UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Related themes in the fiction of Ethel Wilson Clarke, Helen Marguerite 1964

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i RELATED THEMES IN THE FICTION OF ETHEL WILSON by HELEN MARGUERITE CLARKE Phm.B. U n i v e r s i t y of Toronto, 1941 B.A. U n i v e r s i t y of B r i t i s h Columbia, I960 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE. REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF Master of A r t s i n the Department of E n g l i s h We accept t h i s t h e s i s as conforming to the r e q u i r e d standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA September, 1964 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make i t freely available for reference and study. I further agree that per-mission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the Head of my Department or by his representatives. It is understood that copying or publi-cation of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission* Department of The University of British Columbia, Vancouver 8? Canada i i ABSTRACT Although h i g h l y regarded by c r i t i c s , Mrs. Wilson's f i c t i o n has been s u b j e c t t o l i t t l e d e t a i l e d s c r u t i n y . T h i s t h e s i s attempts t o t r a c e and c o n s o l i d a t e the threads of her thought, t o demonstrate t h a t a sub-s t a n t i a l p h i l o s o p h i c a l framework supports and enhances the more obvious p r e s e n t a t i o n of "the v a g a r i e s of human conduct" which make her books so p e r t i n e n t . An e x i s t -e n t i a l humanism a l l o w s her c h a r a c t e r s t o a t t a i n i n d i v i d u a l d i g n i t y and a u t h e n t i c i t y r e g a r d l e s s of s t a t u s , sex, or endowments. In Chapter I I , the concept t h a t i n our s o c i e t y only the f i t t e s t s u r v i v e i s supported by Mrs. Wilson's a t t i t u d e t o nature, i n which, however, th e r e i s always defeat with v i c t o r y . The human a t t r i b u t e o f compassion i s what enables man to trans c e n d the sorrow of humanity (as i l l u s t r a t e d i n Swamp Angel); n e v e r t h e l e s s i n d i s c r i m i n a t e p i t y d e b i l i t a t e s man and prevents him from a s s e r t i n g h i s i n d i v i d u a l i t y and e n j o y i n g l i f e . In an absurd world, man's anguish i s th a t he has the power of choice, and h i s freedom depends on h i s a b i l i t y t o l i v e with h i s d e c i s i o n s . Tuesday  and Wednesday i s analyzed as n e g a t i v e l y i l l u s t r a t i n g t he s t r u g g l e toward meaning i n a purposeless world. 1 The element o f chance i s d i s c u s s e d i n Chapter I I I as an i n t r o d u c t i o n t o Mrs. Wilson's theory t h a t man would l i k e t o , but cannot be, an i s l a n d . F ocussing on the "odd man out," Mrs. Wilson f i n d s complete detachment impo s s i b l e , no matter how powerful are the f a c t o r s m i l i t a t i n g a g a i n s t r e a l communication between i n d i v i d u a l s : chance, mis-understanding, i n c o m p a t i b i l i t y (many of which are d i r e c t l y t r a c e a b l e t o " c h a r a c t e r " ) . The r e s u l t a n t l o n e l i n e s s , and the means devised by humanity t o ward o f f the r e a l i z a t i o n o f i t s predicament i s noted. Hetty Dorval r e p r e s e n t s the p r e d i c a -ment, and Mr. W i l l y ' s gnawing emptiness the r e s u l t , of an a-moral wor l d devoid o f r e s p o n s i b i l i t y , l o v e , or human i n t e r c o u r s e . Because women a r e " a l l one flow" they form a demonstrable f o c u s f o r Mrs. Wilson's philosophy of c o n t i n u -i t y . Emphasizing t h e i n d i v i d u a l i t y o f women, r a t h e r than t h e i r r o l e s as wives and mothers, Mrs. Wilson i s harsher, yet k i n d e r , i n her judgement than are most male n o v e l i s t s . Chapter IV analyzes Mrs. Wilson's f i c t i o n a l women and t h e feminine world o f Hettv Dorval i s d i s c o v e r e d t o c o n t a i n the ^ I I I ! many aspects of women t h a t a re elaborated, i n the subsequent books. The questions o f s i n and j u s t i c e as r a t i o n a l i z e d by women seem compatible w i t h Mrs. Wilson's o v e r - a l l view of l i f e , and i t i s through t h e i r a b i l i t y t o r a t i o n a l i z e t h a t they are able (although l i m i t e d by t h e i r economic r o l e ) , t o f i n d f u l f i l l m e n t . i v L i k e women, t r u t h i s i l l o g i c a l , d i f f i c u l t t o d e f i n e , and, i n essence, p a r a d o x i c a l . Chapter V attempts t o e x p l i c a t e Mrs. Wilson's b e l i e f t h a t by a d m i t t i n g a " m u l t i p l e " t r u t h , one can b e t t e r understand man's pl a c e i n the u n i v e r s e , and consequently a c q u i r e t o l e r a n c e . The r e l a t i o n s h i p between appearance and r e a l i t y i s fundamental to Mrs. Wilson's philosophy, as i s the p a r a d o x i c a l nature of m o r a l i t y , both of which are explored i n the context of modern s o c i e t y . Since t r u t h i s an a c c r e t i o n - not some-t h i n g hidden behind a mask - man i s always more than he appears t o be, so l i f e i s a constant journey of d i s c o v e r y . The C o n c l u s i o n assesses the value of her work which seems t o r e s i d e i n her a b i l i t y t o transcend the c u r r e n t n i h i l i s m p r e v a l e n t i n s o p h i s t i c a t e d f i c t i o n , by o r i e n t i n g the reader's outlook towards a p o s i t i v e course of a c t i o n . Most people's l i v e s are worth l i v i n g , even when they are l i v e s of q u i e t d e s p e r a t i o n . L i k e E l l e n , i n Love and S a l t Water, what one needs i s courage, d i g n i t y and compassion. V PREFACE E t h e l Wilson l i v e s w i t h her doctor husband i n an e l e g a n t l y comfortable penthouse apartment near E n g l i s h Bay i n Vancouver, o v e r l o o k i n g an ever-changing spread of sea and mountains t h a t a l t e r s i t s aspect w i t h every " s l a n t of l i g h t . " She cannot exclude the i n f l u e n c e of t h i s grandeur from her w r i t i n g s , so immersed i s she i n i t s beauty, f o r t u n a t e l y , f o r the s i g n i f i c a n c e of her c h a r a c t e r s i s augmented by..a c o n t r a s t and. comparison with the n a t u r a l grace and d i g n i t y which c o u n t e r p o i s e s the r u t h l e s s n e s s and s t r u g g l e i n h e r e n t i n every landscape. A l l her novels and most of her short s t o r i e s are dramas of everyday l i f e enacted i n or around Vancouver where she has l i v e d s i n c e she was e i g h t years o l d when, an orphan (her parents both having died i n South A f r i c a where she was born), she came from an E n g l i s h b o a r d i n g - s c h o o l to l i v e w i t h her grandmother i n the young seapo r t town. The excitement and s i m p l i c i t y which was one aspect of t h e "growth of a young f r o n t i e r town i n t o a r e a l c i t y , " and the atmosphere of a l o v i n g household and i t s s a l u t a r y e f f e c t on an impression-able and i n t e l l i g e n t a d o lescent have seldom been more charm-i n g l y and amusingly c h r o n i c l e d than i n The Innocent T r a v e l l e r , an enchanting blend of f a c t and f i c t i o n w e l l s u i t e d to d i s p l a y Mrs. Wilson's a b i l i t y t o c a t c h not only the essence v i of a person, but a l s o the f l a v o u r of a whole era f i l t e r e d through t h e s e n s i t i v e yet innocent v i s i o n of one who a p p r e c i a t e d t h a t i t was very p l e a s a n t and t h e r e seemed t o be no t r o u b l e anywhere upon the face of the e a r t h , t h a t you c o u l d d i s c e r n . 1 Assuming, then, t h a t the Hastings household i s a d i s t i l l e d essence of her y o u t h f u l environment, one can r e a d i l y understand Mrs. Wilson's preoccupation with women: t h e i r c a p a b i l i t i e s , t h e i r independence, and above a l l , t h e i r f i e r c e i n d i v i d u a l i t y . A c c o r d i n g t o Desmond Pacey, i n C r e a t i v e W r i t i n g i n Canada, Mrs. Wilson's main theme i s the c o n f l i c t o f innocence with e v i l , and t h i s may w e l l be so, but what seems more b a s i c to her f i c t i o n i s the u n i v e r s a l emphasis on i n d i v i d u a l i t y i n a world where "no man i s an i s l a n d " . A f t e r one devours the small canon of her f i c t i o n , i t i s n a t u r a l to t u r n to the c r i t i c s f o r a l e a r n e d and pro-f e s s i o n a l a p p r a i s a l of her achievement. The harvest i s d i s a p p o i n t i n g . An almost unanimous v e r d i c t h a i l s her as a w r i t e r of some s t a t u r e w i t h a f r e s h and v i g o r o u s s t y l e , an urbane wi t , and a keen mind t h a t sees and accepts without condemnation the f o l l i e s o f mankind. Such a consensus of a p p r o v a l , the absence of any derogatory c r i t i c i s m , has probably m i l i t a t e d a g a i n s t any i n t e n s e study of her w r i t i n g . 1 E t h e l Wilson, The Innocent T r a v e l l e r , Toronto, Macmillan, I960, p.125. v i i However, i n t r i g u e d p r i m a r i l y , perhaps by her s t y l e , t h i s r eader decided t h a t her work merited and could s u s t a i n a deeper - or a t l e a s t broader - c r i t i c a l examination. In a world where the mechanization of p e r s o n a l i t y seems t o be an unwelcome but unavoidable c o r o l l a r y of the mechanization o f i n d u s t r y , any suggestion of an escape from the dangers i n h e r e n t i n the great l e v e l l i n g process i s welcome. An a b i l i t y t o tr a n s c e n d s o c i a l l y - c o n d i t i o n e d v a l u e s i s c h a r a c t e r i s t i c of her women, and i n her l a s t book, Love  and S a l t Water, George and E l l e n r e p r e s e n t the true n o b i l i t y - t h e i r c o u r t s h i p and acceptance of each other i s a communion of l o v e between two i n d i v i d u a l s who have r e a l i z e d the p o s s i b i l i t y of a genuine i n n e r e x i s t e n c e and who can commun-i c a t e with each other on t h i s b a s i s . " T h e i r happy and chequered l i f e t o g e t h e r " seems t o u n d e r l i n e t h e d i f f i c u l t i e s o f the reaching-out, and the s a t i s f a c t i o n i n the achievement. L i f e flows on i n a c e a s e l e s s change, as do p e r s o n a l i t i e s , which n e c e s s i t a t e s a c o n t i n u a l adjustment, and a l s o a con-tinuous hope, an a n t i d o t e f o r the deadening " m a s s - u g l i f i c a t i o n " . The e x i s t e n t i a l f l a v o u r o f the p l o t s d i r e c t e d t h i s reader t o a search f o r other m a n i f e s t a t i o n s o f t h i s philosophy. S e v e r a l interdependent l e i t m o t i f s emerged which seem t o c l u s t e r around Mrs. Wilson's d e f i n i t i o n of i n t e g r i t y : running away from one's s e l f i s e v i l , f a c i n g one's s e l f i s good; t h a t we f i n d our own standards o f honesty i n the s i t u a t i o n ; which i s v i i i j u s t t o say "to one's own s e l f be t r u e . . . . " Such i s Mrs. Wilson's unequivocal answer to the dilemma t h a t i s our human d e s t i n y : the problem of v a l u e . In view of the p r e v a l e n t n i h i l i s t i c tone i n con-temporary l i t e r a t u r e , t h i s h e a l t h y a t t i t u d e seemed very worthwhile e x p l o r i n g , e s p e c i a l l y as some of her f i c t i o n s u r v i v e s w e l l the t e s t of repeated r e a d i n g s . Mort never ceases t o d e l i g h t ; nor does Topaz, who l i t e r a l l y was "never to be tamed"; and f r e s h i n s i g h t s i n t o the complex problem of l i v i n g s u r f a c e w i t h every f r e s h " d i p " i n t o Swamp Angel. Moreover - and t h i s i s an a t t r i b u t e t h a t becomes i n c r e a s i n g -l y v a l u a b l e as j o u r n a l i s m and f a c t u a l reportage of world events supplant the need once f i l l e d by f i c t i o n - Mrs. Wilson's books and s t o r i e s have a u n i v e r s a l appeal because they t e l l a s t o r y - something happens which u s u a l l y sounds a r e s p o n s i v e chord i n any r e a d e r ' s experience; because the c h a r a c t e r s are o r d i n a r y y e t unique; and because the p l o t s have s e v e r a l l e v e l s of meaning. In f a c t , i f i n t e l l i g e n t l y promoted, they could become b e s t - s e l l e r s , i n the best sense of the word, thereby r e a c h i n g a wider audience than the educated - which i s s u r e l y one of the aims of most good, modern l i t e r a t u r e . Mrs. Wilson's f i c t i o n has been p u b l i s h e d i n Canada, United S t a t e s , England, Denmark, S w i t z e r l a n d , I t a l y and A r g e n t i n a . The r e c e p t i o n accorded her work i n these v a r i o u s c o u n t r i e s a t t e s t s t o t h e u n i v e r s a l i t y of her themes, and endorses the e x c e l l e n t r e p u t a t i o n she has won i n Canada. I would l i k e to thank Dr. D. Stephens f o r h i s i n f i n i t e patience and h i s many p e r t i n e n t suggestions, and at the same time absolve him from any r e s p o n s i b i l i t y f o r the shortcomings and e r r o r s i n t h e f o l l o w i n g t h e s i s . TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER PAGE I. INTRODUCTION 1 II . THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST . . . . 18 I I I . "I AM INVOLVED IN MANKIND" 44 IV. A FEMININE WORLD? 70 V. THIS MATTER OF TRUTH 100 VI. CONCLUSION 123 BIBLIOGRAPHY . 139 1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Because, as Henry James s a i d , "the n o v e l i s a l i v i n g t h i n g " , any attempt t o u n r a v e l or i s o l a t e the i n t r i c -a c i e s of any one i n g r e d i e n t might seem both absurd and d e s t r u c t i v e . Yet the process can be i l l u m i n a t i n g , stimu-l a t i n g ^ , and h e a l t h y . Just as t r a c e r elements, i n t r o d u c e d i n t o an animal's blood stream t o uncover the r e l a t i o n s h i p and interdependence between the organs of the body, beget a more a p p r e c i a t i v e r e s p e c t not only f o r the purpose of each b i o l o g i c a l part but a l s o f o r the miraculous symbiotic f u n c t i o n -i n g of the whole l i v i n g e n t i t y , so, i t seems, should an i n v e s t -i g a t i o n and d e l i n e a t i o n of the l i n k i n g ideas or themes enhance not only the a p p r e c i a t i o n of t h e t e c h n i c a l and c r e a t i v e pro-cesses that support a body of f i c t i o n but a l s o the i n t e r e s t and d e l i g h t i n the f i n i s h e d work of a r t . Although many a r t i s t s s i n c e r e l y deny the e x i s t e n c e o f any a p r i o r i fundamental design, having i n some i n d e s c r i b a b l e f a s h i o n breathed l i f e i n t o t h e i r c r e a t i o n so that they f e e l t h a t a good n o v e l i n some r e s p e c t s w r i t e s i t s e l f , the s a t i s f y i n g work of a r t b e l i e s t h i s r a t h e r wanton the o r y . L i k e many unprovable a s s e r t i o n s , t h i s hypo-t h e s i s c o n t a i n s enough f a c t t o make i t c o n d i t i o n a l l y accept-a b l e and enough c o n t r a d i c t i o n s to render i t h i g h l y c o n t r o v e r s i a l . 2 Widely disparate confessions of time-tested authors reveal an i n f i n i t e variety of methods of composition: at one end there i s Stendahl b r e e z i l y asserting that to do any planning of a book freezes him s t i f f ; at the other i s Conrad depress-ingly deploring the pains of turning blood into ink.^ In any case, many authors seem suspicious of the c r i t i c ' s attempt to impose some outside pattern on a work of imagination. Mrs. Wilson, as both author and c r i t i c , combines sense with s e n s i b i l i t y i n her succinct analysis of a r t i s t i c creation: There i s a moment, I think, within a novelist of any originality...when some sort of synthesis takes place over which he has only p a r t i a l control. There i s an incandescence, and from i t meaning emerges, words appear, they take shape i n t h e i r order, a fusion occurs...which takes place i n a prepared mind when forces meet. The synthesis i s not wholly controlled but nevertheless can only occur from the forces meeting i n a "prepared" mind, and although the spark that fuses the various forces cannot be adequately described or analyzed, the preparations i n the mind are partly discernable to an interested reader. E l l e n Drew, The Novel, New York, D e l l P u b l i s h i n g Co., 1963, pp.14-15. 2 E t h e l Wilson, "A Cat Among the Falcons," Masks of  F i c t i o n , ed. A.J.M.Smith, New Canadian L i b r a r y , 1961, p.29. 3 Even so, the voices of protest r i s e , why seek to impose a t h e o r e t i c a l pattern or theme on imaginative beauty? In an increasingly e l e c t r o n i c a l l y controlled world, does not the a r t i s t almost single-handedly f i g h t f o r i n d i v i d u a l i t y and the unfettered play of the educated imagination? True. A c r i t i c , then, who t r i e s to reduce c r e a t i v i t y to any formula that i s redolent of an applied science can be j u s t l y accused of mechanistic value judgements, anathema to the v i t a l i t y of ar t . But what makes an i n t e r e s t i n g novel more enjoyable i s the discernment of some pattern of characterization, s i g n i f i -cant s t y l e , recurrent motif, or thread of thought which, when echoed throughout an author's works, discovers and enhances the creator's personality and adds depths of meaning. Which seems ample j u s t i f i c a t i o n for even an amateur c r i t i c to search f o r the connecting ideas provided he guard against imposed subjective patterns. The freshness of her approach to experience i n a prose s t y l e distinguished for i t s unobtrusiveness and s e n s i t i -v i t y has been noted and commended by c r i t i c s , ^ which stimulates the reader to search f o r Mrs. Wilson's strands of meaning. Because her small but polished output of f i c t i o n - four novels, •^ See Desmond Pacey's remarks i n Creative Writing i n  Canada, Toronto, 1961, p.257, and Gael Turnbull 1s appraisal i n Northern Review, VI, No.2 (June-July 1953), 36-40. 4 two n o v e l l a s , and one volume of short s t o r i e s - was a l l p u b l i s h e d a f t e r she was f o r t y - s e v e n , the ideas and p h i l -osophy i n f o r m i n g her canvas are q u i t e c o n s i s t e n t . Her work does not r e v e a l the g r o p i n g immature excesses t h a t o f t e n embarrass an a r t i s t i n h i s m a t u r i t y , but t h a t are so f r u i t -f u l a f i e l d f o r t h e c r i t i c who i s i n t e r e s t e d i n t r a c i n g the development o f the w r i t e r . Here i s no fumbling about f o r a s t y l e , an a t t i t u d e , a philosophy. Her work r e f l e c t s the wisdom and t o l e r a n c e t h a t m a t u r i t y r e s e r v e s f o r the few: the h a r v e s t o f p e r c e p t i v e o b s e r v a t i o n s over many years of sen-s i t i v e e x p e r i e n c i n g and i n t e l l i g e n t awareness. She has come to terms wi t h l i f e ; she knows t o a great degree what she can > or cannot expect from people; she i s a b l e to s c r u t i n i z e with detachment and compassion the human comedy. With a r t i s t i c f a s t i d i o u s n e s s she r e f u s e s t o d i s s e c t , she p i e c e s t o g e t h e r ; she never probes, she t r i e s t o understand. Although her i n t e r e s t i s i n humanity, her novels could be l a b e l l e d n o v e l s of i d e a s - not of the i n t e l l e c t u a l - -i z e d genre o f Aldous Huxley - but a k i n t o the works of George E l i o t or I r i s Murdoch i n which the author's philosophy s u f f u s e s the whole book without o b t r u d i n g or i n t e r f e r i n g w i t h the n a t u r a l f l o w of the s t o r y . The d i s c o v e r y of her b a s i c i d e a s i s not only e x c i t i n g i n i t s e l f but q u i t e necessary i f the reader i s t o savour to the f u l l the tempting f e a s t Mrs. Wilson spreads before him. For once her philosophy o f e x i s t e n t i a l humanism i s recognized, a l l the seemingly d i s p a r a t e elements 5 and puzzling i r r e l e v a n c i e s or omissions f a l l into a meaning-f u l pattern. Though she i s aware of the "heart of darkness" and the unplumbed mysteries of human consciousness, except i n two or three of her st o r i e s such as "Hurry hurry," and "Haply the soul of my grandmother," she usually prefers to seem to ignore these psychological i n t r i c a c i e s as rather exotic elements of r e a l i t y that few are capable of sensing or comprehending, focussing instead on the observable realms of conduct. Con-sequently, i n "Fog," the emphasis i s on the character and behaviour of Mrs. Bylow rather than on the violent murder, and i n "Haply the soul of my grandmother" the mystical experience i s subordinated to the evocation of mood and i t s effect on Mr. and Mrs. Forrester. Mrs. Wilson does recog-nize the corruption of c i v i l i z a t i o n and the moral ineptitude that i s the cause or the r e s u l t , hut from her vantage point which she c a l l s the stoke-hold,^ she discovers a coherent and meaningful configuration which gives a dignity to the human condition, dependent not on status, wealth, or blood but to a great degree on the energy derived from l i v i n g rather than exi s t i n g . This tolerant perspective and dynamic attitude enabl ^Ethel Wilson, "Bridge or the Stokehold? Views of the Novelist's Art," Canadian Literature, V. (Summer I960),43-47. 6 her to enjoy and appreciate the ^vagaries of human conduct" with a humorous a l b e i t i r o n i c eye yet preserve, morally, a c l i n i c a l detachment that attests to her own i n t e g r i t y . In t h i s she i s both l i k e and unlike Daniel Defoe whose Roxanna and Moll Flanders she so much admires f o r his matter of fact acceptance of, even delight i n , humanit3^ i n i t s less f l a t t e r -ing aspects.5 For whereas Defoe i n his writings betrays his own moral emptiness, Mrs. Wilson, by a twist i n perspective, or a wryly i r o n i c i n t e r j e c t i o n , or simply by f a i t h f u l l y pre-senting the grim r e a l i t y of a depraved soul, underscores her f i c t i o n with a deep moral seriousness that she herself f e e l s i s one of the admirable features of E.M.Forster.? What Hugh Maclennan would c a l l the "hard inner core" of i n t e g r i t y fashions Mrs. Wilson's d e l i g h t f u l l y economic st y l e i n which understatement illuminates b r i l l i a n t l y both the lack of dir e c t i o n or purpose of some characters and, conversely, the purposeful unequivocal a c t i v i t y of others. In Swamp Angel, when Vera i n her consuming jealousy hints at some scandal i n Maggie's past, Maggie takes d i r e c t action. In a few words Mrs. Wilson compassionately compares the self-rewarding virtue ^Desmond Pacey, "The Innocent Eye," Queen's Quarterly, LXI, No.l (Spring 1954), 45. ^Mark Shorer, "Technique as Discovery," Forms of  Modern F i c t i o n , ed. William Van O'Connor, Midland, 1961,p.12. ^Pacey, "The Innocent Eye," p.45. 7 i n moral i n t e g r i t y w i t h the sad degredation of a m i s d i r e c t e d s o u l : Henry Corder was deeply moved by the s t o r y of Maggie. He admired and l o v e d her because she t o l d the s t o r y p l a i n l y and without too much emotion. The jewel of Maggie's i n t e g r i t y shone i n her speak-i n g , and when, one evening, i n Henry's shabby l i v i n g - r o o m , she t o l d t h e Gunnarsens o f her past with apology f o r her s t u p i d i t y i n not t e l l i n g them before, Haldar was deeply moved, and Vera too, and the s t o r y bound Vera t o Maggie with Vera's uncer-t a i n and wayward l o v e . For some time t o come Vera d i d not disparage Maggie but p r a i s e d her and t o l d people how wonderful she was, and u n c e r t a i n l y l o v e d her because i t was p l a i n t h a t Maggie had no heart f o r any other man and only a woman's heart f o r a c h i l d . As yet, anyway, whispered Vera's malignant ghost.° I t i s because Mrs. Wilson has accepted l i f e and has found a meaning f o r , not of, e x i s t e n c e t h a t she can submerge the u n s o l v a b l e r i d d l e s o f purpose, determinism, e v i l , and m o r a l i t y (to a degree) i n the more rewarding preoccupation w i t h human behavior. Her acceptance i s not j u s t a q u e s t i o n of f a i t h , which i s so i n e x p l i c a b l e t h a t even the wise and c o n f i d e n t Mrs. Severance becomes i n a r t i c u l a t e when faced w i t h t h e dilemma of d e f i n i n g what she b e l i e v e s i n . 9 T h i s enigmatic, e l d e r l y r e c l u s e denies a benevolent Providence and h a l t i n g l y gropes f o r words t o d e s c r i b e an unknowable E t h e l Wilson, Swamp Angel, New Canadian L i b r a r y , 1962, p.117. 9 She i s l i k e one of E.M.Forster's e l d e r l y women, Mrs. Moore or Mrs. Wilcox, who have r a t h e r m y s t i c a l knowledge and i n e x p l i c a b l e power. ultimate: she says simply that she believes i n f a i t h , w h i c h suggests a kind of Kierkegaardian leap i n the darkness to some transcendent power (which i s suggested again in the short story, "Haply the soul of my grandmother"). Later, t r y i n g again to explain her f a i t h t o Maggie, she flounders i n a maze of contradictions: I have just a few convictions l e f t and I hope to die before I lose them. But when Albert says What do you believe i n and I say I believe i n f a i t h and Albert says f a i t h i n what, I can't t e l l him: but f a i t h i n God i s my support, and i t makes old age bearable and happy, and fearless I think. Yet that i s not why I b e l i e v e . H Believing i n man "to some extent, at l e a s t , " she can only aff i r m that she exists by virtue of her head and her heart _ in '.other words, f a i t h i s a personal i n d i v i d u a l thing - and although l i f e i s "the damnest thing" she wouldn't have missed i t f o r anything. From Mrs. Wilson's respectful a t t i -tude to t h i s s l i g h t l y r i d i c u l o u s old juggler i t can be assumed that her struggle to formulate an expression of her b e l i e f i s Mrs. Wilson's own, and that the f i n a l affirmation of l i f e i t s e l f i s the essence of t h e i r mutual philosophy. It i s a. s a t i s f y i n g creed - t h i s b e l i e f i n l i f e i t s e l f with man as the agent or vehicle - fo r while i t offers Swamp Angel, p. 1 0 3 . Ibid., p . 1 5 1 . 9 o n l y i n t e r m i t t e n t splashes of d e f i n a b l e happiness i t i n s p i r e s hope and g a i e t y and s t r e n g t h . Her heart does yearn towards the d u l l , the h e a r t l e s s , the m e a n - s p i r i t e d people who by t h e i r d e n i a l of t h e i n f i n i t e p o s s i b i l i t i e s of c r e a t i o n d e s t r o y hope, or joy, or l i f e both i n themselves and i n o t h e r s . But her head f o r b i d s much sympathy with these people and i m p l i c i t i n t h i s a t t i t u d e are Mrs. Wilson's v a l u e s . In an a n n i h i l a t i n g f u t i l i t y , Myrt, i n Tuesday and Wednesday, crushes any innocent p r i d e or spontaneous fun i n her assoc-i a t e s and i s o n l y p a r t l y saved from ignominy h e r s e l f by the compassionate g e n e r o s i t y of one who r e c o g n i z e s her wickedness.''" S i m i l a r l y , Vera "spread d i s s e n s i o n i n her own heart and i r r i t a t e d everybody" so t h a t Maggie b a r e l y s u r v i v e s Vera's d e s t r u c t i v e j e a l o u s y (but i s t o o a f f i r m a t i v e l y strong to be beaten by such negative w e a k n e s s S o the v i r t u e s of k i n d l y i n t e l l i g e n c e and moral courage shine f o r t h by c o n t r a s t . That Mrs. Wilson understands these weak humans, yet i s so impatient w i t h them might be regarded as a harsh t r a i t , l e a d i n g as i t does t o a r e c u r r e n t m o t i f i n Mrs. Wilson's Although Mrs. Wilson's two n o v e l l a s , Tuesday and  Wednesday and L i l l y ' s S t o r y , were p u b l i s h e d i n one book, The Equations of Love, Toronto, Macmillan, 1952, i n t h i s t h e s i s they a r e documented as separate p u b l i c a t i o n s because o f t h e i r l e n g t h and d i s t i n c t i o n . 13 In t h i s t h e s i s Mrs. Severance, Edward Vardoe, Vera, Haldar and Maggie r e f e r t o the c h a r a c t e r s i n Swamp Angel. 10 f i c t i o n - the s u r v i v a l of the f i t t e s t . But as Desmond Pacey notes i n h i s " I n t r o d u c t i o n " t o the New Canadian L i b r a r y e d i t i o n of Swamp Angel, t h i s seemingly i n e v i t a b l e c r u e l t y o f mankind i s u s u a l l y c a r e f u l l y c o u n t e r p o i n t e d by a compassionate a c t . - ^ I t i s i n the t e n s i o n c r e a t e d between the c r u e l t y i n h e r e n t i n t h e human w i l l to s u r v i v e and the l i t t l e s e l f l e s s a c t s of love and c h a r i t y t h a t her best c h a r a c t e r s f i n d l i f e . However much a reader might d i s l i k e Maggie o r Mrs. Severance - and here an understanding o f Mrs. Wilson's themes would c e r t a i n l y m i t i g a t e the impression of c r u e l t y and s e l f i s h n e s s sometimes engendered by these two imaginary women - he cannot deny t h a t a r t i s t i c a l l y they are q u i t e s a t i s f y i n g , w e l l designed t o show the e t e r n a l paradox of human nature. And i n t h e i r moments of u n s e l f i s h aware-ness can be caught glimpses of Mrs. Wilson's own deep moral s e r i o u s n e s s . T h i s b a s i c and r i g i d i n t e g r i t y not only pares her prose of extraneous d e t a i l and comment but formulates i n the u n c l u t t e r e d s t y l e the a c t u a l meaning of l i f e . J u s t as a l l experience i s a c o n c e n t r a t i o n of v a r i o u s d i v e r s i f i e d elements, so many d i f f e r e n t impressions and meanings are te l e s c o p e d i n t o one s h o r t passage whose s i g n i f i c a n c e widens i n space l i k e r i p p l e s from a stone t o s s e d i n t o a p o o l . In "A dr i n k w i t h Adolphus," f o r example, the humourless m i s f i t , Mr. Leaper, 14 P.7. 