line

CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line
A STRANGER TO MY TIME: ESSAYS BY AND ABOUT FREDERICK PHILIP GROVE.

Edited by Paul Hjartarson.

Edmonton, NeWest Press, 1986. 356pp, paper, ISBN 0-920316-71-9 (cloth) $19.95, 0-920316-69-9 (paper) $9.95. (Western Canadian Literature Documents series). CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Don Precosky

Volume 16 Number 2
1988 March


The more primary documents pertaining to writers there are in print, the better critics will be able to make judgements about those writers. Therefore, it is good to see that a substantial portion of Stranger to My Time is made up of unpublished or hard-to-get essays, diaries, and articles by F.P. Grove. Perhaps they will help critics realize how over-valued Grove has been. Grove fans, however, may not be pleased with the personality that emerges from these writings, for the man of the unpublished diaries, etc., is a vain, self-involved whiner.

In addition to Grove's own writings, this collection also brings together eleven essays about him, all but two of which (by Hjartarson and D.O. Spettigue) have been published elsewhere. Unfortunately, none of them clears away the feeling that Grove is considered an "important" writer for reasons other than the excellence of his artóbecause he was a prairie regionalist, or because he typifies the immigrant experience, or because he led such a bizarre life.

"He took us in," Ronald Sutherland is quoted as saying. There may be as much truth to this statement when it is applied to Grove's reputation among the critics as there is when it is applied to the secret of his real identity. The editor's organization of this book is a good example of this "being taken in." In "Frederick Philip Grove: Comparative Perspectives," Walter Pache points out that "Grove always insisted on interpreting reality in philosophical categories" (p. 17). To me this is a polite way of saying that Grove's characters are stick men and not accurate representations of real people, and that his plots are mere excuses for dealing with "great" ideas. Hjartarson is guilty of the same pseudophilosophising when it comes to dealing with the man Grove. Even though he has the man's diaries and journals before him, our editor ignores the person and translates Grove into a "Figure" to be associated with a variety of abstractions.

The book is divided into four parts according to these "figures" (with some possible faulty parallelism in the presentation of the categories): "The Figure of the Other," "The Figure of the Immigrant," "Figure of Estrangement," and "The Figure of Posterity." These "figures" elevate Grove to the level of the universal, and by inference attribute a kind of universality to his novels. They also serve as moral crack-filler that hides the many embarrassing inadequacies in Grove's personality as revealed in his own writings and in Hjartarson's "Of Greve, Grove and Other Strangers: the Autobiography of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven," which tells the story of Elsa Greve, who was not, as originally thought, abandoned by Grove in Europe, but who joined him in the United States and was abandoned by him there.

Instead of "Other" I would call him "Fraud"; instead of "Immigrant," "Interloper." "Whining" is more accurate than "Estrangement" and "Egotism" more accurately explains his obsessions than "Posterity" ever could. Hjartarson makes much in his introduction of "the time-consuming, painstaking work necessary to locate, preserve, and restore" (p. xii), but a serious case can be made for considering Grove's work an ephemeral product of a past era, and not a stately mansion on the literary landscape.


Don Precosky, The College of New Caledonia, Prince George, B. C.
line indexes

HOME | TITLES | AUTHORS | MEDIA | AGE/GRADE | FEATURES

1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995

line

The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works

cm@umanitoba.ca