Canada Reads·Canadian

Two Solitudes

Hugh MacLennan's classic novel about Canadian identity won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 1945.

Hugh MacLennan

"Northwest of Montreal, through a valley always in sight of the low mountains of the Laurentian Shield, the Ottawa River flows out of Protestant Ontario into Catholic Quebec. It comes down broad and ale-coloured and joins the Saint Lawrence, the two streams embrace the pan of Montreal Island, the Ottawa merges and loses itself, and the main-stream moves northeastward a thousand miles to sea."

With these words, Hugh MacLennan begins his powerful saga of Athanase Tallard, the son of an aristocratic French-Canadian tradition, of Kathleen, his beautiful Irish wife, and of their son Paul, who struggles to establish a balance in himself and in the country he calls home. First published in 1945, and set mostly in the time of the First World War, Two Solitudes is a classic novel of individuals working out the latest stage in their embroiled history. (From McClelland & Stewart)

Two Solitudes won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 1945, and went on to become a classic work about Canadian identity. It was defended by Jay Baruchel in Canada Reads 2013.

Read an excerpt | Author interviews | More about this book

From the book

Nowhere has nature wasted herself as she has here. There is enough water in the Saint Lawrence alone to irrigate half of Europe, but the river pours right out of the continent into the sea. No amount of water can irrigate stones, and most of Quebec is solid rock. It is as though millions of years back in geologic time a sword had been plunged through the rock from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes and savagely wrenched out again, and the pure water of the continental reservoir, unmuddied and almost useless to farmers, drains untouchably away. In summer the cloud packs pass over it in soft, cumulus, pacific towers, endlessly forming and dissolving to make a welter of movement about the sun. In winter when there is no storm the sky is generally empty, blue and glittering over the ice and snow, and the sun stares out of it like a cyclops' eye.

From Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan ©1945. Published by New Canadian Library.

Author interviews

Distinguished Canadian: Hugh MacLennan

Digital Archives

49 years ago
Hugh MacLennan, writer and professor at McGill University, talks about his life and work. 26:33

More about this book

Canada Reads 2013: Hugh MacLennan's friend Douglas Gibson on Canada Reads

Canada Reads

8 years ago
The editor and friend of Hugh MacLennan discusses Canada Reads. 2:50
The friend and editor reads from Hugh MacLennan's classic work. 4:40