11 i n a b r i e f entry i n his diary suggests a world of horror: On the way home I have never known Mabel so outrageous except on that occasion i n Winnipeg. She c a l l e d me a sourpuss and used other terms which I s h a l l never be able to forget. I went so far as to suggest that a l i t t l e attention always goes to her head, which seemed to annoy her excessively. She was driv i n g the car and I must confess that some very strange thoughts came into my head. You can imagine that on our a r r i v a l at home I was i n no condition to write my diary. I sometimes think that whereas some people are born to joy, I was born to sorrow.15 Here are merged the outgoing assertiveness of women, the disparate view of truth or r e a l i t y , and the inescapable web of human involvement, which compression explodes the l a s t l i n e of the story into an unconscious t e r r i b l e irony: "I must have another party," said Adolphus, busy with his l i s t s . 1 6 Moreover her deep moral concern with the plig h t of humanity softens the harshness of an e x i s t e n t i a l philos-ophy, which directs less compassionate writers to an interest i n mankind commensurate with i t s impact on the s e l f . Undeni-ably Mrs. Wilson believes i n the value of se l f - a s s e r t i o n , so the inevitable Odyssey motif weaves throughout a l l her st o r i e s . However, for the most part, she sidesteps the usual technique • L ?Ethel Wilson, "A drink with Adolphus," Mrs. Golightly  and Other Stories, Toronto, Macmillan, 1961, p.78. (Any short s t o r i e s mentioned i n t h i s thesis are from t h i s book, so hereafter w i l l be referred to by t h e i r t i t l e ; the page number w i l l a l so r e f e r to t h i s volume.) I b i d . , p.79. 12 of a l l o w i n g her c h a r a c t e r s t o journey i n t o themselves (except i n s t o r i e s l i k e "The Window" where among other t h i n g s the window f u n c t i o n s as a r e f l e c t i o n of Mr. W i l l y ' s r e t r e a t i n t o h i m s e l f ) i n order t o emphasize her primary p o s t u l a t i o n : t h a t man i s i n v o l v e d i n mankind yet swims alone. Each of her voyageurs seeks f o r an i d e n t i t y i n the world of human a c t i v i t y and l i f e . As i n I r i s Murdoch's novels, which Mrs. Wilson so much admires, the p r o t a g o n i s t s can only f i n d t h e i r authen-t i c i t y through p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n the l i v e s of o t h e r s . ^ I n d i v i d u a l s are not, p r i m a r i l y a t l e a s t , i n c o n f l i c t with t h e i r a l t e r ego as i n The S e c r e t Sharer, or t h e i r environment as i n Main S t r e e t , or s o c i a l f o r c e s as i n Two S o l i t u d e s ; they r e a l i z e t h e i r own p o t e n t i a l only through b a t t l i n g w i t h , l o v i n g , and e x a s p e r a t i n g other people. In t h i s l i g h t , Hetty Dorval can be read as a t r a d i t i o n a l t a l e of i n i t i a t i o n or l o s s of innocence; Tuesday and Wednesday as the hopeless quest f o r understanding f u l f i l l m e n t .among the deadening d u l l n e s s of hopeless s q u a l o r ; L i l l y ' s S t o r y as a search f o r a r e s p e c t a b l e n i c h e ; and The Innocent T r a v e l l e r can be i n t e r p r e t e d i n one sense as the t r a g i c h i s t o r y of a s o u l unknowingly out of touch w i t h l i f e and people. A c t u a l l y Mrs. Wilson bears a resemblance to I r i s Murdoch. Both are p h i l o s o p h e r s v i t a l l y i n t e r e s t e d i n humanity; both are i n d i v i d u a l i s t s ; both have a s t r o n g , a n a l y t i c a l , p e r c e p t i v e i n t e l l i g e n c e . 13 In Mrs. Wilson's p a r t i c u l a r v i s i o n of r e a l i t y , con-veyed with unadorned honesty, the dictum that man makes himself i s tempered with the r e a l i z a t i o n of the extreme v u l n e r a b i l i t y of the old, the young, the wise, the f o o l i s h , to the intention-a l or chance influence of other people and events, u n t i l the texture of human l i f e reverberates with the cross-currents of these often i n v i s i b l e forces. Mrs. Wilson at times even envisions some sort of a lotus-land removed from a l l the exasperations of c i v i l i z a t i o n . Swimming alone, Maggie i s dreamily envious of the seals and porpoises: they have a nice l i f e , l i v e i n the cool water with fun and passion, without human relationships, Courtesy week or the flame thrower,1° but she i s jerked back to r e a l i t y , and because "she i s earth-bound," not a "God out there," she must "...get the f i r e going and put the potatoes i n and speak to Mr. and Mrs. M i l l i k e n . " - ^ Living may be done alone, l i k e swimming, but "The Window" shows the mental and s p i r i t u a l s h r i v e l l i n g of a man who t r i e s i t , l i t e r a l l y . To discover "truth" or explore the difference between i l l u s i o n and r e a l i t y i s the prime motivation behind most a r t i s t i c endeavour. Victimized by the bewildering and oppress-ive forces of a technologically oriented culture, man has become increasingly confused and neurotic i n his f u t i l e -"-"Swamp Angel, p. 100. 1 9 I b i d . 14 struggle against the morass of d i s t r a c t i n g and d e c e i t f u l t r i v i a l i t i e s that tend t o smother any worthwhile values and extinguish any vestiges of a meaningful t r u t h . Moreover, truth i t s e l f i s so nebulous, so fl u c t u a t i n g , so subjective, that interpretation depends not only on the disposition of the observer but also on the angle of perception. Each science, f o r instance, not only has i t s own version of r e a l i t y but a single d i s c i p l i n e often embraces a number of disparate views, rendering the task of imposing some order on chaos increasingly d i f f i c u l t as the complexity of discovered know-ledge thickens the substance of being into an unbelievable density. In Mrs. Wilson's writings the i l l u s o r y nature of r e a l i t y - or the r e a l i s t i c nature of i l l u s i o n - i s the l e i t m o t i f that harmonizes the various movements of her philo -sophical accents into a meaningful accord. While somewhat contrapuntal, the diverse strains of her thought need a modifying diminuendo which i s provided by her anti-dogmatic attitude to the nature of r e a l i t y . Being mainly subjective, truth cannot be c l e a r l y defined but, harmonizing with her e x i s t e n t i a l l y directed perception i s Mrs. Wilson's admonition that to recognize truth as a kind of secretion squeezed out of the varied aspects or segments of r e a l i t y and experience, gathered, shaped, and correlated i n the i n d i v i d u a l mind i s to appreciate the joys of l i v i n g . Being primarily concerned with the problem of the i n d i v i d u a l r e a l i z i n g or finding his 15 being i n the melee of human r e l a t i o n s h i p s , Mrs. Wilson attaches t h e utmost in p o r t a n c e to the confluence of s o c i a l c l a s s e s , hence s o c i a l s t r u c t u r e p l a y s a prominent, though unaccented, r o l e i n her dramas. Because i t i s apparent t h a t each segment o f s o c i e t y has i t s unique i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of r e a l i t y , an i n d i v i d u a l ' s p e r c e p t i o n of t r u t h i s not o n l y c o l o u r e d s u b j e c t i v e l y , but a l s o o b j e c t i v e l y a c c o r d i n g t o h i s s o c i a l s t a t u s . E p i t o m i z i n g the unacknowledged i n v e r t e d snobbery, or snobbery without p r i d e i n f u n c t i o n , t h a t i s c h a r a c t e r -i s t i c o f bourgeois democratic s o c i e t y , 2 0 M y r t l e pretends to be a l l manner of t h i n g s , f o r the cause of her day-dreaming i s her unconscious r e c o g n i t i o n and resentment of the d i f f e r e n c e between h e r s e l f and people of an upper cas t e . So any p r i d e i n her own a b i l i t y i s n u l l i f i e d ; she expends her energy c l e a n i n g f o r s o c i e t y women and by her h u m i l i a t i o n manages t o f e e l s u p e r i o r t o them, a t the same time t a k i n g no p r i d e i n her own s l o v e n l y , f i l t h y rooms. Mrs. Wilson i s w e l l aware t h a t poverty and low e s t a t e breed i n e p t i t u d e and f l a c c i d m e n t a l i t y . The economy of her s t y l e makes the s e p a r a t i o n of Mrs. Wilson's strands of meaning r a t h e r d i f f i c u l t and 20 L i o n e l T r i l l i n g , "Manners, Morals and the Novel," Forms of Modern F i c t i o n , p.148. 16 u n f o r t u n a t e l y r e s u l t s i n r e p e t i t i o n i n the f o l l o w i n g examination o f her themes. A separate e x p l o r a t i o n o f the p a t t e r n i n g of women might seem s c a r c e l y a theme, but her canvas glows w i t h the u n p r e d i c t a b l e behaviour of women whose emotional v i b r a t i o n s are more d i s c e r n i b l e than men's. Besides being more s e n s i t i v e t o the v i b r a t i o n s of other humans than are men, women a l s o have an i n t u i t i v e and mysterious knowledge t h a t i l l u s t r a t e s w e l l Mrs. Wilson's view of an i l l o g i c a l u n i v e r s e . One t h i n g more remains t o be mentioned, before the d e t a i l e d survey o f her themes i s begun: although Mrs. Wilson i s not a r e g i o n a l w r i t e r the n a t u r a l environment of B r i t i s h Columbia p l a y s a v i t a l p art i n her l i t e r a t u r e . A ccording t o Mr. Frye, one of the aims of l i t e r a t u r e i s to b r i n g mankind 21 back i n t o c l o s e r communication w i t h nature. E i g h t e e n t h century a r t i s t s c o u l d rhapsodize about man's a f f i n i t y w i t h n a t u r a l o b j e c t s because there was i m p l i e d no p h y s i c a l r e l a t i o n s h i p ; even i n t h e ni n e t e e n t h century, nature "red i n t o o t h and claw" was of a d i f f e r e n t order than "the e l e c t of God." The post-Darwinian anguish was the stimulus necessary f o r the e x p l o r a t i o n of the human s o u l d and p e r s o n a l i t y , i n an attempt to e x a l t man on h i s own m e r i t s . In the wealth o f novels t h a t 21 Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination, C.B.C. P u b l i c a t i o n s , Toronto, 1963, pp.12-13. 17 explored t h i s concept, Nature was o f t e n t h e p r o t a g o n i s t , i n i m i c a l o r h o s t i l e to the development of man's f u l l s t a t u r e . However, with the slow and r e l u c t a n t acceptance of human l i m i t a t i o n s and v u l n e r a b i l i t y grew a dream of u n l i m i t e d a s p i r a t i o n s and a new kind of p r i d e , tempered however, by a new a n x i e t y i n the r e a l i z a t i o n o f the r e s p o n s i b i l i t y and p r e c a r i o u s n e s s o f man's present s t a t u s . Through a l l t h i s p e r i o d o f t r a n s i t i o n t he hor i z o n s of l i t e r a t u r e widened u n t i l now not only can a r t i s t s use n a t u r a l phenomena as o b j e c t i v e c o r r e l a t i v e s f o r man's emotions and p l i g h t s but a l s o t h e y can with humble equanimity go to nature f o r l e s s o n s i n s u r v i v a l . I t i s pa r t of Mrs. Wilson's h u m i l i t y before l i f e t h a t she can d e l i g h t as much i n the benign look on the f a c e of a k i t t e n r e l i e v i n g i t s e l f as she can i n t h e superb s i g h t of a m i g r a t i n g f l o c k of geese which, once witnessed, i s i n d e l i b l y and g l o r i o u s l y etched on the memory. Why? Mrs. Wilson never pretends t o know the answers; she claims 22 to r e c o r d o n l y what she sees. In an i n t e r v i e w w i t h Mrs. Wilson, the w r i t e r commented on t h e s i g n i f i c a n c e o f E r n e s t i n e ' s death by drowning i n Hetty D o r v a l . Mrs. Wilson s a i d , "But i t happened I" 18 CHAPTER I I THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST Vancouver people going home from work i n the l a t e a f t e r n o o n who chance t o look upwards, see the sea g u l l s f l y i n g out to sea s i n g l y , and i n twos, t h r e e s , companies, through the changing s k i e s o f evening. On come the sea g u l l s , f l y i n g s t e a d i l y westwards and seawards to the p l a c e s where they w i l l spend the n i g h t . I f you s c a t t e r your p i e c e s now, the g u l l s w i l l not t u r n , descend, a l i g h t , and devour. Food does not tempt them as they proceed t o g e t h e r on t h e i r appointed f l i g h t . Only a wind d i s t u r b s them, and when a west wind blows f u r i o u s l y i n from the sea on a b r i g h t evening, the sea g u l l s , caught i n i t s power, f l y high, and higher, wheel, n e g o t i a t e , gather and d i s p e r s e . There i s an e x u l t a t i o n commun-i c a t e d to the evening watcher who l i f t s h i s eyes to the mysterious s i g h t . 2 3 The sea g u l l i s indigenous to Mrs. Wilson's f i c t i o n . These " . . . c a l c u l a t i n g , a c t i v e b i r d s which have l i t t l e t o recommend them except t h e i r s t r e n g t h , t h e i r f i n e coarse beauty and t h e i r wheeling f l i g h t . . . " 2 4 are a symbol of steady pur-p o s e f u l l i v i n g . While any aspect of nature i s a source of 23 E t h e l Wilson, The Innocent T r a v e l l e r , Toronto, MacMillan, I960, p. 263" 24 Tuesday and Wednesday, p.69. 19 deep and inexpressible delight to the sensitive and mature, J i t i s not the delicacy of a finch's wing or the evanescent bluebells and tiny shrinking violets of D.H.Lawrence's ecstatic rapture that t h r i l l or soothe Mrs. Wilson's char-acters. Rather, i t is the high flying sandhill cranes, the geese flying strongly with outstretched necks, the osprey hitting the water in an explosion of flying spray, the rap-acious hawk, the indomitable eagle, and the strong hardy sage brush that inspire her characters with "...a queer ex-haltation, a sudden flash that [ i s ! the deepest envy."2^ The cumulative effect of this trenchant emphasis on the strength of nature not only auguments the vigorous tone of her canvas, but also serves as a comparison and contrast for the more emotionally vulnerable and therefore weaker species, man. It i s Mrs. Wilson's belief that nature not only stimulates and satisfies the poetic and aesthetic need in man, refreshing and comforting, but also that the natural order in the universe provides man with examples of the technique of sheer survival. There are many ramifications of this Such as Mrs. Gormley whose "ten cents worth of view" contains "...nearly a l l of the glory of the world and no despair..." ("A drink with Adolphus," p . 6 6 \ ) , or Mrs. Golightly who could hardly believe the beauty that lay below her and was "...one with the rapture of that beautiful un-expected moment." ("Mrs. Golightly and the First Conven-tion," p.10.) 26 "On Nimpish Lake," p.33. 20 l a t t e r concept, but i s i t not l o g i c a l f o r a person with so e n e r g e t i c and p o s i t i v e an approach t o l i f e t o focus on the g l o r i o u s s t r e n g t h of the b o l d , noble scenery and the pur-p o s e f u l i n s t i n c t s of the a l l i e d l i f e ? Her dramas are o f t e n staged, f o r i n s t a n c e , a g a i n s t the treacherous west coast of Vancouver I s l a n d which l i e s naked to the P a c i f i c Ocean which r o l l s i n a l l the way from A s i a and breaks upon the r e e f s and rocks and hard sands, and the continuous brewing of weather up i n an a i r cauldron i n the n o r t h t h a t seethes and s p i l l s over and rushes out'of the G u l f of A l a s k a , o f t e n moderating before i t reaches lower l a t i t u d e s : but sometimes i t r o a r s down and a t t a c k s l i k e a l l hell;27 or the rough demanding f i s h i n g country o f the i n t e r i o r ; or the rugged sage covered h i l l s a l o n g the Canyon, where the s p a r k l i n g c o q u e t t i s h Thompson i s l o s t i n the mighty, s i l e n t , r e l e n t l e s s F r a s e r whose wide d e c e p t i v e flow of s u l l e n opaque and fawn-col o u r e d water...of b o i l and w h i r l p o o l show the r i v e r t o be dangerous.28 A p a l e , i n d e c i s i v e m o r tal cannot w i t h s t a n d the v i g o u r of t h i s type of country s i n c e one of the p r e r e q u i s i t e s f o r the c o e x i s t e n c e of man and nature i s t h a t man must take possess-i o n of h i s environment. *-'"From F l o r e s , " p.36. 28 E t h e l Wilson, Hetty Dorval, Toronto, M a c h i l l a n 1947, p.7. 21 Sensitivity to beauty and a humility before i t s power and grandeur assist the intelligent to take possession of their natural surroundings. In The Innocent Traveller, even while Rachel was shepherding with trepidation and anxiety her aging mother and unpredictable aunt across the unknown miles of Canada, through a world entirely different and therefore frightening, she f e l t a new lightness of heart and a release, loving even the jackpines which, as Mrs. Wilson observes, "...are hard to love in their rank dark m i l l i o n s . " 2 9 Later, she looked up at the railway cutting and saw, for one moment, poised alone against the blue sky, a single slender white stemmed aspen tree whose golden leaves trembled and shone and sang in the sunshine. It was there. It was gone. It was hers.30 Settled in Vancouver, a new, vigorous, pioneer town i t was not long before the contours of the mountains became part of their lives.... Along the topmost generous curve of the westward h i l l s pine trees cut sharply against the coloured evening skies, and there were always the sounds of the sirens of ships and the cries of the sea gulls - sound of ocean.31 Rachel found happiness and peace in her adopted country because i t had become hers. 29 Ethel Wilson, The Innocent Traveller, Toronto, Macmillan, I960, p.112. 30 Ibid., p.119. 31 Ibid., p.125. 22 Although Rachel seems unaware of the brutal forces of nature - the book's theme precludes any exploration of thi s aspect - not a l l the characters i n Mrs. Wilson's books are so unawakened. Because Maggie can understand and apprec-iate the wonder and glory yet be sensible of the horrors, the cruelty, which are as much a part of nature as of l i f e i t s e l f , catastrophes or even malevolence can never overwhelm her. When Vera's f e s t e r i n g jealousy became almost unbearable, Maggie witnessed a strange sight. An osprey i n i t s i n t e r -minable search f o r food had captured a f i s h and was making o f f with i t , when out of the blue came an eagle beating the osprey with i t s great wings. For a while the osprey resisted, then as the battering persisted, as i f suddenly accepting defeat, i t dropped i t s f i s h . Down swooped the eagle. He caught the f i s h i n mid-air and rose. His wings beat slowly and calmly, a l l c r i s i s over. Maggie looked for the osprey but the sky was empty. Did a bird's rage or a bird's acceptance possess him? There was nothing he could do.... Maggie returned to the shore " . . . l i f t e d by t h i s battle of o p birds with i t s defeat and i t s v i c t o r y . " ^ There i s always defeat with victory, violence with beauty, e v i l with good. Because Maggie i s i n possession of her environment she can-not with i n t e g r i t y accept defeat, but being humane and human, she can temper with compassion her vi c t o r y over Verds Swamp Angel, p.90. 23 childishness. In her weakness Vera has allowed her environ-ment to overpower her; she hates the f i s h i n g country, blaming the solitude for Haldar's indifference, and her overt h o s t i l i t y to the s i t u a t i o n alienates her not only from nature but also from humanity. So i n l i f e , as i n the eagle-osprey b a t t l e , i t i s the f i t t e s t who survive. Such a bald statement of a novelist's theme might deliver a shock, carrying as i t does overtones of ruthless-ness. But perhaps indiscriminate charity i s just as unmerci-f u l . As society becomes more s o c i a l i s t i c , welfare-state thinking of a highly emotional nature i s increasingly l i a b l e to completely smother reason and r e a l i t y . Commendable com-passion and consideration f o r the unfortunate, the helpless, the victimized, unwittingly but i n e v i t a b l y tends to embrace the physically and morally weak, the lazy, the stupid and the habitually and c r i m i n a l l y careless, fostering at best a d u l l mediocrity, at worst a superiority of c o e r c i o n . ^ Such a s o c i a l milieu i s demoralizing to the v i t a l s p i r i t of growth and f u l f i l l m e n t . With clear-eyed wisdom Mrs. Wilson recognizes the trap. Her most sympathetically drawn characters conscious-l y or unconsciously avoid the p i t f a l l s of a blind humanism. I f survival sometimes ent a i l s misery or even tragedy, there i s no help f o r i t ; i t i s as inevitable as the westward f l i g h t each evening of the sea g u l l s ; i t i s inherent i n the human condition. T r i l l i n g , p.159. 24 In Swamp Angel Edward Vardoe's meanness, stupidity, and brutish ardour are gradually s t i f l i n g and destroying Maggie's soul and s p i r i t . Steeling herself t o be ruthless she leaves Edward and spends three days of Gethsemane i n the wilderness of the s o l i t a r y forest near Hope: A sadness f e l l upon her and the t h i n cruel thought returned. What dreadful thing had she done to Edward Vardoe? He...was humiliated...and unhappy with a helpless unhappiness that was shocking because he was unprepared. I can't help i t , she to l d herself once again...I didn't judge him but I am his executioner just the same... We have been each other's executioners. Now th i s i s the very l a s t time I w i l l think about i t . . . i t was too dreadful to bear...I s h a l l always go unforgiven. God help me. I am humiliated f o r always by what I did, for marrying him. I won't think p£ i t -there's no good i n i t e v e r . . . i f I can... Then, her soul and mind having been purged, "the cruel danger-ous thought s l i d away and played by i t s e l f . " 3 4 The s i t u a t i o n here, the plot of the story must be handled d e l i c a t e l y to avoid pure melodramauwhich would a l i e n -ate the sympathy of the reader. Should Edward become completely unhinged by Maggie's f l i g h t she becomes a monster; at the same time he must be weak and despicable enough to warrant the desertion yet somehow worthy of consideration. Actually he i s saved from himself by the intervention of Mrs. Severance who, in the sense that she a r t i c u l a t e s Maggie's own thoughts and philosophy, i s her a l t e r ego. Does t h i s then atone for Maggie's Swamp Angel, p.39. 25 ruthlessness? It i s not intended to. The meaning of i t a l l and the j u s t i f i c a t i o n , i f necessary, i s i n the laconic under-statement that i s Mrs. Wilson's triumph of technique. In i t s disjointedness and restrained emotion, Maggie's l e t t e r to her fr i e n d Hilda i s the embodiment of mute su f f e r i n g : You w i l l understand, perhaps, that rny l i f e wasn't endurable.... My plans have been made for some time and have been a great support to me. I s h a l l write to you when I am s e t t l e d , and ^vhere, but whatever happens I s h a l l not come back. I'm not asking anything of you, Hilda, unless, i f you can help Edward, do. Perhaps you can. I can't. Of course one never expects to arrive at t h i s point in one's l i f e , but here I am. I won't ta l k about "fe e l i n g s . " -- My love to you both. Maggie.35 Conversely, and i n character, Edward's whimpering s e l f -p i t y : "I've been done, done, had f o r a sucker." ..."My stummick's out."..." Who'll I entertain?", o b j e c t i f i e s the exhaustion of any value i n t h e i r married l i f e ; a new approach i s imperative to prevent t h e i r complete and mutual an n i h i l a t i o n . Maggie acts. In action i s the only kind of salvation that i s a v a i l -able to earth-bound creatures who continually have to keep reasserting t h e i r existence and l e a r n i n g , i f possible, from t h e i r mistakes. Encompassed by the misery of the human con-d i t i o n , man should a l l e v i a t e i t as much as possible, without dwelling on the insupportable sorrow of humanity, from which r e a l i z a t i o n , however, there i s no escape. Man must suffer, Ibid., p.41. 26 man must t o i l , man must endure th e f r u s t r a t i o n i n c u r r e d by the v a g a r i e s of chance which too o f t e n a r e f r a u g h t w i t h tragedy, and man can never ignore t h e knowledge of h i s own g u i l t . P o i g n a n t l y aware of t h i s i n e s c a p a b l e burden, Maggie l e a r n s t o l i v e w i t h i t and t o sublimate i t i n p o s i t i v e a c t i o n . In a c c e p t i n g the r e s p o n s i b i l i t y f o r Edward Vardoe's present misery she i n a sense p a r a l l e l s C h r i s t ' s agony on the cross where he s u f f e r e d f o r the g u i l t of the whole world. Three days of imposed s p i r i t u a l death are but a prelude t o her r e g e n e r a t i o n . Strengthened by her abasement, her s u f f e r i n g , her h u m i l i t y , she d i s c o v e r s a new l i f e , f u l l e r and r i c h e r by v i r t u e of her self-awareness, but i n f i n i t e l y more d i f f i c u l t because not o n l y has her d e c i s i o n estranged her from the support o f her f r i e n d s , but she i s committed t o a formidable encumbrance, having assumed the s i n of a l l mankind. To her dismay she f i n d s i t impossible t o abandon Vera and Haldar. The moral o b l i g a t i o n to a l l e v i a t e t h e i r misery f o r which there i s no l e t h e can now only supplement her own importunate need to f u l f i l h e r s e l f i n working and l o v i n g and e n j o y i n g the n a t u r a l g l o r i e s of her chosen sanctuary. Nothing at l a s t i s sacred but the i n t e g r i t y of one's own heart and mind. T h i s then i s the meaning of l i f e : an o b l i g a t i o n to take s e l e c t i v e a c t i o n i n the a m e l i o r a t i o n of human d i s t r e s s : Perhaps t h e r e ' s a way. I t h i n k there might be a way. I t i s n ' t easy and i t ' s not going to be easy,36 36 I b i d . , p.154. and at the same time asserting one's own authenticity i n th joy of continuous creation: As Maggie and Angus drove up the h i l l past the Iron Mask mine the country became more d e l i c a t e l y , cooly vernal. Strong fresh green had spread i n the valley of the Thompson r i v e r . A pale f r i g i d green had now begun to flow over the dun coloured upper l e v e l s . There s t i l l were distant pockets of snow. Here, once more they drove past the great s o l i t a r y b u l l pines with t h e i r strongly hatched and corrugated b a r k - a l l the delights of the country spoke afresh to Maggie-swelling h i l l s , wild and widespread sage-look! there i s a coyote and his coat i s the same dun as the h i l l on which he runs purposefully about his business. He vanishes. This was Maggie's t h i r d year i n . Breathe the sagey a i r ! See, a bluebird! Floating cloud, d r i f t i n g scent, wild creature, curving f l e e t i n g h i l l - e a c h made i t s own statement to Maggie i n the imperishable spring.-'' When E l l e n Cuppy, i n Love and Salt Water, forces herself to break her engagement to Huw, l i k e Maggie she shoulders the entire blame f o r the ensuing unhappiness. In volved i n Ellen's dilemma i s a s i t u a t i o n that scarcely troubles Maggie. This i s the probability of s o c i a l censure and excommunication by her family and associates, most of whom have inherited t h e i r moral values from a s o c i a l ethic based primarily on appearances, and which i s at desperate variance with i n d i v i d u a l choice. Morgan was displeased with Ellen's behaviour. Nora said, 'But Gypsy, how could you! Have you forgotten that he was a prisoner of war?' 37 Ibid., p.155 28 'No,' s a i d E l l e n very sad f o r l o s i n g Huw, and sad f o r Huw that he was a p r i s o n e r of war and s t i l l a p r i s o n e r , and glad f o r l o s i n g him, 'no, I didn't f o r g e t , t r u l y , Nora, I d i d n ' t forget.'38 I t i s E l l e n ' s anguish t h a t she i s not yet immersed deeply enough i n the d e s t r u c t i v e element to r e a l i z e f u l l y the tragedy of l i f e and thereby understand h e r s e l f as part of f r a i l and e r r a n t humanity. So she d r i f t s along f o r years i n a state of somnolence, even boredom. Boredom i s i t s e l f an a n x i e t y which manifests i t s e l f e i t h e r i n a h e c t i c search f o r new t h r i l l s and excitement or i n a p a r t i a l or complete withdrawal from l i f e . Both con-d i t i o n s feed upon themselves producing a s t a t e e i t h e r of psychosis or worse, of deadening monotony, non-existence. L u c k i l y , E l l e n ' s boredom i s only a s u p e r f i c i a l l a y e r u n e a s i l y imposed upon a v i t a l , inherent w i l l t o l i v e which has been obscured only dimly by her d e l i b e r a t e withdrawal from f u r t h e r emotional involvements. Nevertheless her imposed i s o l a t i o n m i s d i r e c t s her i n t o r i s k i n g and n e a r l y l o s i n g not only her own l i f e but t h a t of her nephew who i s almost the s o l e " r a i s o n d'etre" of her s i s t e r ' s e x i s t e n c e . Boredom and t i m i d i t y before l i f e b l i n d E l l e n t o her s i s t e r ' s s u f f e r i n g ; innoculated against 38 E t h e l Wilson, Love and S a l t Water, Toronto, Macmillan, 1956, p .S i . (Any mention of E l l e n or Nora i n t h i s t h e s i s w i l l r e f e r t o the c h a r a c t e r s i n Love and S a l t Water.) 