purport to: they offer a survey of Canadian literature However, it is a decidedly limited survey and, in a number of cases, really does not do justice to the authors profiled. An index and reference list would have done much to make both volumes more useable as sources for further bibliographic searching. At $25.00 each, the two books are reasonably affordable. Each volume might be considered as a supplemental circulating resource in high school libraries, but teacher-librarians should consider their school library's reference and curricular needs and be aware of these works' limitations.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Sisler High School in Winnipeg, Manitoba

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