29 passion, her senses are numb to Nora's agonized motivation. In a mistaken conviction that her s i s t e r i s over-protective of Johnny, E l l e n seeks to enlarge his experience. Her mis-guided altruism o b l i t e r a t e s her judgement and i n the ensuing holocast she endures the torture of the damned, the eternal and excruciating agony that absurdly enough i s v i s i t e d only upon those who admit the magnitude of t h e i r own g u i l t . She was i n the water and blinded and thinking only Johnny, . Johnny! Where are you? What a f o o l I am! Oh, Nora what a f o o l ! Where i s he? Oh Nora!...she was aware even then of the deepest anguish mixed ine x t r i c a b l y with the bursting f e e l i n g i n her lungs.... How long does th i s l a s t ? Nora, he's s l i p p i n g ! How long does th i s last?39 To r e a l l y be a l i v e one has to come close to death. Now that E l l e n has gazed into the heart of things with an unflinching honesty she i s equipped to endure the v i c i s s i t u d e s of l i f e with courage, tolerance and vigour and thereafter can assert her f i t n e s s to l i v e . She w i l l survive. Because, l i k e Sisyphus she i s conscious of, and so superior to, her fate. The struggles of Mrs. 'Wilson's heroines could well serve to i l l u s t r a t e Albert Camus'f. theory of Sisyphus as modern absurd man. Because there i s no sun without shadow, and i t i s essential to know the night, reasons Camus, i t i s only when Sisyphus i s conscious of his suffering that he i s superior to his fate. Crushing truths perish from being acknowledged, and when the e x i s t e n t i a l hero 39 Ibid.,p.176. 30 contemplates h i s torment a l l the i d o l s are s i l e n c e d . (Maggie's Gesthemane i s r e c a l l e d and t h e t h i n c r u e l thought that w e l l e d up i n her - unchecked.) Although one always resumes one's burden the s t r u g g l e i t s e l f towards the h e i g h t s i s enough t o f i l l a man's heart, f o r he knows h i m s e l f t o be the master of h i s d a y s . ^ In an absurd world where animals are i n f i n i t e l y b e t t e r adapted than man despite h i s supreme and unique g i f t of r e a s o n - or perhaps because of i t - Maggie and E l l e n r epresent the u l t i m a t e i n human achievement, the most succ e s s -f u l combination of emotion w i t h reason. I f i t i s a poor adjustment a t best, how does t h e unresponsive r e s i d u e of humanity f a r e ? For t h e r e i s a tremendous and u n j u s t i f i a b l e d i screpancy i n the n a t u r a l endowments o f people. When Mrs. Severance broods over the meanness and s t u p i d i t y of Edward Vardoe and s o r r o w f u l l y p r o t e s t s t h a t " I t s not f a i r . . . n o t f a i r , " she i s v e r b a l i z i n g the anguished, puzzled, d e s p a i r i n g c r y t h a t has echoed from the l i p s o f man s i n c e time began. But the u n f a i r n e s s , the bewilderment, the agony, must be accepted b e f o r e a man can begin to a p p r e c i a t e and enjoy the d e l i g h t s of h i s b i r t h r i g h t . A preoccupation with the i n j u s t i c e of l i f e i s u s u a l l y d e b i l i t a t i n g . Because man Walter Kaufmann, ed., E x i s t e n t i a l i s m from Dostoevsky  t o S a r t r e , New York, M e r i d i a n , 1956, pp.314-!5. 31 has the power of - or r a t h e r the n e c e s s i t y of - choice he decides every minute what he i s to be. There f o r e the present moment and what i s happening now i s of the utmost importance. When Mrs. Severance f i n a l l y r e a l i z e s her i n -j u s t i c e t o H i l d a and p a i n f u l l y disencumbers h e r s e l f of the Swamp Angel, she absolves them both from the unwholesome t h r a l l d o m of the dead past which had imprisoned H i l d a i n a v i s e of s t a g n a t i o n . Now can H i l d a take her unhappiness or her happiness, her w o r r i e s and her f u l f i l l m e n t ; now can Mrs. Severance achieve f u l l s t a t u r e and d i e i n peace and r e s i g n a t i o n having e x p e r i e n c e d to the f u l l the nothingness and g l o r y that i s l i f e . The philosophy o f a continuous c r e a t i o n d i s c o u n t s to a great extent the importance o f environment and e a r l y background on which the n a t u r a l i s t s c h o o l o f l i t e r a t u r e i s based, emphasizing i n s t e a d the r e s p o n s i b i l i t y of every i n d i v i d u a l t o make or break h i m s e l f . Not t h a t background i s a n e g l i g i b l e f a c t o r . In the American e d i t i o n of Swamp  Angel which was p u b l i s h e d a f t e r the Canadian e d i t i o n , t h e r e i s a chapter d e s c r i b i n g the l o v e l e s s , p r i m i t i v e , rough c h i l d -hood of Vera Gunnarsen, making understandable her hatr e d of the l i f e Haldar has c h o s e n . ^ Because the r e l a t i v e comfort I t i s i n t e r e s t i n g t o note t h a t the e x t r a chapter was w r i t t e n at the sugg e s t i o n of the American p u b l i s h e r (Harper, 1954). That Mrs. Wilson has not i n c l u d e d t h i s chapter i n subsequent Canadian e d i t i o n s seems to i n d i c a t e t h a t she pl a c e s the r e s p o n s i b i l i t y f o r Vera's behaviour on Vera her-s e l f - not on her background. 3 2 and c i v i l i z a t i o n of Kamloops r e p r e s e n t s her escape from poverty and f u t i l e drudgery she f i e r c e l y r e s e n t s her e x i l e i n the f i s h i n g country. While t h i s e x p l a i n s her conduct, i t does not excuse i t . She has i n h e r s e l f the power o f choosing. D e f i c i e n t i n wisdom and r e s o l u t i o n she i s unable t o choose between the hard work and s a c r i f i c e o f a l i f e w i t h her beloved Haldar and the e a s i e r more comfortable environment of the c i t y , without, however, Haldar. She wants both. She gets n e i t h e r . Driven t o d e s p e r a t i o n by her b l u r r e d c o n f l i c t she c l u t c h e s at any straw t o j u s t i f y her i r r e s o l u t i o n , i r r a t i o n a l l y blaming Maggie f o r Haldar's growing i n d i f f e r e n c e which propels her t o the b r i n k of s u i c i d e . N a t u r a l l y , the attempt i s a f a i l u r e and her wavering reason almost c o l l a p s e s as she f r e n z i e d l y c a p i t -u l a t e s before Maggie's r e s o l u t e equanimity. There i s nothing q u i t e so d e s t r u c t i v e t o the person-a l i t y as i n d e c i s i o n . R i g h t or wrong, the wise man decides and a c t s , otherwise the v a c i l l a t i o n w i l l corrode h i s p h y s i c a l , mental and s p i r i t u a l balance. Moulded by an analagous c h i l d -hood, L i l l y ' s l i f e , i n L i l l y ' s S t o r y , expands i n t o a purpose-f u l f u l f i l l m e n t i n s p i t e o f a more demoralizing adolescence than Vera's. Less s e n s i t i v e than Vera, her governing p a s s i o n i s the f i e r c e p r o t e c t i v e i n s t i n c t towards her own c h i l d whom she can r e l e a s e n a t u r a l l y , as animals do, when El e a n o r reaches m a t u r i t y . More s i g n i f i c a n t , however, i s t h a t L i l l y accepts her l i m i t a t i o n s and d e l i b e r a t e l y chooses her course, then n a g i v a t e s w i t h unswerving d i r e c t i o n around any o b s t a c l e s t o 33 f i n d her maximum contentment i n a d i g n i f i e d r e s p e c t a b i l i t y and an imagined s e c u r i t y . C a p r i c i o u s chance reduces s e c u r i t y t o a mere i l l u s i o n , mocking human complacency and confidence. The only defence man has a g a i n s t an i n d i f f e r e n t providence and a seem-i n g l y m a l i c i o u s chance r e s t s i n h i s own i n n e r s t r e n g t h t o r e a c t with equanimity, thought, and v i g o u r t o the unexpected, the unwelcome, t h e u n j u s t . U n l i k e the animals man cannot adapt to h i s environment; he can only i g n o r e or deny i t , surrender to i t , or f i g h t i t . Sooner or l a t e r every i n d i v i d u a l encounters a s i t u a t i o n of death, s u f f e r i n g , or hazard and has to choose by h i s a c t i o n to a s s e r t or deny h i s i n d i v i d u a l i t y . One can accept the i n e v i t a b l e i n a s p i r i t of r e s i g n a t i o n as d i d E l l e n , and Haldar Gunnarsen, s i n k i n g i n t o a wretched apathy, of wear emotional b l i n k e r s l i k e Nora, which denies the w o r l d as an i l l u s i o n . Nora not on l y r e f u s e s t o acknowledge the f a c t of her mongoloid son but a l s o i g n o res the p h y s i c a l i m p e r f e c t i o n of her acknowledged son, Johnny. "You see," she s a i d , l o o k i n g e a r n e s t l y a t her s i s t e r , "the minute you admit something e x i s t s , i t e x i s t s and can become w o r s e . . . . D e n i a l of r e a l i t y u s u a l l y r e s u l t s i n t r a g e d y or unnecessary " g r i e f : Nora's i n t e n s e con-c e n t r a t i o n upon Johnny can only - and does - b r i n g misunder-standing, a l i e n a t i o n and eventual empty l o n e l i n e s s . Sometimes chance f i n d s an accomplice or adjuvant i n human f o l l y . In "From F l o r e s " , i n d i f f e r e n t Fortune, a i d e d 42 Love and S a l t Water, p.147. 34 by a crewman of l i t t l e judgement, wrecks the E f f i e Cee drowning a l l on board including Jason who was rushing to comfort and marry the frightened and desperate g i r l he had unwittingly made pregnant. Because Josie did not read the papers, she did not know that Jason was dead. Days had passed and continued to pass. Distraught, alone, deprived of hope and f a i t h (two sovereign remedies) and with-out the consolation of love, she took secretly and with t e r r o r what she deemed to be the appropriate path.43 Thus, with the irony of understatement, Mrs. Wilson demon-strates another way of evading r e a l i t y and the obligation of free choice. The alternative to acceptance with resignation or denial of r e a l i t y i s to engage l i f e with courage and s p i r i t , as i l l u s t r a t e d above i n Maggie's struggle. Energy and pur-pose transcend the s t u l t i f y i n g mediocre and mundane, heighten-ing the meaning and enjoyment of l i f e . Chance, merely opens the door to the e x i s t e n t i a l hero, who can u t i l i z e his oppor-t u n i t i e s and adversities to discover or rediscover his strength. The same circumstances that destroyed Josie im-pelled L i l l y to what was, f o r a person of her limited s e n s i b i l i t y , a f u l l l i f e . Later, when Chance sends Yow, who alone could u t t e r l y shatter her security, she acts with a calm fortitude and judicious determination. The cumulative force of a l i f e t i m e of impassive o b j e c t i v i t y ensures s t a b i l i t y 43 Pp.43-44. 35 and a measure of contentment, which only seems t o be abjured when emotion and p a s s i o n s u r p r i s i n g l y i n f l u e n c e her acceptance of Mr. S p r o c k e t t : L i l l y was happy too, h a p p i e r than she had ever been and w i t h a d i f f e r e n t v a r i e t y of happiness. Perhaps what she c h i e f l y f e l t was g r a t i t u d e . . . - a brand new s e n s a t i o n f o r L i l l y -but she d i d not enquire of h e r s e l f . She had the same k i n d of confidence i n Mr. Sprockett t h a t she had i n Matron w i t h the added pleasure t h a t he was a man. She would be without f e a r ; n o t h i n g , s u r e l y , c o u l d touch her now.^4 A most erroneous c o n v i c t i o n . S t i l l , w i t h her imperturbable prudence, what could? The e x i s t e n t i a l philosophy emphasizes man's freedom which can o n l y operate i n the framework of a f i r m l y based p e r s o n a l i t y w i l l i n g and a b l e t o contemplate an i n f i n i t e number of p o s s i b i l i t i e s . A worth-while l i f e i s a p r o g r e s s i o n of d e c i s i o n s . Mistakes are i n e v i t a b l e but the o n l y way t o "beat the r a c k e t , " as the stock broker would say, i s to accept the l o s s and salvage the remainder f o r another o p p o r t u n i t y . Mrs. Broom, i n Hetty Dorval, i s l i k e L i l l y i n her withdrawal i n t o the p r o t e c t i v e s h e l l of anonymity, and f o r the same reason: t o ensure r e s p e c t a b i l i t y and s e c u r i t y f o r her bastard o f f s p r i n g . Both women are unscrupulous, both are impassive, and both are r e s o l u t e . But whereas L i l l y w ith s e l f - d e n y i n g e n t e r p r i s e can e x p e d i e n t l y sever her connections, Mrs. Broom L i l l y ' s S t o r y , p.277. 3 6 resignedly accepts the burden of being Hetty's slave. Having with blind obstinacy devoted a l i f e t i m e of drudgery to nurtur-ing a worthless callous monster, she crumples into nothingness with Hetty's repudiation . In denying herself the advantage or luxury of choice Mrs. Broom negates l i f e and i s herself destroyed. A tenacious c l i n g i n g to a corrosive situation out of a mistaken sense of duty blended with perverted pride and innate t i m i d i t y also strangles the heart and soul of Kate in " T i l l Death Us Do Part!'. Innocence, good-will, s e l f - d e n i a l prove impotent i n an absurd world where the w i l l to survive i n heart and head i s vulnerable man's only hope. To focus on the novella, Tuesday and Wednesday as a means of i l l u s t r a t i n g the wholeness of Mrs. Wilson's theme seems s l i g h t l y r i d i c u l o u s since the movement of the book i s slowly, but inevitably, towards death. But sometimes a truth becomes clearer by contrast with i t s negation: happiness i s only f u l l y known through sorrow, l i f e only realized through death. The magnitude of a mortal soul's struggle towards s a t i s f a c t i o n and meaning i n a purposeless world can only be appreciated when viewed against a comparable f a i l u r e . The story traces the thoughts and actions of a lower class couple as they wander through the enervating routine of the two t r a d i t i o n a l l y dullest days of the week. The s p i r i t s of these 37 t y p i c a l l y "hollow men" match the gloom of the drab Wednesday which presages the d r i z z l i n g gray mist i n which Mort w i l l be a n n i h i l a t e d , thereby g i v i n g a new l e a s e of l i f e t o Myrt as the mist changes t o a f o r c e f u l , d r i v i n g , v i t a l r a i n . The s w i r l i n g drama of the f o r c e s of involvement i s observed e l s e w h e r e h e r e the concern i s w i t h the s t r u g g l e or non-struggle t o s u r v i v e . The couple l e a d an ai m l e s s , c h e e r l e s s , but not a c t i v e l y unhappy e x i s t e n c e i n two f i l t h y , s l o v e n l y , bare rooms i n a k i n d of "darkness v i s i b l e , " a p h y s i c a l environment t h a t symbolizes t h e i r mental and s p i r -i t u a l poverty. Because they are both d i r t y , i n e f f i c i e n t , and s e l f - c e n t r e d they manage t o m a i n t a i n a p r e c a r i o u s har-mony o f s o r t s , d i s t u r b e d but never d i s r u p t e d by c o n t i n u a l b i c k e r i n g about t r i v i a l i t i e s , o c c a s i o n a l meaningless out-b u r s t s o f temper, and a p r e v a l e n t , d i s a g r e e a b l e , heavy atmosphere. Nothing w i t h any v i t a l i t y can breathe i n t h i s c o f f i n - l i k e room: Mrs. Emblem who comes only out of a sense of duty " p u f f i n g l u x u r i o u s l y i n t o the dingy room," soon becomes i r r i t a t e d and i r r i t a t i n g , and can only d i s p e l the ensuing d e p r e s s i o n i n the haven of her own s p o t l e s s l y c l e a n i n v i t i n g apartment: Mort r e t u r n s home appr e h e n s i v e l y , h i s swagger camouflaging h i s r e l u c t a n c e t o encounter Myrt; V i c k i T r i t t i s g l a d t o escape i n t o the pleasant warm r a i n . For over the two shabby rooms broods the en e r v a t i n g gloom of 45 See pp.48-49of t h i s t h e s i s . 3 8 Myrt's s p i t e f u l grudge against l i f e . Only Mrs. Emblem i s immune to the power of Myrt's disconcerting eyelids whose disapproving judgement imperfectly conceals the destructive and s e l f i s h envy that d a i l y reduces her associates to in e f f e c t i v e pawns. In Myrt's presence no joy can bubble, no pleasantness can warm, no kindness can leaven, the lump of depression. Just as the d i r t y windows admit the day but not the a i r , so Myrt's oppressive personality barricades the door against any v i t a l i t y . The k i t t e n i s harbored only i f i t i s not a female, the "emblem" of f e r t i l i t y and l i f e . The world i s f u l l of k i l l - j o y s whose own inner vacancy and jealousy drain the atmosphere of any pleasure, fun, or s a t i s f a c t i o n . Against these people there i s no defence f o r the weak or the innocent and l i t t l e even f o r the strong and wise, as Maggie r e a l i z e s from her intimacy with Vera. Dependence on such people i s morally degrading and physically paralyzing, as Mrs. H.X. Lemoyne knows and cannot help. Efeyentiheless, had Mort possessed any spunk or w i l l to survive he might have recognized and resented the nature of Myrt's power. But his likea b l e , easy-going, mas-culine effluence i s only one side of the f o o l i s h lazy d r i f t e r that Myrt knows but only acknowledges when i t seems expedient. One place or another, one person or another, one job or another i s a l l the same to Mort., so anaethetized i s he by his own apathy, so dulled by his own conceit. Far from f e e l i n g any release or l i f t i n g of s p i r i t s when he 39 escapes h i s tomb-like " d i g s " he i s so impregnated w i t h t o r p o r that Myrt's u n p r e d i c t a b l e humour can c o l o u r h i s whole day. Mort i s i n the stage of non-choice, of " t h i s as w e l l as t h a t " (the same c o n d i t i o n t h a t kept E l l e n d r i f t i n g a i m l e s s l y f o r y e a r s ) . He l i v e s f o r the i n s t a n t , i s p a s s i v e l y r e c e p t i v e t o e v e r y t h i n g , and cannot commit h i m s e l f t o a n y t h i n g : The past and the f u t u r e have no s i g n i f i c a n c e , o n l y the ephemeral present. T h i s person never r e a l l y accomplishes a n y t h i n g . The l e s s he accomplishes, the more he t r i e s everything....He eludes respon-s i b i l i t y . H is stage remains one of non-choice.ho E l l e n never reaches the h o p e l e s s l y low s t a t e t h a t d e b i l i t a t e s Mort. Even i n her d r i f t i n g she wondered about t h i n g s , l i f e and purpose and r e a l i t y and her own d i r e c t i o n . She became aware of a sameness, a l e s s - b r i g h t n e s s near at hand and r e f u s e d t o acknowledge t h i s l e s s - b r i g h t n e s s i n t o which she had begun t o move...where s h a l l I go? ... She had begun t o be teased sometimes by the d i s -crepancy between the t r i v i a o f l i f e and i t s purposes... She was r e s t l e s s . . . h e r i n n e r l i f e became q u e s t i o n and answer, q u e s t i o n and no answer.hi Her i n t e l l e c t and experience e v e n t u a l l y triumph, which l i b e r a t e s her from the e s s e n t i a l l y meaningless t h r a l l of n on-existence. Because she has the w i l l to l i v e and l o v e , 46 Edward A. T i r y a k i a n , S o c i o l o g i s m and E x i s t e n t i a l i s m , N.J. P r e n t i c e - H a l l , 1962, p.87. 47 Love and S a l t Water, p.102. 40 she i s able to commit h e r s e l f t o a conscious c h o i c e . Mort, however, l a c k s the power of d e c i s i o n . Although the s i g h t of Myrt s l e e p i n g always arouses i n him a vague d e s i r e t o s l u g her, any a s s e r t i o n would sentence him t o a r o l e of having t o r e c o g n i z e h i s own p o s s i b i l i t i e s . Unconsciously he avoids or r e j e c t s any a c t i o n or s i t u a t i o n t h a t would d i s -t u r b h i s all-encompassing slump t h a t i s s l o v e n l y comfortable: I f she l e t s one peep out of her, he promised, I c e r t a i n l y w i l l s l u g her. He had, of course, no i n t e n t i o n ever of s l u g g i n g M y r t l e . But when-ever he made h i m s e l f t h i s promise-that he would c e r t a i n l y s l u g M y r t l e i f she l e t one peep out of her-he enjoyed i t : i t armoured him f o r the day and strengthened h i s s e l f - e s t e e m which was so v u l n e r a b l e . ^ " 8 L a c k i n g the c a p a c i t y f o r s e l f awareness, Mort's undefined f l a b b i n e s s impedes any mature composure so t h a t he i s e a s i l y i n s u l t e d , e a s i l y pleased, although never e c s t a t i c or d e s p a i r i n g . Time i s u n c o n s e q u e n t i a l and steady employment i s v a l u e l e s s as h i s wants are minimal and h i s a s p i r a t i o n s p l e b i a n . U n l i k e the r o l l i c k i n g Eddie Hansen, a Paul Bunyan of t h e coast, Mort d r i n k s o n l y t h r e e beers, enough t o induce a s t a t e of n e i t h e r drunkenness nor s o b r i e t y , but merely an enhancement of h i s h a b i t u a l c o n d i t i o n of h a l f -s l e e p . Thoughts of malaise and death l i e below h i s c o n s c i o u s -ness r i s i n g to the s u r f a c e l i k e bubbles of gas from a slowly fermenting y e a s t , f l a v o u r i n g every thought and circumstance w i t h the t a s t e of u l t i m a t e decay. "Wantonly f a b r i c a t i n g an 48 Tuesday and Wednesday, p.78. 41 i l l n e s s f o r M y r t l e he p r o j e c t s h i s own malignancy i n t o her "touch of cancer." Subsequently at the f u n e r a l home the lu x u r i o u s c o f f i n s , so i n v i t i n g and charming i n contrast to h i s f i l t h y c haotic rooms, mesmerizes him i n t o a morbid en-chantment. Imagining Myrt i n the l o v e l y b l u e - l i n e d casket i s r e a l l y only a tran s f e r e n c e of h i s own death-wish. So h i s death i s not an accident. I t i s an i n e v i t a b l e c o r o l l a r y of the slowly r i s i n g e f f l o r e s c e n c e of h i s l e t h a r g y ; surpressed memory i s s a i d to be re s p o n s i b l e f o r the death-wish, which i s the s i n against the Holy Ghost or the " W i l l " " Defenceless against the f o r c e f u l l n e s s of Eddie Hansen Mort guides h i s f r i e n d s l o w l y onto the wharf where a grotesque dance of death i s an overture to the senseless undramatic drowning. Mort s e i z e s Eddie and they f i g h t there, choking, g r a p p l i n g , the two good f r i e n d s i n the dark w a t e r . . . b i t t e r n e s s despair anguish d r e a d f u l t e a r i n g anguish...and the water s u f f o c a t e d h i s eyes and b l i n d e d h i s lungs... and the agony grew and grew and at l a s t diminished... and Mort and Eddie...became both of them drowned men,^-/ with no witness t o the almost hypnotic s p e l l t h a t tumbled Mort i n t o Eddie's c l u t c h i n g embrace. Although Myrt su r v i v e s t o bask i n the g l o r y of Mort'S " h e r o i c s " her a c t u a l l i f e - i n - d e a t h i s j u s t a co n t i n u a t i o n of the s l o v e n l y aimlessness that i s so s p u r i o u s l y comfortable t o the empty and inse c u r e . V i c k i enjoys one authentic moment of I b i d . , p.114. 42 b l i s s when her s h r i n k i n g inner p e r s o n a l i t y a s s e r t s i t s e l f i n a momentous and mag n i f i c a n t l i e , not f o r pe r s o n a l d i s t i n c t i o n , but t o commemorate the romantic Mort of her imagination, and f o r t h e dubious comfort of h i s d i s d a i n i n g widow. V i c k i ' s t e n t a t i v e blossoming i s onl y momentary as h a b i t and the though t l e s s c r u e l t y o f Mrs. Emblem d r i v e her back t o the c e l l - l i k e santuary of her n u n - l i k e r e t r e a t . Among t h i s d e b r i s o f the human waste of i n e f f e c t u a l misguided s o u l s does anyone manage t o s u r v i v e a u t h e n t i c a l l y ? In t h e s t o r y i t s e l f , perhaps, only Mrs. Emblem, who wit h her ample bosom and r a d i a t i n g warmth has l i v e d and loved and won and l o s t , but i s now encased i n a cocoon, a rosy one, but spun only w i t h r o u t i n e g o s s i p and c h a t t e r . N e v e r t h e l e s s she does a s s e r t her p e r s o n a l i t y and enjoys l i f e t o the l i m i t of her c a p a c i t y . P a r a d o x i c a l l y , however, everyone i n t h i s s h o r t n o v e l l a l i v e s i n the memory of a l l who have succumbed to the s p e l l o f Mrs. Wilson's pen. For she lo v e s these s i l l y , way-ward, mediocre people who a r e sentenced t o a d a i l y r o u t i n e o f d u l l and meaningless work and p l a y . Mort's p e r e g r i n a t i o n s and h i s p a l l i d temperamental f l u c t u a t i o n s never cease t o d e l i g h t , and h i s odyssey c u l m i n a t i n g , as do c o u n t l e s s other men's, i n misunderstanding and ignominy^vibrates a sympathetic cord i n most readers; everyone responds i n some measure to V i c k i ' s p a s s i v e f u t i l i t y and t h e t o t a l a n n i h i l a t i o n of her i d e n t i t y ; while Mrs. Emblem's enthusiasm and g a i e t y are i n f e c t i o u s . Mrs. Wilson admires Maggie, she r e s p e c t s L i l l y , but t h e tra g e d y of V i c k i i s presented w i t h a s i n c e r e wise 43 compassion, and she unreservedly loves Mort. So i t i s not enough to a s s e r t one's p e r s o n a l i t y . Although the s e a g u l l i s her symbol of free and purposeful l i v i n g , Mrs. Wilson's f i n a l judgement seems t o be that a l -though "there i s an e x u l t a t i o n communicated to the evening watcher who l i f t s h i s eyes t o the mysterious s i g h t , " of "... the g u l l s f l y i n g s t e a d i l y westwards and seawards to the places where they w i l l spend the n i g h t , " the g u l l has a f i n e l i f e "...but he i s too earnest."50 I t i s s i g n i f i c a n t , that i n Chekov's S e a g u l l , Nina too, f i n d s that freedom and pur-pose are not enough: I'm a s e a g u l l . No, t h a t ' s not it...Now.I am a r e a l a c t r e s s I act w i t h intense enjoyment, wi t h enthusiasm;...but knowing how t o endure things ...I'm not a f r a i d of l i f e . 5 1 Later she r e v e a l s the secret of her courage and v i t a l i t y : "Yes I love him p a s s i o n a t e l y , I love him desperately." As a symbol only of s t r e n g t h and purpose the s e a g u l l then, i s an inadequate model f o r a f u l l and rewarding l i f e . Love, g a i e t y , and compassion are necessary adjuncts t o the development of the courage r e q u i r e d f o r l i v i n g . These can only be found i n a passionate commitment to l i f e , a p o s i t i v e a s s e r t i o n of being i n which human r e l a t i o n s are both rewarding and inescapable. 50 Innocent T r a v e l l e r , p.263. 51 Anton Chekov, "The S e a g u l l , " P l a y s , Penguin, 1954, p.161. 44 CHAPTER I I I " I AM I N V O L V E D I N M A N K I N D . " P r a c t i c a l l y t h e o n l y e v e n m i l d l y d e r o g a t o r y c r i t i c i s m o f M r s . W i l s o n ' s l i t e r a r y t e c h n i q u e s u g g e s t s t h a t p e r h a p s c o i n c i d e n c e a n d s u r p r i s e a r e a t r i f l e o v e r w o r k e d i n h e r p l o t s . ^ T h e a n t i p a t h y t o t h i s e l e m e n t e x p r e s s e d b y h o n e s t a n d r e s p e c t e d c r i t i c s m u s t d e r i v e i n p a r t f r o m t h e i r t r o u b l e d c o n c e r n a b o u t t h e a p p e a l o f t h e i n d i s c r i m a t e e x -p e d i e n c y t h a t i n f o r m s many o f t h e " b e s t - s e l l e r s , " i n c l u d i n g , o f c o u r s e , i n t h e p l e t h o r a o f t h e r a p e u t i c d e t e c t i v e s t o r i e s , t h e c o n t r i v e d d i s c o v e r i e s t h a t e n a b l e t h e r e a d e r t o r e m a i n 53 d e t a c h e d f r o m a n d s u p e r i o r t o t h e i s s u e s i n v o l v e d . O r t h e y may h a v e w e a r i e d o f t h e o v e r s t a t e d m a l e v o l e n c e o f c h a n c e i n H a r d y , t h e e x t r e m e a n t i t h e s i s o f t h e l i t e r a t u r e o f s e c u r i t y , whose p r e o c c u p a t i o n w i t h c o i n c i d e n c e was h i s m e t h o d o f i n -f u s i n g f i c t i o n w i t h i m a g i n a t i v e r e a l i s m . A t t h e o t h e r e x t r e m e a r e w r i t e r s l i k e W o d e h o u s e w h o s e " h i g h l y m a c h i n e d a n d e l a b o r a t e p l o t t i n g " i s a s a t i r i c a l a n d h i l a r i o u s e x a g g e r -a t i o n o f b e h a v i o u r . ^ P a c e y , T h e I n n o c e n t E y e , p.49. 53 P . N . F u r b a n k , " T h e T w e n t i e t h C e n t u r y B e s t - S e l l e r , ; ' T h e M o d e r n A g e , B o r i s F o r d , e d . , P e n g u i n , 1961, p.441. 54 I b i d . , p.439. 45 This rather suspicious c r i t i c a l attitude i s even more understandable and j u s t i f i a b l e when applied to writers who are tinged with the e x i s t e n t i a l i s t philosophy. In an attempt to show the world as highly absurd and i l l o g i c a l , there i s a tendency to disregard human motivation and plan-ning, but Mrs. Wilson's matter-of-factness and restrained and subtle humour which illuminates the f r a i l i t i e s of man belie an attempt at any unnatural d i s t o r t i o n of her keen and perceptive portrayal of actual l i f e . From her l i f e - l o n g f a scination with the oddities of behaviour and events which determine man's f r a i l existence grew an appreciation that what i s often l a b e l l e d co-incidence i s usually the outcome of i n d i v i d u a l u n p r e d i c t a b i l i t y and p r e d i c t a b i l i t y . As no one can possibly f u l l y understand himself, much less another, any prognosis of action i s merely tentative and unreliable. Although most people operate on a f a i r l y r i g i d routine, departures from the norm are frequent or rare depend-ent on a multitude of factors and influences among which are the personalities involved, the atmosphere, the t o t a l environ-ment, and of course, chance i t s e l f . Chance or "Fortune" i s responsible f o r accidents that have no known or knowable pre-d i c t a b i l i t y . Coincidence, on the other hand, implies an unexpected partly explicable meeting of events that i s often wrongly attributed s o l e l y to "fate." Some are t r i v i a l and merely i l l u s t r a t e the p e c u l i a r i t y of l i f e while others, the target of Mrs. Wilson's investigation, reverberate almost endlessly. Mrs. Severance t e n t a t i v e l y attempts to d i f f e r e n t i a t e between coincidence and fat e : Coincidence... seems to me to be what a Japanese f r i e n d of mine used to c a l l a 'series of com-bination of events'which meet at a certain point of time or perhaps place. I t i s not as uncommon as people think... When P h i l i p and I l i v e d i n Burma we went from Rangoon to where there were some temples. A prie s t said There i s a man here whom you must see, and there was a white man l i v i n g i n that v i l l a g e . So we went to the v i l l a g e r ' s house where he l i v e d and his name was P h i l i p Severance! I t didn't prove anything...it was just coincidence and i t f e l t very strange indeed. Of course when you get into the higher f l i g h t s coincidence i s sometimes ca l l e d Provi-dence- I mean when coincidence moves to the benefit of some people.55 Were coincidences merely dependent on arb i t r a r y cosmic indifference, ordinary l o g i c would dictate some balance between t h e i r malevolent and benevolent aspects, but as t h i s r a t i o i s upset i n l i f e , as i n f i c t i o n , obviously there i s some other p r i n c i p l e operating. There are certain families both r e a l and imaginary that seem to have a predilection either to catastrophe or to good luck. By a l l the laws of chance Jude (the Obscure) should have had at least "half a chance," while the i n t r i c a t e l y convoluted designs of the inimitable Jeeves would surely m i s f i r e at least occasionally. Actually, a single incident of the machinations Swamp Angel, p.101-02. 47 of f i c k l e fortune can bring both misery and happiness, depending on the dispositions of the people affected and t h e i r involvement with each other. Gould every coincidence be traced backwards to the fundamental o r i g i n of each ele-ment involved, the caprice of chance could often be disclaimed. Mrs. Wilson subjects the reader to no deep psychological analysis of her characters but economically suggests t h e i r probable reactions through t h e i r observable behaviour. Is i t a complete surprise that Frankie and Hetty should meet on the boat to England, bringing sorrow and eventual happi-ness to one and the reverse to the other? Hetty's l i f e had been one continual f l i g h t from unpleasantness and Frankie's voyage had long been planned. Is t h e i r meeting again i n London, then, so unlikely? Hetty i s merely up to her old t r i c k s , "keeping her hand i n " as Mrs. Broom puts i t , of looking for another victim; and Frankie's youthful gaucherie prevents her graceful.' retreat from a d i s t a s t e f u l encounter. Too inexperienced i n l i f e to be sure of her motives and re-s p o n s i b i l i t y she i s almost r e l i e v e d when chance (in the guise of a busy phone) intervenes and the burden of meddling, of warning Rick against Hetty's designs with only hearsay for evidence, has been taken off her shoulders. Is i t merely chance that sends Maggie to Kamloops and di r e c t s her to Henry Corder? Where else would a person of her accomplishments go? And who but Henry should she consult? Haldar's accident only expedited the mess that was inherent i n both Vera's attitude and his own slowly awakening 4-8 s e n s i b i l i t y of her i n s t a b i l i t y and i n s e c u r i t y . T h e i r h e l p l e s s n e s s was h a r d l y engineered by f a t e - i t was i m p l i c i t i n t h e i r s i t u a t i o n and c h a r a c t e r s . No more d i d chance de-l i v e r the p o t t e r y dinnerware t h a t p r e c i p i t a t e d the overflow of Vera's dangerously r e s t r a i n e d j e a l o u s y . The p o t t e r y was the f r u i t o f many l i t t l e events, and t h a t i t engendered such d i v e r g e n t emotions of g r a t i t u d e and resentment, pleasure., and ha t r e d demonstrates the i m p o s s i b i l i t y of guagingthe consequen-ces of even t h e simplest a c t . Mrs. Wilson has a l s o observed the i l l i m i t a b l e i n f l u e n c e of a chance remark or look which can a l t e r the course of u n t o l d l i v e s . The cup o f c o f f e e Joe buys Maggie s p i l l s over onto Vera and Haldar and Angus, completely chang-i n g t h e i r d e s t i n i e s ; Vera's i l l - t i m e d but completely under-standable remark, "I wish I never had to see t h i s place a g a i n , " d e s t r o y s t h e f r a g i l e understanding that i s s t r u g g l i n g t o 56 f l o u r i s h between her and Haldar; an overheard remark about '"the maid's c h i l d 1 ' f i r e s a c h a i n r e a c t i o n t h a t years l a t e r sends L i l l y f l e e i n g to Toronto and a happy marriage. These are not completely f o r t u i t o u s , they are but the l o g i c a l and i r r a t i o n a l outgrowths of p e r s o n a l i t i e s and l i v i n g . In no one s t o r y are a l l the r a m i f i c a t i o n s of co-i n c i d e n c e , chance, and interdependence so c l e a r l y d e l i n e a t e d as i n , a g a i n , Tuesday and Wednesday whose c e n t r i p e t a l s t r u c t -ure which s w i r l s the c h a r a c t e r s i n a g l a n c i n g , g l i d i n g , I b i d . , p.112. 4 9 t o u c h i n g , d e f l e c t i n g , pushing, escaping, but i n e x o r a b l y narrowing vortex, i s one of the meanings of the n o v e l l a . Chance probably removed the n i g h t watchman from the wharf at the c r u c i a l moment, but i t was the push and p u l l of human entanglements augmented by the compulsions of i n d i v i d u a l egos t h a t p r e s c r i b e d the c o i n c i d e n c e of V i c k i "happening" t o witness the meeting between Mort and Eddie. Every thought word and deed i n the s t o r y w h i r l s the p r o t a g o n i s t s deeper i n t o the c o n v o l u t i n g melee of seemingly d i s p a r a t e occurrences. A s i m i l a r c i r c u m r o t a r y o r d e r i n g r o l l s t o g ether heterogenous and d i v e r g e n t happenings and p e r s o n a l i t i e s i n t o the c l i m a c t i c a c c i d e n t i n Love and S a l t Water. A l e s s t y p i -c a l p a t t e r n of i n f l u e n c e s supports the s t o r y "From F l o r e s " and c a s t s a humorous l i g h t on humanity i n " I <hast Love Dogs". A l l of which i s merely the outer m a n i f e s t a t i o n of a deeper and i n n e r s i g n i f i c a n c e smuggled i n t o Mrs. Wilson's s t o r i e s under the cover of "a good t a l e " . The workings of chance i n the matter of human r e l a t i o n s h i p s i s j u s t p e r i p h e r a l t o Mrs. Wilson's fundament-a l concern about the importance of human involvement f o r the r e a l i z a t i o n of one's own p e r s o n a l i t y . Because man makes him-s e l f and i n the l o n g run e x i s t e n c e depends on s u b j e c t i v e assessment o f one's uniqueness and p o t e n t i a l , i t i s no mere a c c i d e n t t h a t the c h a r a c t e r s i n Mrs. Wilson's f i c t i o n who i l l u s t r a t e p o s i t i v e l y her philosophy of s u r v i v a l are s o l i t a r y s o u l s , happiest when alone and f r e e of the encumbrances 50 and i r r i t a t i o n s of human i n t e r c o u r s e and of the c o n f i n i n g m e d i o c r i t y o f modern c i v i l i z a t i o n . T h i s suggests t h a t s o c i e t y i t s e l f i s a hindrance t o man's a u t h e n t i c i t y . But as she demonstrates, s e c l u s i o n i s i m p o s s i b l e . Everyone depends i n some degree on s o c i e t y and, moreover, h i s r e l a t i o n s h i p with other people i s an important f a c t o r i n h i s own development. An attempt t o d i s t i n g u i s h o n e s e l f from the mass, which i s the b a s i s o f i n d i v i d u a l i t y , must be implemented by e v a l u a t i n g one's d e s i r e s and f e e l i n g s by a comparison with o t h e r s . ^ Whether the r e s u l t i s a f e e l i n g of s u p e r i o r i t y , d i s t r u s t , or f r u s t r a t i o n , manifested i n t r y i n g t o keep up wit h people, keep them o f f , o r keep them down one can never escape them, yet Hetty, who t r i e s t o keep people o f f , Myrt who t r i e s to keep them down, and Mrs. G o l i g h t l y who i s happy when she can keep abreast o f the other Conventioners are a l l a n t i - s o c i a l t o a degree. A major cause of maladjustment i s the divergence of p e r s o n a l v a l u e s with those accepted by S o c i e t y , yet onl y the mediocre accept the p r e v a i l i n g standards as a p r o t e c t i o n from unpleasantness and the unhappy n e c e s s i t y of i n d i v i d u a l d e c i s i o n . Hetty i s not mediocre, Myrt i s l e s s than average, and Mrs. G o l i g h t l y f e e l s q u i t e i n f e r i o r . In any case a passionate commitment t o v a l u e s i s h a r d l y a c h a r a c t e r i s t i c of the p a s s i o n l e s s a-moral modern age which i s marked by boredom 57 The philosophy of s u r v i v a l was expl o r e d i n Chapter I I . 51 and anonymity, the i n e v i t a b l e l e v e l l i n g g i v i n g a comfortable i l l u s i o n of s e c u r i t y t o t h e masses whose g r e a t e s t f e a r i s of r e a l i z i n g t h e i r l o s t n e s s . But l i k e the law of d i m i n i s h i n g r e t u r n s , t h e more men huddle t o g e t h e r t h e more l o n e l y they become; the more they t a l k , the l e s s they communicate; the more t h e y become a l i k e , the more they are estranged from t h e i r f e l l o w humans. That Mrs. Wilson i s aware of t h i s moral and s p i r i t -u a l abyss i s evident more by what she omits than by concrete examples. What she seems t o overlook - but does not - i s j u s t as important f o r understanding her themes as what she a c t u a l l y says. Except i n Tuesday and Wednesday, she u s u a l l y i g n o r es the mediocre masses f o c u s s i n g i n s t e a d on the odd man out, the l o n e l y s o l i t a r y s o u l who has d e l i b e r a t e l y detached h i m s e l f from t h e mainstream of human d r i f t i n g i n an attempt t o i n j e c t some meaning and l i f e i n t o ambiguous and i n d i f f e r e n t e x i s t -ence. Whereas some o f them succeed and some do not, a l l of them e v e n t u a l l y r e a l i z e t h a t complete s e p a r a t i o n i s imposs-i b l e , t h a t i n f a c t "every man i s a p i e c e of the c o n t i n e n t , t h a t he i s i n v o l v e d i n m a n k i n d . " ^ Hetty Dorval i s a g e r m i n a l book c o n t a i n i n g at l e a s t T h i s i s p a r t of a q u o t a t i o n from John Donne t h a t Mrs. Wilson uses f r e q u e n t l y : the i n s c r i p t i o n t o Hetty D o r v a l , and i n Swamp Angel, p.150, f o r i n s t a n c e . 52 i n embryo the r o o t s of these ideas which f l o w e r and reproduce i n Mrs. Wilson's l a t e r works. Hetty can not only be c o n s i d e r e d a t y p i c a l product o f her age, but she can a l s o be viewed as an o b j e c t i f i c a t i o n o f the age i t s e l f . An immoral a c t of an i l l i c i t u nion was the p r o c r e a t o r of t h i s u n n a t u r a l phenomenon: a person (or t h i n g ) outwardly b e a u t i f u l , s e r e n e l y a t t r a c t i v e , "easy to be w i t h , " inwardly empty, a-moral, i n d i f f e r e n t ; s u b c o n s c i o u s l y f r i g h t e n e d , haggard, exhausted of any valu e . Does she not, i n f a c t , r e p r e s e n t t h e uneasy complacency, the d e r a c i n a t e d pre-dicament o f the world between the two world wars, when t r a d i t i o n a l - v a l u e s and t i e s were no l o n g e r a b l e to s t a b i l i z e s o c i e t y ? The p r e c a r i o u s peace was only an i l l u s i o n of s e c u r i t y since i t was f a t h e r e d , as was Hetty, by a temporary and merely expedient a l l i a n c e . No s i n c e r e w e l l wishing or d e s i r e f o r a mutual b e n e f i t , no r e a l understanding o f the a s p i r a t i o n s and need of f e l l o w n a t i o n s and men underwrote t h e A r m i s t i c e , which was a t r u c e a t best, b a r e l y c o n c e a l i n g the t e m p o r a r i l y c o n f i n e d f o r c e s simmering underneath. Hetty's l i f e was analagous. P r o t e c t e d from un-pleasantness by the ig n o r a n t a n d . s t e r n Mrs. Broom, "t h a t f o r m i d a b l e woman with such pretense of power and withdrawal ...,"^ 9 Hetty pursued her l a z y , s e l f i s h , i n d i f f e r e n t p l e a s u r e s , a l o o f from the anguish and agony of the c r e a t u r e s on whom she f e d , e x t r a c t i n g her s a t i s f a c t i o n s without 59 Hetty D o r v a l , p.95. 53 compassion or care f o r those from whom she drew her sub-stance. In contrast to the ignorant masses she i s cultured, accomplished, and well educated, but she dissipates her talents on empty a i r , (Mrs. Broom has no ear f o r music, no appreciation of beauty), or on furthering her own material comfort. With an unconcerned w i l f u l l n e s s she luxuriates through l i f e heedless of the destruction and misery 'that amasses i n her wake. When her sec u r i t y i s threatened from time to time her bland composure appears to crumble f o r only a minute, but from the time she starts running and acknowledg ing her v u l n e r a b i l i t y (on board ship) she i s headed f o r d i s -aster, since her power and continuity depend on her anonymity and seclusion. And when the props begin to disappear, one by one, when even her most obtuse and ardent protector denounces her f o r what she i s : ...you've brought me nothing but trouble... you've led me to trouble and hard work and shame of you...and now you'd bring the same to these decent people...you're rotten bad and s e l f i s h , " 0 i t i s too late to salvage much from the wreckage. The end of the complacent c i v i l i z a t i o n i s i n sight. As Frankie hurries through the dark streets to denounce Hetty she forsees a London so soon to be ravaged by the senseless cruelty and waste of war and death: 60 Ibid., PP.192T1.93. 54 For what are you destined you arrogant man walking unhurriedly down St.James St.? And you, you r o l l i n g bus with your load? And you, hurrying waiter? What awaits us a l l Nevertheless as Hetty leaves f o r Austria f a i n t l y haggard and running a l i t t l e faster, Frankie finds her hard to hate or blame, so smooth i s the veneer of calm and sweetness, but, six weeks l a t e r the Germancarmy occupied Vienna. There arose a wall of silence around the c i t y , through which only f a i n t confused sounds were sometimes heard.°2 One era of s e l f i s h disengagement and indifference had ended. But the succeeding holocaust merely i n t e n s i f i e d man's con-fusion and l o n e l i n e s s . What lends poignancy to the significance of Hetty's personality and behaviour i s that she also so b e a u t i f u l l y represents the human predicament. Hetty i s both the dancer and the dance; she i s the cause and the r e s u l t of a world without love or without any passionate commitment to a moral standard. Reared by Mrs. Broom who was the essence of efface-ment ("the kind of woman that you didn't notice"), i n an emotionless vacuum, deprived of any anchoring roots, of any family a f f e c t i o n or blood t i e s , of any fundamental respon-s i b i l i t y f o r he r s e l f or any other human, Hetty i s a pure Ibid.,p.94. Ibid.,p.116. 55 i s o l a t i o n i s t , r e j e c t i n g or disowning a l l t r a d i t i o n and a l l human exchange except what serves to keep her f r e e and secure. She appears u t t e r l y bored by s o c i a l o b l i g a t i o n s and i n t e r -course, b e l i e v i n g t h a t she i s ha p p i e s t when g a l l o p i n g i n the dusk on her s o r r e l mare down the desert e d s l o p e s of the sage bush country: I never l o v e d anything so much i n my l i f e , F r a n k i e . I t sounds r i d i c u l o u s but I never f e l t so f r e e before or s i n c e . You know...people...and her In r e a l i t y she i s t e r r i f i e d o f people, l i k e a b e a u t i f u l lone animal who envies the concerted grace of the w i l d geese: Oh F r a n k i e , when we stood t h e r e and the geese went over, we d i d n ' t seem t o be i n our bodies at a l l , d i d we? I seemed t o be up th e r e with them where I'd d e a r l y l o v e t o be. 64 N e v e r t h e l e s s Mrs. Broom's watch-dog t a c t i c s b a c k f i r e when, unavoidably t h r u s t on the mercy o f the s o c i e t y she has shunned, Hetty f i n d s t h a t the success of her n e f a r i o u s designs f o r a p a r a s i t i c s e c u r i t y depends on the compassion of o t h e r s . Panick-ed by the t h r e a t of d i s c o v e r y and h u m i l i a t i o n she f a c e l e s s l y but r e c k l e s s l y c a s t s h e r s e l f on F r a n k i e ' s mercy, a q u a l i t y she acknowledges but disowns: 63 I b i d . , p . l l l . 64 I b i d P.20. 56 "Frankie," the very soft voice said hurriedly in the dark, "and your Mother? Mrs...Burnaby? Just one word. Please. I must speak to you tonight. Frankie, you were my frie n d once...for a l i t t l e while. I don't know whether you are now or not. And you, Mrs. Burnaby, I cannot t e l l . . . b u t I think you are kind, and I'm casting myself on your gener-osity, both of you." Hetty's voice, usually i n d i f f e r e n t and l i g h t , was urgent. I heard fear there.... "I shan't trouble you at a l l , I promise. But please...it's hard f o r me to ask this...can you forget that you ever heard of me or knew my name? I want security," her voice trembled a l i t t l e , "I want i t badly..."65 But although her te r r o r i s genuine at the moment, her promises are as the wind. Why i s she successful in her unwarranted appeal f o r mercy from people she has already unconcernedly deceived, and w i l l harm again, without a qualm? Because the very society she hoodwinks i s apathetically, obtusely, and wrongfully kind. So Mrs. Burnaby and Frankie, both cognizant of Hetty's potential f o r e v i l , are t e r r i b l y implicated i n t h e i r beloved Rick's heartbreak. There i s no insula t i o n from people f o r no man is an island and the " b e l l t o l l s f o r thee" (or t h i n e ) . I r o n i c a l l y , Hetty's undesired and s e l f i s h involvement in the l i v e s of her "friends" merely i n t e n s i f i e s her dilemma, as a genuine, active love f i n a l l y overcomes her self-centred schemes, condemning her to a f o r l o r n confusion, and i t i s 65 Ibid., p.65. 57 suggested, to ultimate solitude. A victim of the i l l u s i o n of security through withdrawal, she never recognizes her problem of needing to be one of a f l o c k of geese yet prefer r -ing to ride alone, the Janus- l i k e duality that troubles an increasing number of modern thinkers as they see people f r a n t -i c a l l y adding themselves together i n a spurious protective communion. History i s a record of frightened and confused people banding together f o r some measure of mutual support and com-f o r t . But because of each person's basic i n d i v i d u a l i t y which usually seeks s e l f expression by asserting the power of choice, the pressures of group conformity deny his true existence, forcing him to assume a mask, an Unauthentic s e l f . So his loneliness i s i n t e n s i f i e d as the presence of others augments rather than mitigates his o r i g i n a l insecure solitude. The f r a n t i c conglomeration of c o c k t a i l parties, the modern panacea for forlornness, i s shown i n a l l i t s f u t i l i t y i n "A Drink with Adolphus," i n which both Mrs. Gormley and Mr. Leaper are con-fronted and defeated by t h e i r depressing i n a b i l i t y to communicate, as they vainly and v a l i a n t l y ward o f f the a n n i h i l a t -ing silence with babble about nothing: It i s Frankie's love f o r her cousins that leads to Hetty's exposure. 5 8 Mrs. Gormley and Mr. Leaper began t o t a l k i n earnest about Spain and the p r i c e s t h e r e . God, thought Mrs. Gormley, what would I g i v e t o have Hamish's c o l d , . . . b u t cheaper s t i l l i n P o r t u g a l ! " she s a i d , s m i l i n g , mustering pleasure and charm i f any.°7 Mr. Leaper's v e r s i o n of t h e i r c o n v e r s a t i o n i s s i g n i f i c a n t o f the i n s u p e r a b l e chasm t h a t separates these two (and other w e l l - i n t e n t i o n e d but i n c o m pa t i b l e ) s o u l s : ...a c e r t a i n sense of 'noblesse o b l i g e ' made me spend most of the r e s t of the time at the p a r t y c o n v e r s i n g w i t h her. We then spoke about h o t e l accommodation. While I was t e l l i n g her my impression of the h o t e l s i n London she looked past me and a t the windows behind my head...I t h i n k i t must be a bad h a b i t of hers, and I must say i t i s very disagreeable;68 Mankind's foremost problem i s t o d i s c o v e r a method of b r i d g i n g t h i s d i v i d e , or of r e c o n c i l i n g t h e avowed d i f f e r -ences i n temperament and c u l t u r e of i n d i v i d u a l s , n a t i o n s , and r a c e s . With a wry and compassionate eye Mrs. Wilson has observed the s t r u g g l e s of man t o cope w i t h the p o l a r i t i e s i n h e r i t e d from h i s p a i n f u l e v o l u t i o n from a s o l i t a r y i n d e -pendent hunter t o a more or l e s s b a d l y - a d j u s t e d g r e g a r i o u s p a r a s i t e . Could t h e r e be, f o r i n s t a n c e , a w h o l l y s o c i a l person? 67 P.72. 68 Pp.76-77. 59 To be f u l l y integrated with society a person must be t o t a l l y unaware of his solitude and his uniqueness as a personality, completely content with the status quo and happy to subsist on a common heritage and t r a d i t i o n . Topaz, the "Innocent T r a v e l l e r , " i s almost a pure example of t h i s strange phenom-enon; whereas Hetty desires to withdraw from humanity but cannot, V i c k i wants to mingle but i s unable, Topaz mingles yet i s free. As much a product of her age as Hetty i s of hers, Topaz was reared as a V i c t o r i a n lady s t u l t i f y i n g l y shielded from any economic, s o c i a l , or emotional unpleasantness. Con-sequently, although i n t e l l i g e n t , well-read, f u l l of c u r i o s i t y and energy, she inhabits only the f r o t h of l i f e , oblivious of any dark currents or malign influences or e v i l intentions. Her quick mind devours f a c t s and t r i v i a l i t i e s which come spouting forever forth l i k e a fountain i n a gay unquenchable chatter that unconsciously arrests any genuine constructive thought or, conversely, any destructive morbid pondering about the i n e q u a l i t i e s encountered i n her perambulations of body and mind. When r e s p o n s i b i l i t y i s thrust on such people they dissolve into a quivering mass of incompetence, should any problems arise which require a sublimation of s e l f into the larger, complex v i s i o n . (Mrs. Wilson described Topaz's state i n such a dilemma as the period of "the great moan.")^9 The Innocent T r a v e l l e r , p . 1 3 1 . 60 Responsibility necessitates decisions which propel one dangerously and unavoidably close to the sorrows and passions of the human comedy. Were a person f u l l y integrated with-society he would be an u n c r i t i c a l morsel of the great masses yet completely free of any awareness of i n j u s t i c e and misery. Even Topaz i s not completely untamed. Only f l e e t i n g l y i s she disturbed by some nameless fear of the unknown and the vast vi s t a s of the subconscious mind which stimulates her need for the comforting silence of human rapport, as when sleeping out-side on Benbow Island, she imagines she hears the voice of Pan, and ...inside the white satin body of Topaz...there opened a dark unknown flower of fear....Her whole body dissolved l i s t e n i n g into fear which flowed into the t e r r i b l e enclosing night. She, a l l alone, became only a frightened part of the l i s t e n i n g elements. D i r e c t l y she stood within t h i s f r a i l u n l i t shelter of walls, door, window and humanity, even before she heard the comfortable crossness of Rachel's voice,...her l i v i n g family and a l l her bearded memories rushed about her...She longed to f e e l the hard comfort of Rachel's capable hand upon her....™ Here she admits that she needs humanity. When she su r p r i s i n g l y and momentarily appreciates that humanity also needs her i n i t s f i g h t against bigotry and e v i l , her pure courage and usually detached heart r i s e unprompted to defend innocence and tolerance. The strange f e e l i n g of being a c t i v e l y involved i n mankind's 70 Ibid., pp.l93-'94. 61 b a t t l e s t h a t i s engendered by Rachel's r a r e p r a i s e makes Topaz humble and embarrassed. What co u l d she say? I t h i n k she s a i d t h a t I w i l l go up to bed. I w i l l take the newspaper, and she stumbled u p s t a i r s i n her hasty way. '1 Reading the newspaper (which has now been l a r g e l y supplanted by watching t e l e v i s i o n ) i s one way of v i c a r i o u s l y e x p e r i e n c i n g l i f e ' s h o r r o r s , t r a g e d i e s , and d e l i g h t s and i s a dubious p l e a s u r e t o which many of Mrs. Wilson's c h a r a c t e r s are a d d i c t e d . When t h e genuine sense of a s s o c i a t i o n among people i s absent or weakened enough t o deprive s o c i a l r e a l i t y of any genuine l i f e , the newspaper or movie magazine i s able to supply a sp u r i o u s and a b s t r a c t communion w i t h u n r e a l i n -d i v i d u a l s , who are nonetheless a c t u a l l i v i n g people. F i c t i o n , p a r a d o x i c a l l y , i s inadequate under these circumstances, f o r the imaginary but r e a l and rounded people p o r t r a y e d i n v o l v e the reader c o n c r e t e l y w i t h the whole human predicament, which i r o n -i c a l l y would only separate them f u r t h e r from t h e i r subconsc-i o u s attempt t o be a part of humanity. S i g n i f i c a n t l y , Tom i n "Beware the Jabberwock, my son...," p r a c t i c a l l y the s o l e r e p r e -s e n t a t i v e on Mrs. Wilson's canvas of a bookworm, f a i l s t o f i n d i n h i s compulsive r e a d i n g any answer t o h i s unbearable problem. Mrs. Emblem, l i k e Topaz, f r e e from a n x i e t y , l i v i n g i n harmony with her environment and no lo n g e r t a k i n g an a c t i v e p a r t i n the 71 I b i d . , p.157. 62 d e s t i n y of s o c i e t y r e v e l s i n t h e a c t i v i t i e s of t h e s o c i a l l y prominent, i g n o r i n g t h e o c c a s i o n a l wave of v a c u i t y t h a t 72 t h r e a t e n s her complacent r o u t i n e . T h i s empty f e e l i n g s t i m u l a t e s v a r i o u s responses and e x p l o r a t i o n s . One recourse i s t o f i n d surcease i n mean-i n g l e s s c h a t t e r (of which more w i l l be s a i d l a t e r ) . The a n t i p a t h y t o people may be s t r o n g enough t o d r i v e the i n d i v i d -u a l deeper i n t o s o l i t u d e i n an attempted t o t a l disengagement wit h the world, as V i c k i T r i t t , who l i k e a l l extremely timorous, i n s i p i d , inadequate persons hastens to a v o i d the r e v e l a t i o n of her i n s u p p o r t a b l e l o n e l i n e s s by means of sm a l l p h y s i c a l a c t i v i t i e s which a t l a s t through t h e s i m i l a r y e a r s - become a • r o u t i n e . 7 3 V i c k i i s not o n l y an exaggerated r e p r e s e n t a t i v e of the f a c e -l e s s and u s e l e s s sheep t h a t c o n s t i t u t e a major p o r t i o n o f humanity, but i s a l s o t h e p e r s o n i f i c a t i o n of a p a r t of n e a r l y everyone t h a t i s u s u a l l y submerged and c o n t r o l l e d but which o c c a s i o n a l l y w e l l s up, overwhelming i n i t s i n e x p r e s s i b l e d e s o l a t i o n . 72 Mrs. Emblem, i n Tuesday and Wednesday, has had three husbands and has looked a f t e r them very w e l l , but now no l o n g e r wants the r e s p o n s i b i l i t y of l o v i n g and being l o v e d . She does not even v i s i t her son i n A l b e r t a . L i k e Topaz, although f a r from as i n t e l l i g e n t , she l i v e s on the t r i v i a l -i t i e s of l i f e . Tuesday and Wednesday, p.68. 63 V i c k i i s the antithesis of Topaz, yet both are al i k e i n t h e i r refusal to become involved i n "the sorrow of humanity".',1 The tragedy of these wasted l i v e s i s the tragedy of a l l man-kind, yet l i t t l e p i t y i s evoked because Mrs. Wilson's under-stated s t y l e precludes sentimentality and a morbid dwelling on the unbearable picture of man's loneliness. Those who are prepared to accept t h e i r condition without becoming apathetic or h y s t e r i c a l can resolve t h e i r loneliness to some degree by finding some worthwhile aim on which to base t h e i r endeavours. Physical, mental, and s o c i a l f u l f i l l m e n t can sometimes be found in hard work which obviates the bond of sympathy that i s usually necessary to counteract the destructive ravages of i s o l a t i o n . L i l l y i s blessed with enough self-knowledge and ' tough determination to f a c i l i t a t e a physical and s p i r i t u a l withdrawal from humanity only' to the deg:ree that ensures her welfare, her dignity, and..the privacy she finds so necessary. But since the r e c i p r o c a l r e l a t i o n s h i p of interdependence i s phe source of man's true being, those who disregard t h i s are never i n r e a l harmony with themselves and subsist i n a con-t i n u a l state of tension, a condition which made L i l l y old beyond her years and forced her to f l e e eventually, a catas-trophe (no matter how f e l i c i t o u s was the outcome) which could have been averted had she recognized her. r e s p o n s i b i l i t y to others and attempted some communion and exchange. 64 For the most part the young are ignorant of the conditions necessary f o r the r e a l i z a t i o n of the authentic s e l f , and i t i s s i g n i f i c a n t that Mrs. Wilson puts her philos-ophy into the mouths of tiwo el d e r l y people, Mrs. Severance who a r t i c u l a t e s Maggie's code of l i v i n g , and Mr. Willy i n "The Window," a man who has f l e d from the i r r i t a t i o n s of married l i f e to an independent, unencumbered, deceptive t r a n q u i l i t y . Instead of the expected release of new vigour with i t s concomitant contentment, Mr. Willy's emancipation i s something less than s a t i s f y i n g : Sometimes a thought or a shape (was i t ? ) , gray, l i k e wood ash that f a l l s i n pieces when i t i s touched, seemed to be. behind his chair, arid this shape teased him and communicated to him that he had l e f t humanity behind, and that a man needs humanity and- i f he ceases to be i n touch with man and i s not i n touch with God, he does not matter. "You do not matter any more," said the spectre l i k e wood ash before i t f e l l to pieces," because you are no longer i n touch with anyone and so you do not exist. You are in a vacuum and so you are nothing."74 Modern man's increasing uneasiness and loneliness then i s only augmented when he senses that some inexplicable force-some c a l l i t God- beyond his comprehension i s battering i n vain at the bastions of the s c i e n t i f i c a l l y - i n d u c e d scepticism, while he himself has erected barriers against human communi-cation, so that his soul, heart, and mind are slowly parching and withering. Because he has denied both s p i r i t u a l and 74 Pp. 197—.98. human intercourse he i s no longer genuine but only an abstraction: He went to the glass door and examined i t . It was in t a c t . He turned the key and drew the shutter down. Then he went back to the t e l e -phone i n t h i s state of abstraction. Death or near-death was s t i l l very close, though reced-ing. I t seemed to him at that moment that a crack had been coming i n the great wall that shut him o f f from the l i g h t but perhaps he was wrong. He dialed the police perfunctorily, not urgently. He knew that before him lay the hardest work of his l i f e - i n his l i f e but out of his country. He must i n some way and very soon break the great wall that shut him o f f from whatever l i g h t there might be. Not for fear of death but f o r fear of something e l s e . ' 5 Mr. Willy i s only i n the process of discovering what Mrs. Severance communicates t o Maggie i n one of her rare moments of affectionate understanding: "I s i t on top of my l i t t l e mound of years," said Mrs.. Severance "and i t i s natural and reasonable that I should look back, and I look back and round and I see the miraculous interweaving of creation...the everlasting web...and I see God everywhere. And Edward Vardoe...and your l i t t l e Chinese boy and the other l i t t l e boy and you and me and who knows what. We are a l l i n i t together. No Man i s an<". Hand, I am involved i n mankind, and we have no immunity and we may as well r e a l i z e i t . You won't be immune ever...76 Maggie does r e a l i z e i t (th i s makes her almost unique i n Mrs. Wilson's world of f i c t i o n ) , and her gentle 75 P .209. 76 Swamp Angel, p.15'0. 66 acceptance with an almost sad serenity p a r t i a l l y reconciles her craving f o r solitude with her necessary attachment to people. Mrs. Wilson f e e l s that the assaults on man's freedom are weaker in small intimate groups where love and genuine concern can c u l t i v a t e an i n c l u s i v e harmony which makes i n -evitable suffering endurable. These l i t t l e oases of warmth i n the prevalent "mass u g l i f i c a t i o n " are so rare and beautiful that they are almost hortatory i n t h e i r haunting appeal. Several things are common to these segregated groups, the most discernible being r e a l communion with l i t t l e actual verbal communication. While phatic communication i s compulsory and eminently stimulating to g e n i a l i t y and concord in the exigencies of ordinary l i v i n g , i t s abuse s t u l t i f i e s and strangulates any genuine r e c i p r o c a l pleasure. Idle p r a t t l e nearly ruins Maggie's enjoyment of the magnificent Canyon Scenery, and Mrs. Golightly's nervous g a r r u l i t y simply abets her i n s e c u r i t y . S i g n i f i c a n t , then, are the discussions between Maggie and Mrs. Severance which are not i d l e chatter, or peppered with learned abstractions or scholarly specu-l a t i o n s , but instead, infused with the heady aura of the sparkle and energy that derives from a wisdom nourished by fearless experiencing and i n t e l l i g e n t observation. Between Frankie's parents, between George and E l l e n , between Mrs. Forrester and Laura, there i s a fundamental gravity that springs from a deep and abiding love and concord that i s too 67 p r e c i o u s and profound f o r u t t e r a n c e : "- we s t a y whole days s i l e n t l i k e male and female happy T r a p p i s t s . " 7 7 The o n l y c h a t t e r e r s i n the corpus of Mrs. Wilson's work are the t o t a l l y i r r e s p o n s i b l e l i k e Topaz who has always t a l k e d so much she has f o r g o t t e n how t o keep q u i e t , and the empty-headed and s p i r i t u a l l y a r i d who gabble to c o n c e a l or f o r g e t t h e i r inward emptiness, f o r although they have n o t h i n g to say, s i l e n c e would expose the nothingness, the l o n e l i n e s s t h a t u n e a s i l y l u r k s behind the t o r r e n t of meaningless s y l -l a b l e s . F i l l i n g the a i r with sound i s t h e r a p e u t i c to the malaise of mental and s p i r i t u a l v a c u i t y . Mrs. Emblem de-f l e c t s t h i s a f f l i c t i o n by t a l k i n g w i t h Maybelle i n d e f i n i t e l y , over a cup of c o f f e e at Mrs. Emblem's p l a c e , or over a cup of t e a at S c o t t ' s (where they have t h e i r f o r t u n e s read) about themselves, t h e i r pasts and t h e i r f u t u r e s , and what they counsel each other t o do.... She d i s c u s s e s e n d l e s s l y w i t h Maybelle the advantages and disadvantages of a f u r t h e r marriage, the f e e l i n g s she has about Mr. Thorsen-s t e i n , . . . t h e n she and Maybelle d i s c u s s Maybelle's problems which are s i m i l a r and a l s o capable of being extended i n d e f i n i t e l y over the t e a l e a v e s .7 ° In "Beware the Jabberwock, my son...," D o l l y wards o f f the t e r r i b l e f e a r of l o n e l i n e s s and the acknowledgement of her i n e p t i t u d e and s t u p i d i t y by c o n t i n u a l j a b b e r i n g which back-f i r e s , d r i v i n g her i n t o l e r a n t husband out of the house and n e a r l y out of her l i f e . The b a s i c r u l e of good c o n v e r s a t i o n " T r u t h and Mrs. F o r r e s t e r , " p.113. Tuesday and Wednesday, p.52. 68 i s t h a t i t i s imperative to know how to keep s i l e n t , t o l i s t e n , and d i g e s t i n order t o be a b l e to t h i n k c o n s t r u c t -i v e l y and b u i l d up a s t o r e o f cogent ideas t h a t can be c l a r i f i e d and communicated by i n t e l l i g e n t d i s c o u r s e . Gabbling away with i n d i s c r i m i n a t e abandon about e v e r y t h i n g and n o t h i n g i s another alarming symptom of the p a s s i o n l e s s l e v e l l i n g d i s e a s e of t h i s age.?9 T a l k a t i v e n e s s i s now so o b j e c t i v e and comprehensive t h a t human r e l a t i o n s h i p s l o s e i n i n t e n s i t y and depth what they g a i n i n scope. The t e n s i o n i n h e r e n t i n t h e i n a b i l i t y t o commun-i c a t e which s u f f u s e s Mrs. Wilson's works i s only one more pigment on the i n d e l i b l e p i c t u r e of human involvement which Mrs. Wilson has sketched so c l e a r l y and s u c c i n c t l y . More s e n s i t i v e than the male t o t h e nuances of a d m i r a t i o n or d i s a p p r o v a l of her a s s o c i a t e s , f r i e n d s , and f a m i l y , the female i s more prone t o v o c a l i z e the growing concern w i t h the problem of f i n d i n g one's i d e n t i t y i n the i n e s c a p a b l e l a b y r i n t h of human entanglements. Moreover s i n c e women l i v e predominantly f o r and i n o t h e r s , f l u c t u a t i o n s i n emotional i n t e n s i t y , while i l l o g i c a l , are more c o n c r e t e l y o b j e c t i f i e d i n t h e i r behaviour and t h e r e f o r e more e a s i l y observed and i n t e r p r e t e d . Which i s one reason Mrs. Wilson f i n d s i n women a r e c e p t i v e focus Robertson Davies r e v i v e s a d e l i g h t f u l , word f o r t h i s communion - chunnering, i n The Table Talk of Samuel March- banks , Toronto, Clarke Irwin, 1949, p.46. 69 f o r her e x i s t e n t i a l i d e a s . But t h a t i s not the only reason t h a t her works abound i n female p e r s o n a l i t i e s . She i s e n d l e s s l y f a s c i n a t e d by t h e m a n i f e s t a t i o n s of the p e r p l e x i n g female psyche, and the f o l l o w i n g chapter w i l l attempt t o analyze Mrs. Wilson's id e a s of "Woman" and her s t r u g g l e t o achieve a u t h e n t i c i t y . 70 CHAPTER IV A FEMININE WCRLD? As might be expected i n so s u b j e c t i v e a female w r i t e r , one of Mrs. Wilson's primary concerns i s women, and on her c o l o u r f u l canvas can be found the i n f i n i t e v a r i e t y t h a t makes t o an i n c r e a s i n g l y l a r g e number of students o f human nature the female o f the s p e c i e s more i n t e r e s t i n g than the male. J u s t as no reader of an honest male n o v e l i s t such as Hardy, Faulkner, Conrad, can f a i l to have enlarged h i s a p p r e c i a t i o n o f the complexity o f man, so i t seems im p o s s i b l e f o r a reader of Mrs. Wilson t o r e -main o b l i v i o u s of and unsympathetic t o the feminine psyche w i t h i t s p e r p l e x i n g mixture o f both t r a d i t i o n a l l y feminine and unfeminine t r a i t s . A p praised by a h i g h l y i n d i v i d u a l i s t i c feminine standard, the female temperament i s u n v e i l e d i n a l i g h t a t once both k i n d e r and harsher than t h a t o f most male n o v e l i s t s . Although feminine d i s p a r i t y i s r e g i s t e r e d i n a myriad of c r e a t i o n s between extremes: the s a i n t l y Annie H a s t i n g s , the p u r e l y s e n s u a l Mrs. Emblem, the a-moral L i l l y , each zh woman i n Mrs. Wilson's books i s h e l d r e s p o n s i b l e f o r her own conduct; and although her u l t i m a t e d e s t i n y i s i n par t 71 c o n t r o l l e d by extraneous f a c t o r s , no attempt i s made to j u s t i f y behaviour by a s p e c i f i c r e f e r e n c e t o the male-dominated environment i n which modern woman b a t t l e s f o r 80 p e r s o n a l e x p r e s s i o n . The domination i s i m p l i c i t , of course, i n Maggie's n e c e s s i t y f o r f l i g h t , i n Hetty's eco-nomic dependence, and i n Topaz' immaturity, but r a t h e r than a b a r r i e r t o , or a d e t e r r e n t from, the a s s e r t i o n o f t h e female p e r s o n a l i t y , the male world i s simply a p e r v a s i v e aroma t h a t quickens the l o v e , the s t r i f e , and the beauty t h a t c o n s t i t u t e s l i v i n g . Mrs. Wilson's feminine world i s e n t i r e l y encased w i t h i n the accepted s o c i a l i n s t i t u t i o n s . No unhappy s u f r a -g e t t e , she m i l d l y pleads f o r mere r e c o g n i t i o n and p r e s e r v -a t i o n of a woman's s e l f - r e s p e c t and a worth-while employment of her a b i l i t i e s . Supernumerary i n s o c i e t y , Topaz s a c r i f i c e s her b r i l l i a n t mind and dynamic energy i n a nebulous o b l a t i o n t o the V i c t o r i a n god of p r o p r i e t y ; c o n f i n e d to a s s e r t i n g h e r s e l f i n ephemeral t r i v i a l i t i e s , she i s a s u b t l e yet graphic demonstration o f human waste. I t i s t r u e that not a l l women are capable or d e s i r o u s of f u l f i l l i n g t h e i r b i o l o g i c a l In Mrs. Wilson's f i c t i o n the male-dominated e n v i r o n -ment o f t e n e x p l a i n s woman's behaviour, but does not excuse i t , i n c o n t r a s t t o Mme. Bovary, f o r i n s t a n c e , or The Lonely P a s s i o n of J u d i t h Hearne. 72 function. But what alternative does society offer? Accepting the restriction of opportunity, Mrs. Wilson again emphasizes individual responsibility. The years of child-bearing and raising are almost ignored, although not disparaged or discounted, the family companion-ship emerging valuable less as a mother-child relationship than as an interaction between two personalities. The im-portance of a healthy domestic atmosphere i s subtly implicit in the contrast of Frankie's adolescence with L i l l y ' s , or 81 Angus's with that of the two delinquents in "Fog". ...Mother, was a small insignificant woman of enormous character. Her children never desired to quarrel among themselves. Whether this was due to the powerful domination of the Mother or whether some alchemy in which Joe (the father, Joe Quong) and the Mother had separate parts had wrought thi s miracle, no one could know, and no one wondered. The result of this was that in the Quong's home - for these partitioned rooms were indeed a home - there was almost ceaseless noise and clatter, but the noise was not of crying or of anger.... The youngest l i t t l e boy was blind, but he was healthy too, and he was so much be-loved and watched over by his brothers and sisters that one might say he was luckier than many other l i t t l e boys.82 When they (the two adolescent murderers) arrived back, each at their own home, their parents said in pursuance of their habit of long years past "Where you bin?" and the hoodlums said in pur-suance of their habit of long years past "Out". 81 Frankie i s in Hetty Dorval, Angus in Swamp Angel. 82 Swamp Angel, p.43. 73 This s a t i s f i e d the i d i o t parents. They said "My that fog's just t e r r i b l e , " and the hood-lums said "Sure i s . " ° 3 Moreover the happiest and most e f f e c t i v e women are the creative and responsible home-makers, loved and respected by t h e i r children and husbands. Yet the mutual devotion of the Burnabys i n Hetty Dorval, the busy and comfortable peace of Isa and George i n Love and Salt Water, the s a t i s -f a c t i o n i n Maggie's f i r s t marriage, are seldom-realized U t o p i a s ; more often are the women f r u s t r a t i n g l y depend-ent: Mrs. Cuppy (Ellen's mother) keeping a lonely v i g i l with her daughters while her husband roams the world; Mrs. Butler ( L i l l y ' s kind i n t e l l i g e n t mistress) constantly s u f f e r i n g pain and humiliation from her husband's i n f i d e l i t y , yet always forgi v i n g ; even the tormented Vera Gunnarsen, unable to understand Haldar, therefore i s o l a t e d and unhappy i n a self-imposed trap. A sublimation of s e l f for mutual s a t i s f a c t i o n and economic s t a b i l i t y , often necessary and frequently desirable, cannot be a r b i t r a r i l y imposed, esp e c i a l l y when an unequal endowment of s e n s i t i v i t y and i n t e l l e c t breeds f r u s t r a t i o n , resentment, and hatred. The shackles of convention perpetually war against the w i l l , yet women can and do exert immeasurable influence both within and without the family structure. Those who can achieve a 3^ "Fog," p.104. 74 personal i d e n t i t y i n love and s e r v i c e as w i f e and mother are f o r t u n a t e ; those outside t h e i r normal r o l e , e i t h e r by choice or n e c e s s i t y , face a m i n f i n i t e l y more d i f f i c u l t s t r u g g l e i n a c h i e v i n g a productive and reasonable s e c u r i t y , u n f a i r l y hampered as they are by the discrepancy between the male and female propensity f o r compassion and p i t y . ^ 4 In a r a r e outburst, Matron p r o t e s t s the i n j u s t i c e of woman's l o t i n a male world: "That's i t , f o r a woman," s a i d the Matron w i t h unusual b i t t e r n e s s , "work, work, work, save and scrimp, and then a r t h r i t i s and then o l d age and what do you get out of l i f e ? " 8 5 In " T i l l death us do p a r t " the n a r r a t o r , seeing Kate and t h a t mother going on f o r e v e r and ever together and no escape t i l l death comes f o r one of them,... chooses a questionable a l t e r n a t i v e : I don't say I'd r e a l l y choose Peterborough Edward and I never thought I'd t u r n to Peterborough on account of these circum-stances but he might be a comfort and anyway, what can you do.°° Mrs. Wilson suggests what "you" can do. No own r o l e . 85 ^*Tn "Cat Among the Falcons" Mrs. Wilson defines her L i l l y ' s S tory, p.240. 86 P.193. 75 matter hew cheated physically, biologically, or econom-ic a l l y , everyone possesses some specific, often latent, capacity or talent which emerges in crucial moments, blossom' ing into a personal asset i f assidulously cultivated with a determined assertion, as L i l l y belatedly discovers. The intrinsic value of nourishing any aptitude, however humble, l i e s in the glorious serenity attendant on any fulfillment, manifested in the quiet efficiency of Rachel who managed the Hastings menage for no reward other than the fulfillment of her own fierce integrity and sense of order, and the confidence and placid affection of her family.87 Similarly, Maggie seeks and finds a release in congenial labour and so provides comfort and inspiration to a l l her associates through her own courage and integrity, for as Angus said, he "...trusted her because she was Mrs. Lloyd and that was enough." In much of men's f i c t i o n a l writings women are delineated in relation only to the emotional l i f e of man, 87 The Innocent Traveller, p.161. 88 Swamp Angel, p.155. 76 a condition which, however valid in the author's view of reality, distorts one huge segment of being: the actual emotional, intellectual, social, and personal l i f e of woman. Too often for credibility are the archetypes of the Earth Mother, or the selfless Saint, or the eternal Temptress, or some other mythologized concept of the female principle allowed to refine the "heroine" into an unsubstantial shadow deriving l i f e and significance mainly from her influence on the more corporeal male protagonists. In MacLennan's The  Watch that Ends the Night, for instance, Catherine i s totally unbelievable as a person, existing only as the etherealized instrument on which both George and Jerome test their emotional growth or maturity. Tossed between the two positive men, she is only an i r r i t a t i n g l y p a l l i d imitation of a real woman. Refreshingly, Mrs. Wilson's women are unique and tangible individuals predominantly because of their inherent feminine nature and their own free choice. This i s not to deny or mitigate the influence of the environment and circum-stances of a male-oriented world. L i l l y ' s early encounter with the police generates in her simple nature not only a realization of her female vulnerability, but also a permanent fear of the "Law" - a male institution - which i s the instru-ment that banishes her from Vancouver to a wholly new existence in which previously unrecognized facets of her per-sonality channel her l i f e into strange seas. In a small 77 Island town she observes for the f i r s t time the advantages of r e s p e c t a b i l i t y and the security that derive from being accepted by a responsible section of society. That her starved, perhaps newly awakened emotions, f i n d i n g a passion-ate focus i n her baby, seem to change her nature into a dedicated seriousness i s but an i l l u s i o n ; the metamorphosis i s simply a matter of emphasis, L i l l y continuing as imperv-ious as a catalyst unperturbed i n the midst of seething reactions. No one had loved her, and she did not even know that she had missed love. She was not b i t t e r , nor cruel, nor was she very bad. She was l i k e the l i t t l e yellow cat, no worse and no better. She expected nothing. She took things as they came, l i v i n g where she could, on whom she could, and with whom she could,...protecting herself by l i e s or by truth, and always keeping on the weather side of the police.°9 No e t h i c a l scruples or human kindness, just a conditioned, psychotic fear of trouble and the resultant e f f e c t on "baby", prevent an amorous dalliance with Major Butler. Weathering many a traumatic experience, she remains e s s e n t i a l l y the same m a t e r i a l i s t i c L i l l y who coveted and bought (with her only asset) low's bic y c l e ; the same a-moral L i l l y who, a f t e r only three days i n Nanaimo, bartered her body f o r the comfort and security of Ranny's masculine protection. She i s from L i l l y ' s Story, p . 156. 73 b i r t h r u t h l e s s l y s e l f - c e n t r e d and stubbornly unimaginative, determined t o su r v i v e at anybody's cost. No person, no event, no circumstance can be blamed f o r L i l l y ' s choice of l i f e or her queer moral code.^O For l i v i n g i s a dynamic process and i t i s through women tha t the flow i s maintained. Ever s i n c e Eve d e l i b e r a t e l y a sserted her power of choice thereby f r e e i n g h e r s e l f and Adam from the t h r a l l of b l i n d obedience (perhaps the serpent was an i l l u s i o n , but the apple was r e a l ) women have assumed the r e s p o n s i b i l i t y f o r the c o n t i n u i t y of l i f e and l o v e , f o r the anguish and f o r the ecstasy. While men tend t o l i v e i n j e r k s , i n bursts of a c t i v i t y and c r e a t i v i t y , women are a l l one flow, unspectacular but continuous. That men recognize and appreciate t h i s over-a l l serene dynamism i s a t t e s t e d t o by some of the most un-f o r g e t t a b l e c r e a t i o n s i n E n g l i s h l i t e r a t u r e : The Wife of Bath, M o l l Flanders, Becky Sharp, Mrs. Morel, Ma Joad, M o l l y Bloom; nevertheless r a r e l y i s there recorded an i n t i m a t e , honest, and i m p a r t i a l impression of women as p e r s o n a l i t i e s , i s o l a t e d as much as necessary and p o s s i b l e from the spasmodic but o f t e n smothering masculine v i t a l i t y . Mrs. Wilson's human e x i s t e n t i a l i s t philosophy of a continuous c r e a t i o n where "everything happens again and 90 See L i l l y ' s S tory, pp.162-64 f o r Mrs. Wilson's theory of the change. 79 i t ' s never the same," where l i f e is a perpetual movement forward, a gliding or swimming around obstacles, can be most clearly formulated and consistently expressed in the behaviour of women, who, more than most men, accept the f u l l responsibility for their errors and have enough courage -or perhaps perversity - to maintain the life-stream. Such female characters must be revealed in their pettiness and their magnaminity, hiding behind no gloss of determinism or idealism, u t i l i z i n g their traditional feminine foibles and prerogatives with the conscious intention of realizing their own potential, not merely as a f o i l for masculine vanity. While such a r e a l i s t i c appraisal precludes the usual allow-ance for feminine weaknesses and inconsistencies, paradox-i c a l l y this seemingly harsh attitude is kinder than that of more sentimental writers. L i t t l e pity i s evoked for even the most spiritually desolate characters, Hetty and Myrtle, , since they are allowed to stand or f a l l on their own merits, on their a b i l i t y , however limited, to choose their own destiny: and Vicki,...saw with a dawning understanding the dreadful thing about Myrtle Johnston - that she was content to have Morty die as she then thought he died....and Vicki dimly apprehended that Myrtle in her self-love did not intend to cease being wronged by Morty in his death.91 91 Tuesday and Wednesday, p.122. T h i s c l e a r p e r s p e c t i v e of the s i t u a t i o n p r e c l u d e s s e n t i m e n t a l i t y s i n c e the r e a d e r ' s s e n s i b i l i t y i s n o t . v i o l a t e d by any l u d i c r o u s ambiguity i n M y r t l e ' s r o l e . I s i t a sub-merged g u i l t t h a t prompts an author, f o r s o c i o l o g i c a l reasons perhaps, t o p i t y h i s women p r o t a g o n i s t s , an a t t i t u d e t h a t 92 i n a d v e r t e n t l y s t r i p s them of any human worth? What i s more degrading to the human d i g n i t y than being made an o b j e c t of r i d i c u l e ? Any excuses p r o f f e r r e d f o r a person's, behaviour denudes the c h a r a c t e r of i n d i v i d u a l p r i d e and r i g h t s l e a v i n g but an empty face i n a m i r r o r and a less-than-human chance f o r redemptive a f f i r m a t i o n . A comparison of J u d i t h Hearne with V i c k i T r i t t might i l l u m i n a t e the d i f f e r e n c e i n i n t e g -r i t y between a f a l s e l y s e n t i m e n t a l treatment and a c l e a r - e y e d , tougher r e n d e r i n g of two analagous s i t u a t i o n s and women. S h r i n k i n g from a p o s i t i v e commitment t o a contemporary l i f e , both women seek sanctuary i n t h e i r " l o n e l y p a s s i o n s " which provide p r o t e c t i v e o u t l e t s f o r t h e i r parched emotions. Whereas J u d i t h ' s weakness i s exposed g r a d u a l l y - almost w i t h r e l i s h -i n p r o g r e s s i v e l y more h u m i l i a t i n g scenes, w e l l c a l c u l a t e d t o r u i n anyone's s e l f - e s t e e m , V i c k i ' s withdrawal i s presented without condemnation or r i d i c u l e , and she i s allowed t o r e -t r e a t (as J u d i t h i s not) i n t o her d e s i r e d comfortable anonymity. 92 B r i a n Moore i n The Lonely Passion of J u d i t h Hearne evokes t h i s r e a c t i o n . The very t i t l e b a c k f i r e s making a mockery of J u d i t h ' s l i f e , as do the v a r i o u s scenes of her degradation. To evoke pity"!,, too much i s stacked a g a i n s t J u d i t h so t h a t both she and the reader look and f e e l r i d i c u l o u s . 61 Although Brian Moore tries to justify Judith's degeneration by an implied indictment of a society that fosters such human waste, he only succeeds in alienating the reader from any identification with the victim. However, Mrs. Wilson, in recognizing individual responsibility, invites empathy with Vicki and a kind of purgative release of self-conscious ness, for Vicki i s not judged, merely observed as a " s i l l y Thing," or one who i s afraid of discovering the ultimate sorrow of humanity, or, observes Mrs. Emblem, as a person who "...reminds me of some poor dawg that nobody wants."93 She i s , however, a person, not the objective correlative of some man's pity; she is an authentic part of l i f e , a part of Mrs. Wilson's philosophy, and a part of universal woman. In her typically flexible style, Mrs. Wilson suggests an ideal of womanhood in the earthenware dishes sent by Mr. Cunningham which were "...honest and gay and had been conceived by people who were honest and serious and gay."9^ Since to arrive at a r e a l i s t i c personal standard 93 Tuesday and Wednesday, p.25. 94 Swamp Angel, p.139. 62 or ideal i t is necessary to observe and define a l l varia-tions, in her f i r s t book Mrs. Wilson analyzes microscopically several female types, isolating the dominant characteristics of each one. Three women, each representing one facet of a more complete personality; dominate the canvas of Hetty  Dorval; the honest, fun-loving mother and wife, Mrs. Burnaby; the beautiful, predatory, gay Hetty; and the romantic, serious adolescent, Frankie. Although a l l are a r t i s t i c a l l y satisfying persons in the novel, a subtle shift of emphasis projects each as one side of Mrs. Wilson's whole or complete woman. Not only do a l l women differ although composed of the same ingredients in varying proportions, but each, by the magic alchemy of s p i r i t , i s more than the sum of her separate 95 components." Almost, but not quite, could the ideal mothers, Mrs. Burnaby and Mrs. Cuppy, be interchanged, for somehow Mrs. Cuppy i s a bit more patient, a shade less fun than Mrs. Burnaby, although both function as the yoice of reason and love. Too, some women who appear to be totally deficient in some essential feminine ingredient would be monstrous in their imbalance, did not Mrs.. Wilson perceive a glimmer of the redemptive quality which fortuitously smuggled into a Which makes a tremendous difference in the f i n a l product: e.g. HgC2 (Mercuric Chloride) is deadly, and HgCl (Mercurous chloride-Calomel) i s , in small doses, a laxative. 83 larger scene freighted with heavier implications. Such a revelation i s the wild goose scene in Hetty Dorval which reverberates through the whole story, only casually suggesting both the potential in Hetty for a normal l i f e and her yearn-97 ing for direction and purpose. ' On a more basic level, Myrtle's protective delight in the stray kitten intimates succinctly an unselfish, maybe maternal, love not wholly suffocated by her unwholesome and unnatural "accidie." Topaz' rare moments of insight and Norah's obsessive and exclusive love for Johnny are further samples of the depths that would probably remain unplumbed by acquaintances in real l i f e , but which enlarge the reader's understanding and tolerance of humanity and i t s undisclosed or submerged motivation and potential. The three faces of woman in Hetty Dorval are super-imposed on each other and united by the alchemy of two real yet passive men, Frankie's father, and to a lesser degree, her cousin. Frankie, the perennial romantic in a l l women, provides the instrument of connection between the characters, but some neutral adhesive force i s necessary to amalgamate the various feminine attributes that together constitute a whole, or a wholesome, woman. The cottage on Lytton H i l l There are such monstrous people of course, but they are rare, and Mrs. Wilson finds in practically everyone elements of what is culturally desirable - kindness, per-ception of beauty, self-sacrifice etc. Hetty Dorval, pp.19-20. 84 i s an i n s p i r e d s e t t i n g f o r the mixing - empty before Hetty, and empty a f t e r , i t has apparently never been contaminated by a man, so can f u r n i s h a purely feminine temple f o r a c u l t of women to which men are r a r e l y even admitted and then not t o worship, e x a c t l y , but to o f f e r homage, admiration, and perhaps l o v e . Emanations of a pagan, even a d i a b o l i c a l , mystique d i s t u r b and n u l l i f y the pious m i n i s t e r ' s k i n d l y b l e s s i n g : I admired Mrs. Dorval's d i s p o s a l of Mr. Thompson; yet there was something somewhere that was not qui t e r i g h t . I heard the f r o n t door c l o s e . . . I came out and saw Mr. Thompson going down the h i l l i n the dusk. I t h i n k now that there was a burning s o r t of goodness and d i r e c t n e s s i n Mr. Thompson against which Mrs. Dorval had t o defend h e r s e l f w i t h her weapon of l i g h t n e s s . As f o r me, a country c h i l d , I had come under a very fancy k i n d of s p e l l , near t o i n f a t u a t i o n . . . . Hetty's husband looms incongruously dangerous as he brings a curious d i s c o r d t o the s h r i n e ; " but Frankie's sanatary f a t h e r , by unconcernedly f a l l i n g asleep on the f l o o r , uncere-moniously both reduces the temple t o the " l a i r of the menace" 98 I b i d . , pp.25-27. 99 I t i s s h o r t l y a f t e r t h i s t h a t Frankie's v i s i t s are discovered. 85 and elevates i t to the status of a real home: ...Hetty had been blown out and away. The bungalow had almost begun to mean to me not Hetty, but "That picnic we had on nearly the last day - you remember?" and Father lying there, asleep in the sunshine.100 Significantly, he i s k i l l e d soon after purchasing the cottage as a Christmas present for "his g i r l s , " but after his death Mrs. Burnaby i s able to find peace and contentment in the house, while Frankie regards i t as home, the malign aura and influence of the hypnotic Hetty, the menace, having been exorcized, or at least minimized, by the blessing of the • neutral yet balancing maleness. Here, unfettered by the actual presence which would contaminate the union of purely feminine features, Mrs. Burnaby's personality can fuse with part of Hetty's, sparked by a male catalyst "in absentia". Here can be wedded Frankie's romantic seriousness, Hetty's gay fascination, and Mrs. Burnaby's honest womanliness - in terms of a mythological cult, the creator, destroyer, and preserver inseparably melded into one deity. While not exactly matriarchial, Mrs. Wilson's society does embody an idea of the ecology of women in contemporary l i f e that i s rather frowned on in Christian cultures: women have become the generating forces while men are relegated to the sub-sidiary supporting roles. Hetty Dorval, p.61 86 Not purely functional however, Mrs. Wilson's male creations are substantial, sympathetically-drawn individuals f a l l i n g broadly into two categories: the weak, effeminate, conceited, albeit assertive, egos of which Edward Vardoe and Cousin Sid are the extreme poles; and the quiet, very masculine, rather insensitive type of which genus Mort and Mr. Burnaby are two species, Mr. Edgeworth of the same order but a different era, Haldar and Mr. Cuppy varied mutations. There i s a strong suggestion that the woman concerned determines to a great degree a man's ultimate category. Mrs. Emblem often muses, "What I could have made of Mort!"; Mrs. Severance with a fright-ening dexterity and power manipulates like puppets Edward Vardoe, Arthur, and Arturo; even the domineering Mr. Edge-worth can only maintain his veneer of patriarchial authority and superiority because his "harem" so-unobtrusively and capably manages his affairs; and Haldar fluctuates between an impotent despairing seclusion and a vigorous and con-tagious elan in a direct ratio to the disposition and s p i r i t of Vera and Maggie. Yet each man is unique and his influenc and power is never discounted. That the male principle is indispensible i s mani-fested both in the haunting authority of the masculine background and in the composition of the women themselves. The stern, uncompromising, single-minded masculinity of 87 Mrs. Broom, which hovers u n p l e a s a n t l y , i n e x o r a b l y , yet almost i n v i s i b l y over the o r g a n i z a t i o n and f u l f i l l m e n t o f the feminine s h r i n e , symbolizes a pe r s o n a l a s s e t , but a s o c i a l l i a b i l i t y , which most women can s u c c e s s f u l l y r e l e -gate t o the uno b t r u s i v e background o f t h e i r p e r s o n a l i t y . Since the once r i g i d demarcation of the sexes has been weakened by the d i s s e m i n a t i o n and p o p u l a r i z a t i o n of psyco-l o g i c a l t h e o r i e s , i t i s now ac c e p t a b l e , i f not q u i t e r e s p e c t a b l e , f o r one sex to e x h i b i t t r a i t s of the other. Although Mrs. Wilson endows most of her women w i t h some masculine tendencies which add s t r e n g t h and charm t o a w e l l -a d j u s t e d person such as Maggie or Rachel, she i s a l e r t t o the danger of an imbalance which n u l l i f i e s the s p e c i f i c g e n e t i c and c r e a t i v e r o l e , e xhausting a woman's own emo-t i o n s and u l t i m a t e l y k i l l i n g the emotions o f everyone around her. Mrs. Broom and M y r t l e t e s t i f y t o t h i s . Usurping the man's p o s i t i o n , both have repudiated the g e n t l e r , more t h o u g h t f u l feminine q u a l i t i e s , making happiness i m p o s s i b l e , as the r e s u l t a n t p e r v a s i v e s e l f - d i s t r u s t c r e a t e s an atmosphere i n which a p p r e c i a t i o n , t o l e r a n c e , and lov e cannot blossom.''"^" On t h e other hand, a t o t a l s u b j u g a t i o n of male q u a l i t i e s i s d e s i r a b l e and p e r m i s s i b l e only under s p e c i f i c c o n d i t i o n s , 1 0 1 See Sean O'Faolain i n "Vive Moi," The A t l a n t i c (Jan. 1 9 6 4 ) , p. 9 8 , i n which he says of h i s mother "...the t e r r i f y i n g onesidedness of her l i f e cut her o f f from everyone e l s e ' s l i f e . " 88 such as the protective institutionalized Victorian society which cultivated and nourished feminine saints like Annie Hastings, or the intellectually arid milieu of a certain social strata that could encourage and sustain the rather parasitic sensuality of the warmly feminine Mrs. Emblem. In Mrs. Wilson's active world, a mixture of traditionally male and female t r a i t s i s highly prized. On the periphery of Hetty Dorval examples of other emotional qualities distinguish the feminine tempera-ment. The grim dogged devotion peculiar to women i s objectified in Mrs. Broom and echoed in L i l l y and Kate and Rachel. Drowned while trying to save her beloved dog, Ernestine (Frankie's chum) not only foreshadows Frankie's blundering idealism when she battles with Hetty for the happiness of her cousin, but also illustrates the selfless love for helpless creatures inherent in every woman, which makes the joys of motherhood so surprisingly poignant and enriching. A chief difference between men and women li e s in their attitude to love. Socially conditioned or not, men's tendency to compartmentalize their needs rele-gates family affection to a specific time and place, while women wear their love like a perfumed cloak, at once shielding and dispensing an aura of devotion. Men need 102 But which often end in destruction - i.e. - Hetty's mother. 89 103 to be loved, women need to love. Why, then, i s sexual love almost ignored in Mrs. Wilson's fiction? Again, i t i s a matter of emphasis. Because actual behaviour rather than psychological analysis of motivation economically suggests areas of l i f e outside her immediate observation, Mrs. Wilson's casual understated rendering invites bold leaps of the imagination as the reader supplies the necessary associations from his own experience: just prior to her fl i g h t , Maggie's brief remembrance of the nights when she "...lay humiliated and angry..." encapsulates the shame suffered by generations of sensitive women from the mechanical gratification <of sex without love or respect; while L i l l y ' s fleeting glimpse of Eleanor's ecstacy in her husband's embrace i s etched vividly as an ideal marital relationship.^^ Although the power of sex underlies the drama in Hetty Dorval and i s sprinkled throughout the other books, i t is sublimated in the overflowing of woman's a b i l i t y to sustain love at a lower, broader, and more continuous pitch, which i s just to say again that women are a l l one flow. Although the 103 This is apparent in Frank Cuppy's marital relation-ship, in Haldar Gunnarson's, and even in the nebulous Mr. Golightly's. 104 Swamp Angel, p.16, and L i l l y ' s Story, p.239. 90 most harmonious relationships such as the Burnaby's and , 106 the Forresters owe much to this flow, i t can be extremely unhealthy when the force engenders an overly-possessive attitude producing a selfish s t i f l i n g atmosphere, anathema to mature adjustment. Although i t is rarely stressed in Mrs. Wilson's writings because her attention usually focusses on independent, dynamic women, this smothering situation, so common in modern society, underlies much of the suggested domestic incompatibility. The most obvious example i s the situation in "Beware the Jabberwock, my son..." in which Tom's garrulous, clinging wife, s i g n i f i -cantly named Dolly, reduces their marriage to an impotent sluggishness: "Oh but Tommykins just a minute, do you really love me?" "'Yes'I And don't c a l l me that!" A prophetic wave of frustration rose and broke softly over him with familiar competence and his future lay clear without delusion. 1 0' Implicit, too, is the observation that love and sex are potent forces in women that often result in extreme roman-ti c i z i n g with a pathetic dependence on demonstrative and quixotic assertions. However, some'women find their fuls fillment in creative occupations or independent subsistence 1 0 5 I n Hetty Dorval. 1 0 6 I n "Truth and Mrs. Forrester." 1 0 7P.173. 91 as do men, and th e s e women a r e the ones admired by Mrs. Wilson, f o r they alone f u l f i l the promise of her p o s i t i v e p hilosophy o f c o n t i n u i t y . Moreover, women form a focus f o r p r a c t i c a l l y a l l of Mrs. Wilson's themes. Because they a c t more i n s t i n c t i v e -l y than men, p o s s e s s i n g a mysterious knowledge which i s o f t e n i n a r t i c u l a t e , women are p e r f e c t v e s s e l s t o c o n t a i n the i d e a t h a t " o n l i e the heart knows". N a t u r a l l y then, an uneducated but i n t u i t i v e l y wise o l d j u g g l e r r a t h e r than the educated and w e l l - r e a d Tom K r i s p i n or Ar t h u r Cousins i s chosen t o formulate i n h a l t i n g phrases Mrs. Wilson's p h i l o s -ophy, f o r she knows, as Tom K r i s p i n does not, t h a t l o v e and i n t e l l i g e n c e are complementary: He c o u l d have wished D o l l y to be more i n t e l l i g e n t . He d i d not t h i n k of en-l a r g i n g t h a t wish t o i n c l u d e h i m s e l f and i t d i d not occur t o him t h a t love and i n t e l l i g e n c e - or t h e i r l a c k - might have any r e l a t i o n t o each other.108 Widely-read, i n t e l l i g e n t , and l e a r n e d , Mrs. Wilson recommends books f o r d e l i g h t (John Donne, Shakespeare), f o r f a c t s , and f o r a q u i c k l e s s o n i n human r e l a t i o n s h i p s , but merely as a guide, a p r e l i m i n a r y t o the more f a s c i n a t -i n g study o f t h e a c t u a l behaviour o f human beings, which 108 "Beware the Jabberwock, my son...," p.154. 92 discipline i s indispensible not only for writers, but for 109 anyone who wants to experience l i f e to the f u l l e s t . This doctrine i s most explicit in Love and Salt Water, in which, although George attempts to steer Ellen's keen but groping mind into some ordered channels of thought, s i g n i f i -cantly she learns only through experience, through painful t r i a l and error, notwithstanding that her instincts are usually trustworthy. 1 1 0 (Lest the reader should deduct that men are naturally wiser than women, a graphic picture of George's worthless f i r s t wife i s strategically included, thereby emphasizing the need for personal experience.) Yet the grim spectre of unsatisfied womanhood seems to haunt Mrs. Wilson's f i c t i o n . Women lead a rather t r i v i a l or barren l i f e . A routine of cooking and cleaning interspersed with an occasional swim and fishing sortie, unrelieved by any friendly or stimulating conversations or any delight in reading, reveals the disturbing picture of Maggie finding l i f e only in a withdrawal from humanity and a physically t i r i n g job. Does her l i f e seem complete -or satisfying? And what about Mrs. Severance who exists only between her bed and the kitchen, the newspaper and her daughter's company the only diversions in her monoto-109 See her remarks in "Cat among the Falcons," and "Bridge or the Stokehold? Views of the Novelist's Art." 110 See pp. 137^38".of thisyessay. 93 nous endless days? Would not t h e s t i m u l a t i o n o f a good book or the cont a c t w i t h a keen mind have helped these women even i n t h e i r human r e l a t i o n s h i p s which are l e s s than s a t i s f a c t o r y ? 1 1 1 That they would not then be Maggie and Mrs. Severance i s beside the p o i n t ; what i s s i g n i f i -cant i s t h a t even Maggie, the best example of Mrs. Wilson's e x i s t e n t i a l h e r o i n e , i s much more s e n s i t i v e to and sympa-t h e t i c with human f r a i l t i e s than i s Haldar or any other man on the whole canvas. I t i s to Maggie t h a t Vera stumbles h y s t e r i c a l l y a f t e r her attempted s u i c i d e , i m p l i c i t l y t r u s t i n g t h a t Maggie w i l l understand, and f o r g i v e , and 112 h e l p . Haldar would - or could - do n e i t h e r . What i s i m p l i e d , then, i s t h a t what men t r y t o l e a r n from books and formal e d u c a t i o n , women know i n s t i n c t i v e l y or l e a r n through human i n t e r c o u r s e , f o r t h e i r emotional antennae 111 Is t h i s j u s t a m a n i f e s t a t i o n of Mrs. Wilson's adm i r a t i o n f o r the independent s p i r i t ? One o f the axioms of s o c i e t y seems t o be t h a t women t a l k more than men, yet the g a r r u l o u s females i n Mrs. Wilson's s t o r i e s are u s u a l l y weak-minded. The p r i v i l e g e o f d i s c u s s i n g t h e i r i n t i m a t e t r o u b l e s w i t h other women, thereby g a i n i n g emotional r e l i e f (a s a f e t y - v a l v e denied the prouder males who are l e s s prone t o admit p e r s o n a l problems), i s l a r g e l y w i t h -h e l d from her s t r o n g e r characters.who best embody her p o s i t i v e p h i l o s o p h y . 112 Maggie does hel p , but onl y a l i t t l e , f o r , un-r e c e p t i v e t o Vera's need f o r an emotional c o n f i d a n t e , she throws Vera back on her own inadequate r e s o u r c e s . 94 are more receptive to the waves of human desire, frust-ration and needs which forever seek consolidation and interpretation. Examples are numerous. Although Mrs. Forrester and Laura see beneath Cousin Sid's mask, yet know the mask i s , in fact, Cousin Sid, he f a i l s to realize that they too are acting a part for him; 1 1^ Mrs. H.Y. Dunkerley instinctively flatters Mort into uncommon exertions, but Mr. H.Y. Dunkerley n u l l i f i e s her cunning by his impatience with the t r i v i a l yet important nuances of communication that manipulate and influence behaviour; Mrs. H.X.Lemoyne i s intimidated by Myrt, but pampers her by attention and almost deference, an attitude that makes Myrt " f a i r l y coperative" and agreeable, but which would infuriate Mr. Lemoyne - "How cross Hughie would be i f he heard me talking like this!..." - who, i t is implied, as a man i s preoccupied with more important issues in l i f e . H 4 But what is l i f e except an accumulation of l i t t l e things? Because women are of necessity immersed in the innumerable t r i v i a l concerns, the niggling details of everyday l i f e with the involved subtle problems of human 113 "Truth and Mrs. Forrester," pp.114-16. 114 Tuesday and Wednesday, p.11. 95 relationships inherent in raising a family, managing a household, and contributing to the v i t a l i t y and function-ing of the community, they invariably become familiar and conversant with most of the petty sins, jealousies, and deceits to which mankind is prey in the normal exigencies of liv i n g . From this knowledge and from their instinct-ive ruthlessness born of a w i l l to survive, issues the sin of injustice which is not always recognized as being morally wrong, but which disturbs women much more than the punishable 115 transgression of lying. ' "It takes God himself to be f a i r to two different people at once."H6 In Mrs. Wilson's novels there is l i t t l e planned e v i l . The few deliberately lawless crimes as in "Fog" or "Hurry Hurry," or the petty larcency of Yow in The Innocent  Traveller not only are committed by men but are merely incidental to some other theme or aspect of the story. This absence of violence, of destruction, of any connivance to gain unwarranted material or worldly advancement, merely throws into sharp r e l i e f the proliferation of the sins of jealousy, pride, untruthfulness, and deceit. Two intimately Both Maggie and L i l l y possess this ruthlessness, but whereas the problem of injustice is foreign to L i l l y ' s ethic, Maggie is often unbearably tortured by the necessity of choice. 116 Swamp Angel, p.151. 96 related passions in women are responsible for this emphasis on such aberrations: the obsession to preserve the status quo, and the conviction that everyone should have a reason-117 able chance for happiness. Women are most unscrupulous in their methods of preserving harmony. Lies and deceit are rationalized on the basis of the end in view and there is a similar disregard for man-made laws and conventions designed to enforce a common morality. J- L O So, when Maggie weighs the consequences of fl i g h t and concomitant exile against the mutually destructive atmosphere of her marriage with Edward, she decides in favour of self-respect and a restoration of tranquility: It's a good thing I'm going now, she thought as she stirred the gravy. I'm always unfair, now, to Edward. I hate everything he does. He has only to hang up his hat and I despise him. Being near him is awful. I'm unfair to him in my heart always whatever he i s doing, but tonight I shall be gone. 119 When Maggie has agonizingly rationalized her guilt on the basis of the ultimate good, she resolutely banishes 117 In the recent riots in South Africa, in which natives were imprisoned, many white women showed remarkable courage in their support of the suppressed "blacks". 118 See Swamp Angel, p.150 for Mrs. Severance's views on conventional morality. In contrast to her husband, she wants to comply with conventions in order to avoid hurting other humans. 119 Swamp Angel, p.17. 97 further feelings of remorse. Men are usually much more guilt-ridden, being more rigorous about distinctions between right and wrong; when morality defines i t s e l f as black or white they are comparatively untroubled, but when the complexities of expediency, inequality, and divided loyalty intrude, they tend to lose their sense of proportion. It i s this haunted psychological state that is the theme of 120 so many contemporary novels. Paradoxically, pragmatic decisions entailing unkindness, which torture women, hardly disturb most men. An afternoon spent with an aging tiresome couple upsets both Ellen and Huw, but for different reasons: Life is unfair, thought Ellen, Mr. and Mrs. Ransome are innocent and tiresome and quite old, and devouring, and eager, and Huw and I are snooty and heartless and w i l l our-selves be old some day (how tedious Heaven knows) and Huw has behaved like the very devil and I am a monster of duplicity - both ways. Have Mr. and Mrs. Ransome no rights at all? Haven't they even the right to be dull?... But Huw said, staring over the wheel, not 'Well that's over, darling,' but "That's a hell of a way to spend an afternoon! You seemed to enjoy i t - a l l right, a l l right... well, I only said you seemed to anyway...You seem to like those kind of people..."121 Similarly, Mr. Burnaby's incredulous amazement at Frankie's 120 Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter, for instance 121 Love and Salt Water, pp.79-80. 98 v o l u n t a r y " c o n f e s s i o n o f disobedience emphasizes the d i f f e r e n c e i n f l e x i b i l i t y o f viewpoint and conscience between men and women: Father lowered the newspaper and pushed h i s rancher's broad-brimmed hat back from h i s f o r e -head and looked a t me as i f he couldn't b e l i e v e h i s eyes and ears. "Well, I ' l l be blowed" he s a i d s l o w l y , " I can't understand you." "But F a t h e r . . . " "I-don't - want - t o - hear - an y t h i n g -more - about - i t , " he s a i d pausing emphat-i c a l l y a t each word. "You go and t a l k t o your mother."122 A g a i n s t the grimmer, b l a c k e r world t h a t e r r i n g males i n h a b i t , women's s i n e may appear p e t t y and t r i v i a l because t h e y l e a r n e a r l y to compromise, t o l i v e i n a gray w o r l d o f mixed m o r a l i t y where e v i l i s encountered and d i s p a t c h e d with a t o l e r a n t equanimity. Modern p s y c h i -a t r y t r i e s t o induce i n c r i m i n a l s a sense o f r e s p o n s i b i l i t y which, u n f o r t u n a t e l y , i s o f t e n d e s t r u c t i v e u n l e s s one has the f a c u l t y of a c c e p t i n g g u i l t and mistakes without becom-i n g possessed by them. The c a p a c i t y f o r a b s o r b i n g respon-s i b i l i t y without being immersed i n any u n s o l v a b l e moral dilemma i s one of the str e n g t h s o f women, and i s why Mrs. Wilson f i n d s i n them a-compatible v e h i c l e f o r her m o d i f i e d 122 Hetty Dorval, p.51. (Fr a n k i e had been f o r b i d d e n t o see Hetty"; but her innocent and k i n d h e a r t compelled her t o one l a s t explanatory v i s i t . ) 99 existential philosophy, most explicitly stated in Maggie's thoughts as she breaks her routine of work with a relaxing swim: There was this extra feeling about the swim: Maggie's l i f e had so long seemed stagnant that - now that she had moved forward and had found her place with other people again, serving other people again, humoring other people, doing this herself, alone as a swimmer swims, this way or that way, self-directed or directed by c i r -cumstance - Maggie thought sometimes i t ' s like swimming; i t ' s very good, i t ' s nice, she thought, this new life...now I am alone and like a swimmer I have to make my own way on my own power. Swimming i s like l i v i n g , i t i s done alone. She pushed away the knowledge that Vera was quick in liking, but quick in disliking, quickly resentful, quick to be kind, quick to find fault, sometimes sulky, holding her resent-ment. What should that matter, thought Maggie, because that is something I cannot help. I w i l l swim past obstacles...because I am a strong swimmer. She dives off the deck, down into the lake. She rises with bubbles, shakes her head vigor-ously, and strikes out.1^3 123 Swamp Angel, p.99. 100 CHAPTER V THIS MATTER OF TRUTH... " T h i s Matter of t r u t h i s r e a l l y d i f f i c u l t and important," p h i l o s o p h i z e s Laura i n " T r u t h and Mrs. F o r r e s t e r , " as she and her aunt explore t h e i n t r i c a t e c o n v o l u t i o n s of the e t e r n a l s e arch f o r v e r a c i t y , some ab s o l u t e s t a n d a r d a g a i n s t which t o measure i n d i v i d u a l i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s of v i r t u e , honesty, r e a l i t y . The quest i s e n d less and b r i n g s even i t s e l f i n t o q u e s t i o n i n Mrs. Wilson's f i c t i o n , f o r t r u t h and r e a l i t y a r e c o n s t a n t l y changing as people themselves are i n a c o n t i n u a l s t a t e of f l u x , a d j u s t i n g t h e i r p e r s o n a l i t i e s and i d e n t i t i e s w i t h the ebb and fl o w of human involvement. S i n c e women are t he m a t r i x i n which Mrs. Wilson's i d e a s take f o r m a l shape i t i s n a t u r a l t h a t Mrs. F o r r e s t e r , plagued by the puzz l e o f her own psyche, should muse: " . . . i t i s strange ( s t i l l t a l k i n g about t r u t h ) how i n t h e presence of Cousin Max, or Miss R i l e y , or Lee Lorimer Smith - a l l of them n i c e people - i n order t o preserve one's i n t e g r i t y - t h a t i s , t r u t h - one proceeds t o ac t , which i s t o l i e . " 101 "So, Aunt Fanny," s a i d L a u r a " c a n one wonder i f , s i n c e the presence of - f o r example - Cousin Max, or Miss R i l e y , or Mrs. Lorimer Smith, changes one's i d e n t i t y j u s t a l i t t l e , " ("No, a l o t , " s a i d her aunt) " t h a t Moscow...and London and Wash-in g t o n when they a r e reduced t o a c t u a l people t a l k i n g t o each o t h e r change t h e i r i d e n t i t i e s , and complicate i s s u e s , and make t h i n g s very hard f o r my g e n e r a t i o n . . . . " T h i s matter o f t r u t h i s r e a l l y d i f f i c u l t and important. " 1 2 4 T h i s passage ( i n c i d e n t a l l y one of t h e rare but apt i n s t a n c e s i n which Mrs. Wilson b e t r a y s her awareness of t h e p e r t i n e n c e of her themes and philosophy to the mainstream o f human d e s t i n y ) conveys d i r e c t l y and unpre-t e n t i o u s l y the essence of her e x p l o r a t i o n o f r e a l i t y . How impossible i s the d i s c o v e r y of any f i n a l assessment of t r u t h or r e a l i t y i s the impression l e f t by t h i s and n e a r l y a l l her s t o r i e s and n o v e l s . Consider t h e s t o r y j u s t mentioned. Although Laura smugly imagines t h a t she and her aunt are completely themselves when alone t o g e t h e r , t h a t they r e a l l y do "...understand what each other means, and what i s t r u e and what i s f a l s e . . . " , when her aunt r e -c e i v e s the telegram with the joyous news of her husband's recovery, Laura sees "...the t r u e Mrs. F o r r e s t e r s t a n d i n g 124 " T r u t h and Mrs. F o r r e s t e r , " p.112. For another humorously s a t i r i c a l comment on t h i s same theme see "We have t o s i t o p p o s i t e , " i n Mrs. G o l i g h t l y , pp.49-60. 102 there.. .something had changed her into herself.» - L < c o who was she, then, before? Who w i l l she be tomorrow? Illusion and reality continually fluctuate in a manner that defies any logical analysis and prediction, a phenomenon illustrated in "I just love dogs," Mrs. Wilson's f i r s t published story, in which a commonplace incident, s a t i r i c a l l y dramatizing one of the odd "truths" about human behaviour, humorously reveals the unreliability of everyday factual knowledge: It was the queerest feeling. A minute ago there had been the dog dead, as you might say, and us a l l bound together, feeling very important, and very sorry about the dog, and the next minute there was the dog alive and gone, and us a l l feeling pretty s i l l y . ...I didn't get over feeling s i l l y for days and I was so mad at myself that I hadn't even gone into a store and watched for the lady in the purple hat and the policeman exploding at each other down Granville Street to where there was no dog.-^? If people can be so deceived and mesmerized by a "dead" dog, how foolish i s any dogmatic assertion of fact. Always the tocsin i s ready with subtle, intermittent, yet persistent warnings against the purely reasonable interpretation of appearances. Desmond Pacey, in his a r t i c l e "The Innocent "Truth and Mrs. Forrester," p.112 and p.125. 127 P.84. 103 Eye" notes Mrs. Wilson's use of the double-take, both for humorous effects and to prick the bubble of her own drama with the needle of irony, in passages such as: The Indians always looked as i f they had not^gg to do, and perhaps they had nothing to and It was evident that Mr. Sandbach had something to say. He looked down at her with the kind look that was to her so personal and tender. (Oh, look at Holy Willie!")129 However there is another significance to these personal intrusions which are often bracketed and therefore empha-sized: their overall effect i s to underline the elusive nature of reality in the light of man's conditioned biases and responses. As in a l l f i c t i o n the "famous' twins," appear-ance and reality, provide one of the fundamental problems explored and the conflict engendered i s usually basic to the theme, whether i t be the loss of innocence attendant on maturity, or an enquiry into the nature of e v i l , or simply why mankind in general exists behind false fronts. Today no one doubts the reality of the outside world but, 128 Hetty Dorval, p . l . Pacey, p.43. 129 The Innocent Traveller, p.53. 104 as s c i e n t i f i c facts accumulate i n stockpiles of discoveries, the mind, forced into heretofore unimaginable realms, rebels against such incomprehensible expansion, seeking assurance and j u s t i f i c a t i o n f o r i t s own existence i n a phenomeno-: l o g i c a l view of r e a l i t y . Objects and facts have r e a l l y no existence i n themselves, depending f o r t h e i r being on in d i v i d u a l recognition and interpretation, a most s a t i s f y i n g credo i n that man i s able to blot out the cold formulation of empirical knowledge with contradictions that substitute an e s t h e t i c a l l y s a t i s f y i n g r e v i s i o n or representation. As has been noted, Mrs. Wilson's e x i s t e n t i a l philosophy i s always adulterated by psychological flavour-ings, but never more so than i n her recorded v i s i o n of the nature of truth and r e a l i t y . So that while interpretation i s undoubtedly subjective, the influence of environment, 'especially of people, i s extremely powerful. Although there are as many truths as there are eyes that see, every one apprehending r e a l i t y from a d i f f e r e n t angle, each unique view i s v a l i d . In "God help the young fishman," Mrs. Wilson leavens with l i g h t humour the assertion that any standard-i z i n g of human reactions and apprehension i s impossible. In t h i s t r i v i a l episode, a young fishman, a f t e r a trying progression of indecisive v a c i l l a t i n g customers whose f l u t -t e r i n g has strained his patience to the point of u n c i v i l 105 silence, ...looked about him at the customers. "Next?" he said. "Two herrings," said a bad-tempered looking woman with a dark moustache. "Did you say two herrings?" said the young fishman with a light in his eyes. "You heard me," snapped the customer. What a lovely lady, thought the young f i s h -man, what a lovely lady. He looked tenderly, earnestly at the bad-tempered-looking woman in whom a l l the sins of woman were forgiven on account of two herrings. S t i l l the young man gazed. Something was held suspended. The f i s h shop seemed to dream. What's wrong with him, the bad-tempered-woman thought uneasily. God, what's he looking at; and instinctively she covered her moustache with her hand. The young fishman gave her the small parcel and unwillingly withdrew his eyes from her.130 Just as i t i s "...a matter of light f a l l i n g , how green or how not green the forests can be,"131 s o do people, events, things, di f f e r according to "whose ox i s being gored." Mrs. Wilson never suggests stopping at any iso-lated interpretation. Her own vision i s wide and encom-passing and in demonstrating the validity of a multiple view she invites her reader to form a more comprehensive and integrated outlook, thereby not only becoming more tolerant of others, but better able to understand one's own place in the wider view of being. Human nature i s not in i t s e l f logical, being a disturbing but appealing paradox 1 3 0 P . 4 8 . 131 Swamp Angel, p.104. 106 of endearing and r e p e l l e n t c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s . What i s enduring, and t h e r e f o r e r e a l , i s the e t e r n a l change, the c o n t i n u a l process of H e r a c l e t i a n becoming, which confuses the problem i n a d e l i g h t f u l melee of s h i f t i n g viewpoints. Were i t p o s s i b l e t o i s o l a t e and a r r e s t some p o r t i o n of existence i n space and time would i t then be r e a l and immutable? Mrs. Wilson questions t h i s a few times i n her f i c t i o n . In Hetty Dorval Frankie d i s c o v e r s the r e l a t i v e nature of t r u t h by an unconscious a s s o c i a t i o n of a n a t u r a l and a human d i s t o r t i o n : immediately before she records a chance s i g h t of Hetty i n Vancouver, Frankie had described the m i r r o r i n her room t h a t " . . . s e i z e d and i s o l a t e d a p o r t i o n of the b e a u t i f u l descending and ascending l i n e s of the mountains..." (the S l e e p i n g Beauty, n o t i n g t h a t j f " . . . t h i s r e f l e c t -i o n , h e l d i n the c i r c u l a r frame, had more u n i t y and s i g n i f i c a n c e than when you turned and saw i t ' s substance as only part of the t r u e f l o w i n g c o n t i n -uous l i n e of the mountains."132 Although she f i n d s Hetty "...as b e a u t i f u l there as when, i n L y t t o n , no one had challenged comparison,"^33 F r a n k i e i s dimly aware t h a t Hetty, by h e r s e l f , has much more power and i n f l u e n c e than when compared wi t h or judged against t h i n g s that matter. In the l a r g e r v i s i o n Hetty i s r a t h e r 132 Hetty Dorval, pp.52-53. 133 Hetty Dorval, p.53. 107 an i n s i g n i f i c a n t f a c t o r and, suggests the author, as Frankie's experience and outlook broadens, Hetty w i l l fade i n t o i n d i s t i n g u i s h a b l e o u t l i n e s as she becomes the v i c t i m of both time and change. Seen i n London i n a bare room under the harsh g l a r e of an unshaded l i g h t , Hetty no longer challenges comparison: t h i s once d i s t u r b i n g beauty appears faded and a l i t t l e p i t i a b l e to the maturing, i n t e l l i g e n t , and observant yoking lady, Frankie. No longer the wide-eyed romantic who has " i s o l a t e d " Hetty, Frankie i s now able to c o r r e l a t e her various y o u t h f u l impressions of Hetty w i t h her own maturing i n s i g h t and the r e a c t i o n s of her f r i e n d s i n t o a balanced comprehensive whole. Truth i s only v i s i b l e i n Mrs. Wilson's world i n r e l a t i o n t o human a c t i v i t y . There are, however, incom-prehensible realms of being, a vast superconscious, which transcends i n b r i e f f l a s h e s the b a r r i e r s of reason, l o g i c , and even s e n s i b i l i t y , t o h i g h l i g h t a t i n y p o r t i o n of l i f e i n an i n t o x i c a t i n g or f r i g h t e n i n g moment of t r u t h . Some-times, f o r an i n s t a n t , time and space seem t o d i s s o l v e i n a m y s t i c a l evocation of t i m e l e s s c r e a t i o n . This mood i s s u c c e s s f u l l y created i n "The corner of X and Y s t r e e t , " a haunting d e s c r i p t i o n of a dreamy impromptu concert by an accordion player who, i n the dim l i g h t looked "...sad, or quenched, and detached from the s t r e e t corner and from 108 people," and a g i r l who simply " l i f t e d up her v o i c e , " and a seaman who danced l i k e a marionette i n c a n t i n g a strange and g h o s t l y d i r g e as an accompaniment to h i s balancing and wheeling, so t h a t the n a r r a t o r , obviously Mrs. Wilson, both questions and accepts the mystery: We were very much s u r p r i s e d by t h i s stranger, and h i s dances. Everything - l i g h t , shadows, time, distance seemed t o focus on him. There was s i l e n c e somewhere, and we turned t o look at the accordion player who seemed to have stopped p l a y -i n g , but he was not there. We turned t o look at the dancer, but he had gone. The g i r l and her boy were not t h e r e . . . . Had these t h i n g s happened? Yes, and they had l e f t no t r a c e as dreams leave no t r a c e . Something had snapped and ended and now everything was ordinary...we f i n i s h e d up at Gafe' Royal where there were pl e n t y of ghosts i f one could see them. This year I heard t h a t Oscar Wilde used t o frequent K e t t n e r ' s . I do not understand these t h i n g s but f o r t e n minutes there had been some-t h i n g simple and complicated and timeless on the corner of X and Y streets. 1 3 4 S i m i l a r l y E l l e n i s puzzled by the r e l a t i o n s h i p of r e a l i t y and l i g h t (and i t s negation - darkness): The thought alarmed her - what i s around us? She d i d not a t t h a t moment t h i n k t h a t there was somewhere some p a r a l l e l of l i g h t and darkness, of i l l u m i n a t i o n and b l o t t i n g - o u t , «and perhaps our whole e x i s t e n c e , one w i t h another, i s a t r i c k of l i g h t . This may be somewhere near the t r u t h , which i s o f t e n hard t o determine because of the presence of l i g h t s and shadows of look, word, thought which touch, g l i d e , pass or remain. Sometimes the l i g h t f a l l s , and r e s t s , w i t h a b e a u t i f u l c l a r i t y , and t r u t h l i e s c l e a r . That 134 P.88. 109 was the case with Ellen and her great friend Isa Graham...and i t had always been so with her mother and with B i l l y Peake.... -But with Huw and Ellen the light did not f a l l clear.135 Here, both the cause of Ellen's philosophical musings con-comitants with her sleeplessness and the example given of a clear truth involve the changing kaleidoscope of human involvements. . Mrs. Wilson's few brief excursions into the realm of metaphysics simply endorse her practical, man-centred theories of truth. That ultimate reality i s tantalizingly elusive is an unmixed blessing, for were i t known or know-able there would be no possibility, no change, ho becoming, no human freedom, which are a l l so essential to human existence and meaning. Only when people think they know the answers do they cease to have an authenticity. They become arrested, imprisoned in a meaningless vacuum because of the absence of possibility, of a reason for search. Men do not search for things but for the search of things. Until he begins slowly and dimly to sense a mysterious un-known beckoning to him, Mr. Willy might as well be buried in his house with:the penetrating window. But stirred by the wonder and portent of the Northern Lights, his stagnant peace becomes troubled by vague, uneasy stirrings: 135 Love and Salt Water, pp.71-72. 110 In his l i f e of decisions...he had sometimes looked forward but so vaguely and r a r e l y to a time when he would not only put t h i s l i f e down; he would leave i t . Now he had l e f t i t and here he was by his window. As time went on, though, he had to make an e f f o r t to summon t h i s happiness, for i t seemed to elude him. ..."You do not matter any more," said the s p e c t r e " b e c a u s e you are no longer i n touch with anyone and so you do not e x i s t . You are i n a vacuum and so you are nothing."136 As i s usual i n Mrs. Wilson's s t o r i e s , t h i s excursion into metaphysics precedes a c l a r i f i c a t i o n of a p r a c t i c a l or moral question. Mr. Willy begins to doubt his smug with-drawal. Sometimes a storm would get up and the wind, howling well, would lash the window...carrying the s a l t spray from a very high t i d e which i t flung against the great panes of glass. That was a s a t i s f a c t i o n to Mr. Willy and within him something s t i r r e d and rose and met the storm and effaced the spectre and other phantoms which were r e a l l y vague regrets. ' Mr. Willy i s beginning to see that r e a l i t y and truth l i e standard of morality be formulated? Mrs. Wilson offers no only i n action and change, and i n p o s s i b i l i t y . I f t r u t h i s always becoming, how can any absolute 136 "The Window," pp.197-98. 137 Ibid., p.198. I l l solution. Suggesting tolerance and understanding, she merely presents without judgement or bias the paradoxical nature of morality. A moral code, like a legal code, i s based on the over-all needs of a specific society. One t e l l s the truth and behaves according to social conventions. In order to survive, man has to bend before social pressures as much as before physical strength, so Mrs. Golightly i s a misfit u n t i l she accepts with clear eyes the exagger-ations and harmless deceptions of the "convention" world. Morality i s not a set of abstract rules inscribed on man's conscience; i t is a system of social functions consoli-dated under pressure of collective needs. Its positive function is to render society possible by allowing individ-uals to li v e together without too many conflicts. Separate groups of people may have, entirely different concepts of harmony and needs and obligations necessitating widely different social or moral codes; polygamy, polyandry, promiscuity, anathema to the western christian concept of l i f e and marriage, have long been sensible, workable, and happy conventions among people with less complicated social structures, more primitive needs, and, perhaps, a broader concept of the function of love and sex. Collective conventions of moral and social behaviour also serve as protection for both the strong and 112 the weak. Is L i l l y immoral because she sees and uses this collective morality in her own manner?1-^ Women are really born anarchists, much less scrupulous than men in their expedient manipulations of existing conventions. Is L i l l y , then, simply a l i a r , her whole l i f e being one prolonged falsehood? Whatever L i l l y ' s other transgressions and per-sonal ethic, should she be labelled a sinner for her invention of a husband, thereby assuring, with hurt to no one, both respectability and a chance at economic security for herself, and happiness for her innocent daughter in a mentally and physically healthy environment, the absence of which stunted L i l l y ' s own early growth? Since the family unit provided no legitimate protection for L i l l y as a child, is she not now illegitimately entitled to the benefits of the institutions of a culture to which she becomes an •efficient and dependable contributor? Is she not, in a curious reversal, as much Mrs. Walter Hughes as Maggie i s Mrs. Lloyd, or Hilda's mother is Mrs. Severance?139 Which i s more beneficial to the development of a satisfying and evolving individuality and to society in general, and more in harmony with the accepted social ethic: ignorant, irresponsible L i l l y Waller, drifting along on the shady side of the law; or Mrs. Walter Hughes, hard working, contented, 138 L i l l y ' s Story. 139 Maggie i s really Mrs. Vardoe, and Mrs. Severance was never legally married. 113 productive, expanding to her limited capacity in the responsibility of love? To make il l u s i o n turn to reali t y is d i f f i c u l t : It must be admitted that years passed before L i l l y f e l t secure in the Valley, and the reality of the edifice which she had built, of which Mrs. Walter Hughes was the culmination, wavered sometimes uncertainly before the pseudo-reality of what had really been her l i f e . 1 ^ - 0 But L i l l y becomes so thoroughly Mrs. Walter Hughes that after ten years of daily association with her, Matron "explains" her mother to Eleanor: "I've thought of your mother," she continued as they went slowly along the road, "poor, yes, very poor, Eleanor, and ignorant - yes, you know i t and I know i t - fresh from the country, knowing nothing of the world, and friendless, with herself to support, and a small baby that was you, and no chance to think of herself and only her own health and courage to support you both...I've seen g i r l s like that go out of the hospital.... "Don't mind that I said this, Eleanor, w i l l you, but...well, your mother's a puritan" (oh Yow oh Ranny)....141 A very queer mixture of facts and fantasy blend into a true picture of L i l l y , which is integrated with Eleanor's love for her mother into an understanding appreciation: A faint new illumination in the g i r l ' s mind showed her mother to her not as an adult person, * L i l l y ' s Story, pp.209-10. 141 Ibid., p.232. 114 not wise like Matron, not light of touch like Mrs. Sample, not even as clever as Eleanor,fbut as a puritan g i r l , grown old. Eleanor f e l t more experienced than her mother, but not as good, nor so true, nor so strong, nor so unselfish. 14-2 L i l l y ' s morality i s individual and yet collective. "In the small change of daily living, L i l l y gave and expected truth," but she never scrupled to l i e "for expediency".143 Whereas Mrs. Severance and Maggie, both scrupulously honest in daily intercourse and hating the deceit forced upon them by circumstance, are nevertheless equally as guilty as L i l l y in l i v i n g a protracted l i e . What L i l l y illustrates negative-ly, the other women show positively - that every moral person is at times immoral, an inevitable result of the false dichotomy of good and e v i l , of right and wrong, that society of necessity forces upon the individual. If L i l l y escapes censure in spite of her selfish pragmatism, how much more justifiable, in a Christian culture, should be a social crime for the benefit of another, or others? One might argue that the Government is now the Robin Hood, and that laws and institutions evolve to absorb the changing concept of morality. That human mutations seem to outdistance the limiting imposed constrictions of con-ventional behaviour i s why p o l i t i c a l and social sciences 142 L i l l y ' s Story, p. 232. 143 Ibid • > p.247. 115 must i n t e r p e n e t r a t e and i n t e r f e r t i l i z e . Mrs. Wilson sees a compassionate s u b j e c t i v e moral code grounded i n human experience, with a f l e x i b l e e v o l v i n g e t h i c t h a t recognizes the r o l e of the s e l f i n the c u l t u r e . As the s e l f i s a process, not an e n t i t y , so i s t r u t h acchanging discovery, i n which human agents play a c r e a t i v e r o l e . That t r u t h i s newly created every minute by even the humblest and most c o l o u r l e s s of creatures i s s u r p r i s -i n g l y i l l u s t r a t e d by the a n t i - c l i m a x i n Tuesday and Wednesday, i n which V i c k i ' s imaginary v e r s i o n of Mort's death i s c l o s e r t o the t r u t h than the o f f i c i a l r e p o r t . W e l l i n g from the depths of her character and l i f e - how e a s i l y i t came, from the depth of the l i f e t h a t she l i v e d i n her dreamings and imaginings and the newspapers which were her f a i r y t a l e s . . . -the l i e became a c t u a l i t y , and as she repeats her s t o r y the p i c t u r e of Morty's dive from the wharf was so r e a l t o her t h a t she h e r s e l f was deeply moved by i t . 1 4 5 By her one g l o r i o u s , a s s e r t i v e , and compassionate l i e (which was based on t r u t h ) she had done Mort a s e r v i c e , had secured Myrt's self-esteem, and had ensured f o r 144 P.122. 145 P.125. 116 herself a glorious memory that was to sustain her in her loneliness for the rest of her l i f e . It i s a part of Mrs. Wilson's own r e a l i s t i c view that Vicki's l i f e i s essentially unaltered by her one "epiphany". Habit i s the great destroyer. So, implicit in Vicki's situation is the realization that the untapped potential in even the most colourless and ungifted personage is withered by the prevalent anguish of not belonging. The problem of the modern age i s to find fulfillment in the shifting social r e a l i t y . Man cannot find truth in the abstract; the struggle must be defined in social terms. In Mrs. Wilson's fiction-the tare that balances the philosophical structure with the development of the authentic and ab-sorbing characters i s the social reality. In a fascinat-ing analysis of a novel's function, Lionel T r i l l i n g describes a complex culture as a continuing adjustment of the conflict engendered by the multiplicity of manners and the shifting of social c l a s s e s . H i s thesis is that social classes and money produce as great differences of personality as do varied endowments of power and talents. The Colonel's lady and Judy O'Grady are not sisters under the skin. So much has been written about the personality "Manners, Morals and the Novel," Forms of Modern  Fiction, Indiana University Press, 1961, p.146. 117 and problems of the a r t i s t , t h a t today most of the r e a d i n g p u b l i c r e c o g n i z e and compensate f o r t h i s "queerness". But the v e r y fundamental p r i n c i p l e s of the democratic way of l i f e are a stumbling b l o c k t o a d m i t t i n g t h a t d i f f e r e n c e i n s o c i a l c l a s s and i n wealth are r e a l enough t o manifest themselves i n an observable v a r i e t y of manners and morals. I t i s t o t a l l y u n r e a l , i t i s a d e l u s i o n t h a t mocks reason and o b s e r v a t i o n , t o assume t h a t a wealthy lumber magnate, f o r i n s t a n c e , and a p e n n i l e s s ' g a r d e n e r d i f f e r e s s e n t i a l l y IZJ.7 o n l y i n t h e i r s o c i a l commitments and m a t e r i a l comfort. S o c i e t i e s with a r e c o g n i z e d and accepted c l a s s s t r u c t u r e are marked by an easy f a m i l i a r i t y and a mutual a p p r e c i a t i o n between t h e s t r a t a , but i n a c u l t u r e t h a t w i l f u l l y b l i n d s i t s e l f t o e i t h e r the f a c t or the p o s s i b i l i t y , t h a t r e f u s e s t o r e c o g n i z e the r e a l i t y and power of c l a s s , . a l l manner of pretence, resentment, and i n v e r t e d snobbery and g u i l t d i s -r u p t t h e p u r s u i t of happiness or even contentment, the dubious aim of democracy. There never has been or ever w i l l be any guarantee of j u s t i c e . I nstead of r e c o g n i z i n g the r e a l i t y of snobbery, of the. p r e s s u r e s a t work i n an i n c r e a s i n g l y complex s o c i e t y which impinge on the i n d i v i d u a l , s e t t i n g the p a t t e r n f o r h i s p e r s o n a l i t y , the " f r e e " man continues t o harbour th e i l l u s i o n of e q u a l i t y which r e s u l t s i n b i z a r r e and h i l a r i o u s l y r i d i c u l o u s s o c i a l c o n d i t i o n s . Tuesday and Wednesday u n d e r l i n e s the g u l f between such people. 118 For i n s t a n c e , i t i s a s t o c k s i t u a t i o n i n comedy t h a t menials or. domestics can reduce t h e i r a f f l u e n t and i n -t e l l i g e n t s u p e r i o r s and employers t o a b j e c t and fawning i n f e r i o r s . What manner of i l l u s i o n i s i t t h a t can make a s u p e r i o r person f e e l g u i l t y because of h i s p o s i t i o n ? Mrs. Wilson i n v i t e s her r e a d e r t o face s o c i a l r e a l i t y , and helps him laugh a t h i s b l i n d n e s s , by demonstrating the a b s u r d i t y p e r p e t r a t e d by a f a l s e c o n s c i e n c e . In " T r u t h and Mrs. F o r r e s t e r , " although t h e two women are i n t e l l i g e n t , warm, i n t e r e s t i n g , b r a v e l y and s u c c e s s f u l l y h i d i n g or s u b l i m a t i n g t h e i r own deep p e r s o n a l t r o u b l e s i n order t o m a i ntain a b e a r a b l e e q u i l i b r i u m i n t h e i r necessary d a i l y i n t e r c o u r s e w i t h each other and w i t h t h e i r segment of s o c i e t y , i t takes only the v o l u b l e and energetic' o c c a s i o n a l servant t o a l t e r t h e i r whole demeanor, because they cannot see o r w i l l not acknowledge t h a t p r i d e of c l a s s i s r e a l and v i t a l and t h a t a b l i n d d e n i a l of i t s e x i s t e n c e i s i n v e r t e d snobbery: Miss R i l e y (the domestic) advanced i n t o the middle of the room b r i n g i n g i n t o the room w i t h her some k i n d of d i s l o c a t i o n or perhaps some ki n d of re-adjustment.... Mrs. F o r r e s t e r p a i d more than wages t o Miss R i l e y ....she c o u l d not be s m i l e d w i t h , and responded t o , and l o s t (as i s done at p a r t i e s ) w i t h impunity, because Mrs. F o r r e s t e r was i n t h r a l l t o her. On e n t e r i n g t h e room Miss R i l e y became at once the p r i n c i p a l c h a r a c t e r i n i t , and Laura and Mrs. F o r r e s t e r soon l o s t t h e i r i d e n t i t i e s 119 as two women conversing as they pleased in a slightly superior and literary and independent manner; they became as two spaniels, sitting and gazing upon Miss. Riley while she spun her cocoon of words - two cigarette-smoking spaniels.148 Similarly Myrt and Mrs. Lemoyne seem to have their roles interchanged: Mrs. H.X.Lemoyne apologized for a l l of this and f e l t she was .not paying Myrtle enough for coming and then said she had the dessert ready and what else would Myrt like her to do.149 Both ridiculous situations are due to a false conception of social r e a l i t y . One of Mrs. Wilson's strengths is that from her impartial observation of the manners of individuals she has built, not an abstract model of society, but a r e a l i s t i c edifice of typical people whose differences although exaggerated somewhat, are never idealized or sentimental-ized. Her gentle and comical satire prods the reader into an analysis of the social reality of Canadian or Western culture in which values and truth vary not only according to the individual but also to his status in the community. No false moral indignation is permitted to smoulder; the 148 Pp.122-23. 149 Tuesday and Wednesday, p.11. 120 middle c l a s s r e a d i n g p u b l i c i s i n v i t e d t o q u e s t i o n i t s own motives which o f t e n l u r k undiscovered under an a l t r u i s t i c f r o n t . I t i s perhaps no a c c i d e n t t h a t i n Mrs. Wilson's f i c t i o n , t he only t o t a l l y u n s e l f i s h a c t i o n s are a t t r i b u t e d t o people o u t s i d e the ro c o g n i z e d s o c i a l c l a s s e s : V i c k i i s an outc a s t from a l l l e v e l s ; Captain Crabbe i s u n c l a s s i f i e d ; Annie Hastings would be unique i n any c u l t u r e ; Maggie t r i e s t o renounce c i v i l i z a t i o n . When Myrt j u s t i f i e s her bad temper and s l o v e n l y h a b i t s by r a t i o n a l i z i n g about the use-l e s s n e s s and unpleasantness of s o c i e t y women, when Mrs. Severance excuses her own s e l f i s h n e s s , on the ground t h a t humanity i s not her concern, when even Fra n k i e condemns Hetty only when her own i n t e r e s t s are threaten e d , the reader i s b e i n g asked t o examine h i s own b e l i e f s and m o t i v a t i o n t o t r y and d i s c e r n t h e t r u t h behind h i s l o f t y and o f t e n i l l u s o r y a b s t r a c t i o n s . F o r t r u t h i s exposed, not by s t r i p p i n g away masks as i s o f t e n propounded, but by r e c o g n i z i n g t h a t each d i f f e r e n t f a c e t o r aspect c o n t r i b u t e s t o the o v e r a l l r e a l i t y . The essence o f a t h i n g i s d e r i v e d from a d i s t i l l a t i o n o f a l l i t s a t t r i b u t e s ; i t i s not d i s c o v e r a b l e by p e e l i n g o f f i t s f u n c t i o n a l or p r o t e c t i v e l a y e r s hoping t o a r r i v e at some u l t i m a t e magic k e r n e l . Take away the v a r i o u s and c o n t r a -d i c t o r y views of Mort and t h e r e would remain - no t h i n g . T h i s o r d i n a r y man i s a complex amalgam of a " s u p e r i o r type 121 of husband" and a "lazy undependable," a " l i t t l e boy" and a "kindly, chivalrous, handsome male," a "good-humoured gardener" and an "unreasonably mad man," a "no-good who died a drunken death in poor company" and "a man who died the death of a heroj' and so on. The complex dependability of Morgan Peake eludes analysis because his various sides are manifest only in a specialized c l i m a t e ; 1 ^ whereas the relative i n s t a b i l i t y of Vera Gunnarsen makes her personality a palimpsest, obscure only because of i t s shallowness and inconstancy. So what i s Mrs. Wilson's overall view of truth or reality? As i t must be with existential thinkers, her own open-mindedness thwarts any absolute certainty about truth. This does not mean that she regards the world as merely a projection of individual interpretation with no independent reality. Perhaps an ultimate truth l i e s be-yond man's limited cognition and comprehension, as i s suggested in her mystical scenes and stories, but she favours an intelligent, flexible acceptance and enjoyment of the natural, social, and individual worlds in which modern man - or rather woman - must fashion her own truth. The reality of things, of people, of l i f e , i s an adding together - no, i t i s an inter-relationship of 150 Morgan is Ellen's brother-in-law in Love and Salt Water. 122 m u l t i t u d i n o u s e l e m e n t s " m o v i n g , c l e a v i n g , c l o s i n g , s l i d i n g , " e v e r c h a n g i n g , e v e r p r e s e n t i n g some new s y n t h e s i s . S u c h i s t h e u n o b t r u s i v e b u o y a n c y t h a t s u p p o r t s M r s . W i l s o n ' s p a r t i c -u l a r v i s i o n o f r e a l i t y . L i k e s o c i e t y a n d n a t u r e , man i s a l w a y s m o r e t h a n h e a p p e a r s t o b e , a n d i n t h i s v e r y a l l -e n c o m p a s s i n g l i e s t h e p o s s i b i l i t y o f b e i n g o r d o i n g m o r e . M a n k i n d c a t c h e s o n l y f l e e t i n g g l i m p s e s o f t h e g r e a t e r g l o r y t h a t c a n b e h i s , b u t , a s M r s . W i l s o n o b s e r v e s , w h e n t h e m o u n t a i n s b e y o n d t h e c i t y a r e c o v e r e d w i t h s n o w t o t h e i r b a s e , t h e l a t e a f t e r n o o n l i g h t f a l l i n g o b l i q u e l y f r o m t h e w e s t u p o n t h e l o n g s l o p e s d i s c l o s e s new c o n t o u r s . F o r a f e w m o m e n t s o f t i m e t h e a u s t e r i t y v a n i s h e s , a n d t h e m o u n t a i n s a p p e a r i n n o c e n t l y f o l d e d i n f u r r y w h i t e . T h e i r d a i l y l o o k h a s g o n e . F o r t h o s e f e w m o m e n t s t h e s l a n t i n g r a y s c u r i o u s l y d i s c o v e r e a c h s e p a r a t e t r e e b e h i n d e a c h s e p a r a t e t r e e i n t h e i n f i n i t e w h i t e f o r e s t s . T h e n t h e l i g h t f a d e s , a n d t h e f a m i l i a r m o u n t a i n s r e s u m e t h e i r d a i l y l o o k a g a i n . T h e l i g h t h a s g o n e , b u t t h o s e who h a v e s e e n i t w i l l remember.-*-51 151 " H u r r y , h u r r y , " p.106. 123 CHAPTER VI CONCLUSION I t i s r e a d i l y observable t h a t Mrs. Wilson's themes are r e a l l y j u s t strands of her o v e r a l l philosophy of l i f e . R a r e l y , except i n a few of her l e s s s u c c e s s f u l s t o r i e s , does she impose on her s t o r y l i n e any c o n s c i o u s -l y formulated argument f o r reform i n manners, morals or 152 a t t i t u d e . But, more than a mere s t o r y - t e l l e r , her - p e r s o n a l i t y s u f f u s e s her work, which imports an i n d e f i n a b l e v i t a l i t y t h a t s t i m u l a t e s the reader t o see, t o f e e l , and so t o t h i n k , and her p e r s o n a l i n t e g r i t y p r o j e c t s her i d e a s i n t o her w r i t i n g which shines w i t h complete honesty. When a w r i t e r has t o manipulate the' s t o r y , p l o t , or c h a r a c t e r s , bending and d i s t o r t i n g them t o i l l u s t r a t e h i s i d e a s , not o n l y i s the c r e d i b i l i t y s t r e t c h e d too f a r , but the reader l o s e s confidence and the v i t a l i t y i s d i s s i p a t e d . ^ ^ 3 Mrs. Wilson's ideas are seldom o b t r u s i v e but a c t l i k e l a t e n t hormones t o c o n t r o l a l l the other elements adding 152 Love and S a l t Water, which i s d i s c u s s e d l a t e r , i s a l e s s s u c c e s s f u l s t o r y , as i s "Fog," and "Beware the Jabberwock, my son," to a degree. 153 In Canadian f i c t i o n , Hugh MacLennan's Two S o l i t u d e s i s an example o f an i d e a or argument being imposed on the n a r r a t i v e t o the detriment ( i n the l a s t s e c t i o n ) of the c r e d i b i l i t y of both c h a r a c t e r s and s t o r y . 124 significance and energy without being themselves visible to the casual observer. Embracing l i f e in general, her modified exist-ential philosophy postulates specific theorems which are manifest in her treatment of plot, story, character, and setting. Usually when the theme and ideas in a work of f i c t i o n are allowed to dominate and smother the story, one's enjoyment slowly expires; conversely, should the story completely obscure the supporting philosophy, the novel dies as the book is closed, for then no provocative complexity of vision, no disturbing rea'sonance of the profundity of l i f e reverberates in the memory, pushing the soul or consciousness to an expanded awareness. In Mrs. Wilson's best books the plot, characters, and incor-porated ideas blend into a harmonious and pleasing a r t i s t i c whole. The meaningful structure and the sen-sitive and f u l l characterization in Tuesday and Wednesday, for example, embody the existential theme with an economic precision that elevates a commonplace story of a universal situation into a superb a r t i s t i c masterpiece. Henry James maintained that i f readers "...don't care about your ideas they won't 'a f o r t i o r i ' care about your treatment." 1^ 154 Henry James, "The Art of Fiction," The Study of  Literature, Boston, I960, p.108. 125 But t h i s i s not q u i t e t r u e . T h i s n o v e l l a , a t l e a s t , seems to r e f u t e such a t h e s i s . Her e x i s t e n t i a l philosophy, r e -p e l l e n t , as such, t o some people, i s so interwoven i n t o the substance o f her n o v e l l a t h a t the u n d e r l y i n g i d e a s are accepted almost u n c o n s c i o u s l y i n the overwhelming d e l i g h t at the humorous r e v e l a t i o n o f human f o i b l e s . In t h i s b r i e f work, t h e s u g g e s t i o n t h a t s e l f - a s s e r t i o n determines p e r s o n a l f u l f i l l m e n t r i s e s by an almost i n v i s i b l e osmosis through the p l e a s a n t l y l i n g e r i n g impression o f r a t h e r i r o n i c humour, s t i m u l a t i n g a sharper concern w i t h the meaning of l i f e . Probably never has anyone succeeded i n g r a s p i n g , or even imagining, any t a n g i b l e i d e a o f the meaning or value of l i f e , but f o r m i l l e n i a not only t h i n k e r s and a r t i s t s but a l s o common men have been obsessed w i t h t h i s e t e r n a l quest. I t i s the i n t e r m i n a b l e search f o r t r u t h , f o r r e a l i t y , f o r an end to i l l u s i o n . But as has been p o s t u l a t e d i n t h i s t h e s i s , the meaning of i l l u s i o n and r e a l i t y as they a re used i n o r d i n a r y everyday l i f e i s u n s a t i s f a c t o r y and very m i s l e a d i n g i n p o r t r a y i n g a com-prehensive and i n t e g r a t e d v i s i o n o f being. What a c t u a l l y happens t o people, what people do, i s r e a l i t y . I f they l i v e w i t h i l l u s i o n s , or dreams, t h i s too i s r e a l i t y and i s not n e c e s s a r i l y analagous w i t h incompetence and i n -a b i l i t y t o l e a d a f r u i t f u l l i f e . S e l f - d e c e p t i o n and 126 day-dreaming are o f t e n necessary. The r e a l i s t i c n o v e l i s t i s not one t h a t merely portrays the horrors and d e l i g h t s of e x i s t e n c e , but one who i s aware that the human con-sciousness i s t o t a l l y inadequate t o grasp the p o t e n t i a l inherent i n l i v i n g . " A l l a r t i s a protest at the l i m i t -a t i o n of human consciousness." 1-^ Mrs. Wilson's books are graphic i l l u s t r a t i o n s of the various ways i n which the human consciousness manifests i t s poverty. The Equations  of Love, which proposes t o answer or discuss Mr. Chadband's query, "what i s t h i s T e r e w t h . . . f i r s t l y ( i n a s p i r i t of love) what i s the common s o r t of Terewth," 1-^ i s a n e x p l o r a t i o n of the kind of love of which people of l i m i t -ed consciousness (which i n c l u d e s everybody) are capable, but the l i n g e r i n g impression of both s t o r i e s i s tha t even the shallowest p e r s o n a l i t y can transcend i t s apparent l i m i t a t i o n s , b r i e f l y and o c c a s i o n a l l y . Most c r i t i c s concur i n t h e i r a p p r a i s a l t h a t while her d e l i b e r a t e l y r e s t r i c t e d scope achieves an e f f e c t i v e and poignant c o n c e n t r a t i o n of i n t e r e s t , Mrs. Wilson's avoidance of any e x p l o r a t i o n i n t o the "heart of darkness" precludes 155 C o l i n Wilson, The Strength t o Dream, Boston, R i v e r -side Press, 1962, p.62. 156 Equations of Love, Frontpiece. 127 the achievement of a well-articulated novel. In the f i r s t place her vision i s far wider than a cursory reading of her f i c t i o n suggests (as this thesis has attempted to demonstrate): an almost poetic compression intimates endless vistas of human suffering: some l i t t l e bird flew into this familiar reflection and dashed himself against the real glass and f e l l , with i t s mouth spl i t and i t s bones broken by the passion of i t s f l i g h t . And yesterday I had bashed my head against the reality that was waiting for me, invisible, and had nearly broken my neck. The thought of the merry birds and the birds in the years to be, f a l l i n g outside the window sickened me. A bird is-so free; 158 and of sin and guilt : the man who had k i l l e d her reached the cover of the hedge, out of sight of that woman with the dogs. When he reached the cover of the hedge he began to run across the tussocky fields, stumbling, half-blind, sobbing, crying out loud.159 Perhaps the vagaries of human conduct viewed from the outside do spin too tenuous a thread to support See, for instance, Claude Bissell's remarks in U.T.Q., xx i i (April 1953), 288-92, and Gael Turnbull's review of Equations of Love in Northern Review, VI, no.2 (June-July 1953), 36-40. "The Birds," p.64. 159 "Hurry, hurry," p.110. 128 t h e w e i g h t o f a l o n g e r , m o r e c o m p r e h e n s i v e w o r k . C o n s i d e r h e r l a t e s t n o v e l , L o v e a n d S a l t W a t e r . I n t h i s t o o d i s -c u r s i v e b o o k , M r s . W i l s o n a t t e m p t s t o s t r e t c h t h e r e a d e r ' s p e r c e p t i o n i n t i m e a n d s p a c e b y c h r o n i c l i n g t h e e m o t i o n a l d e v e l o p m e n t o f a s e n s i t i v e a n d i n t e l l i g e n t g i r l , f r o m a h a p p y a n d s h e l t e r e d c h i l d h o o d , t h r o u g h a n a w a k e n i n g t o t h e m e a n i n g l e s s n e s s o f l i f e , i n t o a n a f f i r m a t i v e a c c e p t -a n c e o f i n d i v i d u a l r e s p o n s i b i l i t y w i t h i t s c o n c o m i t a n t p a i n a n d p l e a s u r e . T h e n o v e l i s d i v i d e d i n t o t h r e e b l o c k s , , t h e c e n t r a l c h a p t e r s e n t i t l e d " A Few Y e a r s " p u r p o r t i n g t o r e c o r d t h e " y e a r s o f e l i s i o n " w h i c h d i f f e r f r o m t h e y e a r s o f " r e a l i t y " a n d w h i c h s e e m t o be " o f n o t r u e s i g n i f i c a n c e " . No d o u b t t h e p r o s a i c d u l l n e s s o f t h e n a r r a t i o n i s i n t e n d e d a s a n o b j e c t i f i c a t i o n o f E l l e n ' s d o l d r u m s , b u t t h e s c h e m e b a c k f i r e s a s M r s . W i l s o n ' s k e e n a n d a n a l y t i c a l m i n d s e e m s t o r e f u s e t h e i m p o s i t i o n a n d w a n d e r s i n t o i r r e l e v a n t b y -w a y s . I n s t e a d o f a l l o w i n g E l l e n t o s p e a k a n d w o n d e r a n d a g o n i z e f o r h e r s e l f , M r s . W i l s o n c a l m l y p h i l o s o p h i z e s a b o u t t h e u n i q u e c h a r a c t e r s s p a w n e d i n t h e a t m o s p h e r e o f s m a l l t o w n s ; a b o u t t h e v a s t n e s s o f t h e C a n a d i a n s c e n e a n d t h e p e c u l i a r t e m p e r a m e n t o f p e o p l e l i v i n g o n t h e f r i n g e o f t h i s s p a c i o u s n e s s ; a b o u t t h e a r t i s t i c a p p r o p r i a t e n e s s o f M r . P i a t t ' s d e a t h ; w h i c h a r e a l l v e r y i n t e r e s t i n g s u b j e c t s 160 L o v e a n d S a l t W a t e r , p . 6 0 . 1 2 9 and i n c l u d e d t o demonstrate the fragmented and s u p e r f i c i a l nature of E l l e n ' s t h i n k i n g a t t h i s time, but r a t h e r d e s t r u c t -i v e to the u n i t y and l i f e of the n o v e l as a whole. For a l -though E l l e n i s more i n t e l l i g e n t , more s e n s i t i v e , more a n a l y t i c a l than most o f Mrs. Wilson's " h e r o i n e s " - almost a p r o j e c t i o n of her own p e r s o n a l i t y - Mrs. Wilson seems almost a f r a i d t o l e t E l l e n ' s thought take over the s t o r y . Which i s a p i t y . To a p p r e c i a t e and enjoy the more common-pl a c e c h a r a c t e r s such as V i c k i and L i l l y , i t i s enough t o observe and i n t e r p r e t t h e i r a c t i o n s , because they have so l i t t l e c onsciousness, so l i t t l e i m a g i n a t i o n , that a deeper p r o b i n g would uncover n o t h i n g o f f u r t h e r s i g n i f i c a n c e . Which i s Mrs. Wilson's p o i n t , s u r e l y . However i n t e r e s t i n g and i n t r i g u i n g are most people t o observe, they are not worth delving, i n t o very deeply. But E l l e n would be. However, had Mrs. Wilson begun p u b l i s h i n g i n her youth, i t i s probable t h a t the problems of s i n , of the nature of e v i l , o f the search f o r the s e l f , and the f o r c e s of environment and human passions might have been f i n e l y probed and questioned, e l a b o r a t e d , and analyzed i n t o a more d e t a i l e d , e x p l i c i t , and comprehensive e x p o s i t i o n of her i n s i g h t . At the time of her f i r s t appearance i n p r i n t , Mrs. Wilson had l i v e d a f u l l l i f e and had formulated her own s a t i f y i n g credo. I s i t not a t r i b u t e t o her own i n -t e l l e c t and to her u n f l a g g i n g and compassionate i n t e r e s t 130 in humanity that her vision remains so direct and so piercing, and her imagination so f r u i t f u l ? - ^ ! Once the peak of creativeness has been passed - and students of geriatrics place this at about forty years of age - many artists lapse into monotonous repetition or a sloppy vagueness. But, as Marion Smith says, "...there is a strength underlying i t s [Mrs. Wilson's fic t i o n ' s j delicacy - i t is to be sipped and savoured."162 whatever her limitations she is never boring. In the second place, i t is extremely d i f f i c u l t to assess what dimensions of reality are necessary in a significant novel. Current c r i t i c a l evaluation might seem to suggest that the brevity of modern literary writ-ings - contemporary poetry, for instance, or the genre labelled Theatre of the Absurd - derives from the destruct-ive premise that in this barren age there i s l i t t l e or nothing to communicate. So brevity is the meaning. The keynote of these modern ly r i c s of doom i s the hopelessness 161 John Wain in Essays on Literature and Ideas, London, MacMillan, 1963, p.43, says: " A l l writers [contemporary]...become more idiosyncratic as they move into middle age;" For instance, he says, Graham Greene i s now preoccupied with religious and sexual matters, Waugh with history, etc. 162 "Sipped and Savoured," Canadian Literature, xi (Winter 1962), 6$. 131 and d e s p a i r o f modern man, i n c l u d i n g t h e w r i t e r s them-s e l v e s . But Mrs. Wilson's economy stems from an e n t i r e l y d i f f e r e n t source. What c r i t i c s seem to be i m p l y i n g i s t h a t , did Mrs. Wilson a l l o w her i m a g i n a t i o n to roam and expand i n t o the remote abysses of being, the r e s u l t a n t more d e t a i l e d r e n d e r i n g o f the human predicament would m i t i g a t e the wholesome r a y o f hope t h a t f l i c k e r s unashame-d l y i n the b l e a k e s t s i t u a t i o n and i n the most barren, i n s e n s i t i v e , and u n a t t r a c t i v e human being. Moments o f i n s i g h t are s p o r a d i c and evanescent, and t h e i r i n t a n g i b l e s i g n i f i c a n c e or meaning cannot be conveyed or communi-cated by mere words. So Mrs. Wilson's dramatic t a l e n t f o r showing "an i n n e r and s p i r i t u a l c o n c e i t " by a c h a r a c t e r i s t i c a c t i o n or t r a i t (such as M y r t l e ' s e y e l i d s , or Mort's r o l l i n g g a i t ) , though at l e a s t as o l d as Chaucer, i s s t i l l a most e f f e c t i v e d e v i ce where su g g e s t i o n says more than e x p o s i t i o n . What Desmond Pacey c a l l s her "innocent eye" and what l e s s sympathetic c r i t i c s might l a b e l her n a i v e t e con-veys an honest and comprehensive apprehension o f man's c o n d i t i o n . Without becoming r e g i o n a l , Mrs. Wilson w r i t e s i n , and of, a new s o c i e t y and endows her c h a r a c t e r s w i t h a c a p a c i t y f o r wonder, a l u s t f u l v i g o u r , and a r u t h l e s s 132 3 63 d e t e r m i n a t i o n t h a t seem common t o a l l p i o n e e r s . Comparatively uncorrupted by t h e p e r v e r s i o n s t h a t appear t o invade a l l decadent c u l t u r e s ( i n contemporary terms e x e m p l i f i e d ,by the g l i t t e r i n g f a l s i t y of the g r e a t c e n t r e s of commerce i n e a s t e r n America), Mrs. Wilson's f i c t i o n a l world l o o k s forward with hope and energy to an a m e l i o r -a t i o n o f human d i s t r e s s and an enlargement o f human d i g n i t y and, perhaps, co n s c i o u s n e s s . A r e p u d i a t i o n of t h i s viewpoint i s v i a b l e o n l y from the pen of a c r i t i c immersed i n an o l d e r and more s o p h i s t i c a t e d s o c i e t y , mesmerized by the contemporary n o v e l ' s compulsive p i c t u r e of a moral decay t h a t f e s t e r s beneath the p r e v a l e n t d e s p a i r g a t h e r i n g i n t o e r u p t i v e carbuncles of hate and v i o l e n c e . Wallace Stenger i n a c l e a r and comprehensive defence of the Western w r i t e r ' s philosophy and p r e s e n t -a t i o n of l i f e ' s a y s : h i s n o v e l had a hero, or a t l e a s t a r e s p e c t f o r t h e h e r o i c v i r t u e s , - f o r t i t u d e , r e s o l u t i o n , magnaminity..... T h e i r s t o r y d i d not q u e s t i o n or deplore l i f e ' s d i f f i c u l t s t r u g g l e , but c e l e b r a t e d i t . Desmond Pacey i n C r e a t i v e W r i t i n g i n Canada, Toront 1961, p.258, says "...innocence i n c o n f l i c t with experience i s her main theme." He c a l l s i t the u n s p o i l e d v i s i o n of a c h i l d . The above t h e s i s c a l l s i t the v i s i o n of a pioneer, which perhaps i s t h e same t h i n g . 133 Our Westerner, writing what he knew...had f i l l e d his book with a lot of naive belief in health and effort...and the fact of individual respon-s i b i l i t y . .. .He had been so concerned with a simple but d i f f i c u l t Becoming that he had taken no thought of Being. Any Western writer may ultimately be grateful to his Western upbringing for convincing him, beyond a l l chance of conversion, that man, even Modern Man, has some dignity i f he w i l l assume i t , and that most lives are worth livin g even when they are lives of quiet desperation.164 The reader might well be as grateful to these unspoiled (naive) writers for orienting their outlook towards a positive view of l i f e . Though routine and commonplace are the lives of most of Mrs. Wilson's characters, they do proclaim an unquenchable and hearty delight in the simple act of li v i n g . Since a l l literature is connected, albeit sometimes obscurely, with the problem of how men should l i v e , there i s a value judgement implicit in every f i c t i o n a l character, which explains why the reader is un-able to laugh at Mort and Myrt however foolish they appear and behave; why L i l l y ' s shallow love does not arouse contempt; why Nora's cool detachment f a i l s to repel; why Vera's humiliation is almost unbearable: to jeer at any of these f r a i l specimens of humanity would be to mock oneself. 164 Wallace Stenger, "Born a Square - The Western Writer's Dilemma," The Atlantic (Jan.196V), 47-50. 134 For the m a j o r i t y o f mankind are f o o l i s h , shallow c r e a t u r e s who i n s t i n c t i v e l y p r o t e c t themselves from the nothingness o f l i f e by wrapping themselves i n i l l u s i o n s . Because few have enough i m a g i n a t i o n t o see beyond the s u r f a c e r e a l i t y , they are f o r c e d t o indu l g e i n e s c a p i s t day-dreams; but even these people are sometimes a b l e t o transcend the mundane movie-star i d e a l i z i n g and l e t t h e i r i m a g i n a t i o n soar f o r a few p r e c i o u s moments t o a new dimension o f awareness. V i c k i has her n i g h t o f g l o r y when she ac h i e v e s t h i s s h o r t cut to r e a l i t y , when she sees i n t o the h e a r t of t h i n g s , i f only f o r one u n f o r g e t t a b l e hour. Although i t i s not l i k e l y , i t c o u l d happen again, i s what Mrs. Wilson i m p l i e s . The enormous amount of e f f o r t r e q u i r e d f o r V i c k i t o wrench h e r s e l f out of her r u t and a s s e r t the g l o r y o f l i f e i s g e n e r a l l y i m p o s s i b l e t o summon i n t h i s s e l f - c o n s c i o u s age. Mrs. Wilson does not deny t h a t s i n c e p a i n i s more fr e q u e n t and more v i s i b l e t han i s p l e a s u r e , i t i s much e a s i e r to be f u l l y conscious of e v i l , or sorrow, or f u t i l -i t y , o f the tragedy o f human e x i s t e n c e , than of any reason f o r r e j o i c i n g . Mesmerized by the i n t e n s i t y of t h e i r g r i e f a t t h e human c o n d i t i o n , many e x i s t e n t i a l a r t i s t s merely h i g h l i g h t the a b s u r d i t y of l i v i n g , denying any forward pro-gress i n the e v o l u t i o n of t h e human consciousness, c o n c l u d i n g 135 165 n a t u r a l l y on a t o t a l l y n i h i l i s t i c note. I t r e q u i r e s enormous s t r e n g t h and s e l f - d i s c i p l i n e t o l i b e r a t e the power o f the urge t o l i v e , as Mrs. Wilson i l l u s t r a t e s i n Swamp Angel. Maggie's i s t r u l y a l i f e of q u i e t desper-a t i o n (as i s Haldar's) but her endowment of courage and im a g i n a t i o n i s l i b e r a l enough t o sense the value o f "... h e a l t h and e f f o r t . . . a n d the f a c t of i n d i v i d u a l respon-s i b i l i t y . . . i n the simple but d i f f i c u l t Becoming." Being of a d i f f e r e n t c a l i b r e than V i c k i o r L i l l y , Maggie i s v i s i t e d by no f l e e t i n g and sudden s p i r i t u a l i n s i g h t as when L i l l y saw E l e a n o r come up t o her husband with her fac e r a i s e d and on her f a c e a r e v e a l e d look t h a t L i l l y had never seen on E l e a n o r ' s face or on any f a c e . . . . What was i t a l l about? A l l t h a t had happened was t h a t Paul had come home t o d i n n e r . Was t h e r e some s p e c i a l s e c r e t l i f e t h a t these two l e d tog e t h e r , of which ot h e r people had no knowledge? There was.... She s a t down on the bed, shaken by her daughter's look. She had l i v e d f o r n e a r l y f i f t y y e ars, and she had never seen t h i s t h i n g b e f o r e . . . . She was ou t s i d e it.1 6 6 Most people a re onl y awakened t o the p o l a r i t i e s o f l i f e , or r a t h e r the a f f i r m a t i v e pole, i n a moment of r e l i e f from 165 For example, Jean Paul S a r t r e ' s Les Jeux sont F a i t s i s not s a t i s f y i n g . N e i t h e r i s Bec k e t t ' s Waiting f o r Godot, or Endgame. The impression i s one of u n r e l i e v e d pessimism. 166 L i l l y ' s S t o r y , p. 2 3 9 . 136 anxiety or a sudden joy, or conversely, when death seems imminent. Only the very sensitive, like Maggie and Ellen (and of course the true artist) are constantly and almost unconsciously sensible of the "...visible pole of human misery and f u t i l i t y , and the invisible strength of the -1 Lrj powerhouse," and can endure the former by the support of the latter. It may seem i l l o g i c a l to end with an i l l u s t r a t i o n from Mrs. Wilson's least impressive novel, Love and Salt  Water, but her last published f i c t i o n a l words are reason-ably optimistic about man's slow progress: It was of no consequence. They resumed walking very slowly, and this was the actual beginning of their happy and chequered l i f e together.168 Near the beginning of the story, having lost her gay and adored mother, Ellen is also soon bereft of the comfort and support of her father when he remarries. The succeed-ing years are uneventful, making l i t t l e impression on this imaginative g i r l who begins to question the validity and worth of mere existence, but as she matures into a 167 Colin Wilson, The Strength to Dream, p.207. 168 P.203. 137 sensitive and lovely woman she intuitively knows that the answer can only be found within herself. In the scene previously noted, Ellen realizes that she can never for-mulate a reason for li v i n g as long as she remains ignorant of the stature of man and the heights and depths he can r e a c h . W h e t h e r or not she can ever know why she i s alive, she instinctively senses that one cannot randomly impose a pattern on l i f e , which accounts for her resentment when George sends her a l i s t of maxims for living, and follows with some carefully chosen books. Intellectual abstract-ions are impotent, for Ellen's imagination dictates that only her emotions are reliable sources of meaning, and as she lacks as yet the a b i l i t y of interpretation, she has no right to begin l i v i n g . 1 7 0 So her l i f e i s dull, mean-ingless, barren. She offers l i t t l e resistance to the twentieth century nihilism which hypnotizes the w i l l into a somnolent paralysis. But instinctively receptive to supra-rational, non-imposed meanings, Ellen's insight into a reason for existence flashes across her consciousness when she receives a simple telegram from George, and she 169 The scene referred to is on page 29 of this essay. 170 Lionel T r i l l i n g says, in "Sherwood Anderson," The  Liberal Imagination, New York, Doubleday, 1957, p.24, "... a moment of enlightenment must be developed so that what begins as an act of w i l l becomes an act of intelligence." 138 sees that l i f e consists in choosing an arbitrary purpose and l i v i n g with the consequences. From that moment she quickens and becomes involved in the good and the bad. For the f i r s t time she appreciates the character of Morgan Peake, and begins to sense the tragedy that stalks his family. The aftermath of Johnny's accident demonstrates to her that she can never solve the riddle of l i f e , but she now has f a i t h that her intuition and emotional maturity can interpret and weather whatever befalls, allowing her a l i f e of courage, dignity - and enjoyment. Life, to Mrs. Wilson, is positive, like a river interminably flowing, from diverse sources gathering great-ness and beauty within i t s e l f . This forward-looking vision is inherent in the themes and style of her best works which, although confined within the banks of a r t i s t i c selectivity and discipline, never flooding the irrelevant terrain in a wanton or diffuse frustration, surge always forward unre-s t r i c t e d in intensity and meaning. 139 BIBLIOGRAPHY SELECTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY This bibliography l i s t s only those sources, primary or secondary, which were actually used, directly or indirectly, in the preparation of the thesis. The editions of the novels included, are the ones most readily available to the Canadian reader. Similarly, although many of Mrs. Wilson's short stories (and parts of her novels) appeared f i r s t in such publications as the New Statesman and Nation and the Northern Review, Mrs*. Golightly and other stories,for convenience, i s li s t e d as the source for most of her shorter works. The primary sources are liste d chronologically. 140 I . PRIMARY SOURCES A. SHORT STORIES "The C i g a r and the Poor Young G i r l , " Echoes (Autumn 1945), I I Mrs, G o l i g h t l y and other s t o r i e s . Toronto, Macmillan, 1961. "Simple T r a n s l a t i o n , " Saturday Night, LXX (23 Dec. 1961), 19. B. NOVELS Hetty D o r v a l . Toronto, Macmillan, 1947. The Innocent T r a v e l l e r . Toronto, Macmillan, I960, F i r s t p u b l i s h e d 1949. The Equations of Love: "Tuesday and Wednesday" and " L i l l y ' s S t o r y " , Toronto, Macmillan, 1952. Swamp Angel. New Canadian L i b r a r y , 1962. F i r s t p u b l i s h e d " 1954. Swamp Angel. New York, Harper, 1954. Love and S a l t Water. Toronto, Macmillan, 1956. C. NON-FICTION "On a Portugese Balcony," Tamarack Review, I (Autumn 1956), 7-17. "An Address t o t h e Students o f the School of A r c h i t e c t u r e , U.B Royal Arch. I n s t . Can. J . , XXXVI ( A p r i l 1959), 130-33. "A Cat Among the F a l c o n s , " Masks of F i c t i o n , ed. A.J.M.Smith, New Canadian L i b r a r y , 1961, 23-32. Appeared f i r s t i n Canadian L i t e r a t u r e , i i (Autumn 1959). "Bridge or the Stokehold? Views of the N o v e l i s t ' s A r t , " Canadian L i t e r a t u r e , V (Summer I960), 43-47. 141 I I . SECONDARY SOURCES A. CRITICISMS OR REVIEWS OF MRS. WILSON'S FICTION B i s s e l l , C T. " L e t t e r s i n Canada: 1952," U n i v e r s i t y o f  Toronto Q u a r t e r l y , XXII ( A p r i l 1953), 288-90, 292. Callaghan, Morley. " W r i t e r s and C r i t i c s , " Saturday Night, LXX (6 November 1954), 7-8. Campbell, M a r j o r i e W i l k i n s . "Fragrance and F l a v o u r , " Saturday Night, LXIV (5 A p r i l 1952), 28. Cogswell, F r e d . Review of Mrs. G o l i g h t l y and other s t o r i e s , Queen's Q u a r t e r l y , LXIX (Summer 1962), 311. Hanenkrat, Frank T. Review of Mrs. G o l i g h t l y and other s t o r i e s , B.C. L i b r a r y Q u a r t e r l y , XXVI, no.2 (October 1962), 29-30. Keate, S t u a r t . Review of Equations o f Love, New York  Times (3 May 1953), 5. Kirkwood, H i l d a . Review of Swamp Angel, Canadian Forum, XXXIV (February 1955), 263T Kirkwood, H i l d a . " R e a l i s t w i t h a D i f f e r e n c e , " Saturday  Night, LXXI (28 October 1961), 41-42. L i v e s a y , Dorothy. " E t h e l W ilson: West Coast N o v e l i s t , " Saturday Night, LXVII (26 J u l y 1952), 20,36. Pacey, Desmond. C r e a t i v e W r i t i n g i n Canada, Toronto, 1961, 235, 252, 25h~^cT. Pacey, Desmond. "The Innocent Eye," Queen's Q u a r t e r l y , LXI ( S p r i n g 1954), 42-52. Pacey, Desmond. " I n t r o d u c t i o n " t o Swamp Angel, New Canadian L i b r a r y , 1962, 5-10. Pacey, Desmond. Review o f Mrs. G o l i g h t l y and other s t o r i e s , Canadian Forum, XLI (March 1962), 209. " Pacey, Desmond. Review of Swamp Angel, Queen's Q u a r t e r l y , LXI (Winter 1955), 555-56. 142 Pederson, L.M. "Autumn F i c t i o n , " Saturday Night, LXXI (24 November 1956), 32. T a y l o r , Pamela. "Escape to the North," Saturday Review, XXXVII (4 September 1954), 22. T u r n b u l l , G a e l . Review of Equations of Love, Northern  Review, V i , no. 2 (June-July 1953), 36-40. Smith, MarionB. "Sipped and Savoured," Canadian L i t e r a t u r e , XI (Winter 1962), 67. S t a l l i n g s , S y l v i a . " A l l f o r the Sake of Baby," New York  Herald-Tribune Book Review (3 May 1953), 4. Waddington, Miriam. "Canadian N o v e l i s t s , " Queen 1s  Q u a r t e r l y , LXIV ( S p r i n g 1957), 143-45. Watt, F.W. " L e t t e r s i n Canada: 1961," U n i v e r s i t y o f  Toronto Q u a r t e r l y , XXXI ( J u l y 1962), 472. West, P a u l . "Canadian F i c t i o n and i t s C r i t i c s , " Canadian  Forum, XLI (March 1962), 265-66. Chekov, Anton. "The S e a g u l l , " P l a y s , Penguin, 1954. Davies, Robertson. The Table T a l k of Samuel Marchbanks, Toronto, C l a r k e Irwin, 1949. Drew, E l l e n . The Novel, New York, D e l l P u b l i s h i n g Co., 1963. F o r s t e r , E.M. Aspects o f the Novel, New York, Harcourt Brace, 1927. Frye, Northrop. The Educated Imagination, Toronto, C.B.C. Publications"] 1963. Furbank, P.N. "The Twentieth Century B e s t - S e l l e r , " The Modern Age, ed. B o r i s Ford, Penguin, 1961, 429-44T7 James, Henry. "The A r t of F i c t i o n , " The Study of L i t e r a t u r e , eds. Barnet, S., Berman, M., and Burto, W., Boston, L i t t l e , Brown and Company, I960, 93-116. B. OTHER BOOKS, ARTICLES AND CRITICISMS 143 Kaufmann, Walter, ed. Existentialism, from Dostoevsky to  Sartre, New York, Meridian, 1956. O'Fadlain, Sean. "Vive Moi," The A t l a n t i c , CXII, no.l (January 1964), 82-100. Percy, H.'R. " E d i t o r i a l . F i c t i o n Fight Back!", Author and  Bookman, XXXIX, no.3 (Spring 1964), front inside cover. Pr i t c h e t t , V.S. "Preface," The L i v i n g Novel, New York, Reynal and Hitchcock, 9-13. Pryce-Jones, Alan. "Plagued by the Nature of Truth," Highlights of Modern Literature, ed. Brown, F., New York, Mentor Books, 1954, 72-75'. Shorer, Mark. "Technique as Discovery," Forms of Modern  F i c t i o n , ed. O'Connor, William Van, A Midland Book, 1961, 9-29. Sowder, William J. "Lucas Beauchamp as E x i s t e n t i a l Hero," College English, XXV, no.2 (November 1963), 115-127 [pagination wrong - pp. 119-26 omitted^ Stenger, Wallace. "Born a Square - The Western Writer's Dilemma," The A t l a n t i c , CXII, no.l (January 1964), 47-50. * Tiryakian, Edward A. Sociologist!! and Existentialism, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1962. T r i l l i n g , L i o n e l . "Sherwood Anderson," The L i b e r a l Imagin- ation, New York, Doubleday, 1957, 20-31. T r i l l i n g , L i o n e l . "Manners, Morals and the Novel," Forms  of Modern F i c t i o n , A Midland Book, 1961, 144-60." Wain, John. Essays on Literature and Ideas, London, Macmillan, 1963. West, Paul. * The Growth of the Novel, Toronto, C.B.C. Publications, 1959. Wilson, Colin. The Strength to Dream, Boston, Riverside Press, 1962. 

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