Randy Boyagoda reviews two books by Hugh MacLennan — a classic and one that's never been published, until now
This interview originally aired on April 11, 2020.
Randy Boyagoda is a literary critic, English professor, novelist and The Next Chapter columnist. He had the opportunity to be one of the first to read Man Should Rejoice, a previously unpublished novel by the late Canadian writer Hugh MacLennan.
MacLennan received five Governor General's Literary Awards and helped to define a literature that was distinctly Canadian.
Colin Hill, who is actually a colleague of mine at the University of Toronto, was working with the University of Ottawa Press to publish a little-known but important work from Canada's literary scene in the 1930s. This book, which has been known about for a long time to MacLennan scholars, finally has been brought out by the publisher under Hill's editorial leadership.
"Having read it, is not 'a lost masterpiece' or anything like that. But it fills in a very important part of Hugh MacLennan's story and by association the story of what we think of as modern Canadian writing and modern Canadian literature. It is indeed unexpectedly relevant to some of our contemporary concerns.
"Man Should Rejoice is a fundamentally international book set predominantly in New England and then also in Austria.
Having read it, is not 'a lost masterpiece' or anything like that. But it fills in a very important part of Hugh MacLennan's story.
"It is not a novel along the lines of what we would come to expect or perceive as classic Hugh MacLennan — meaning the world of the St. Lawrence Basin, his native Nova Scotia, those classic Canadian places.
"He didn't turn to those until after this book didn't work out."
"One of the ironic achievements of Hugh MacLennan, and Two Solitudes in particular, is that he is generally either not read, confined to high school syllabi or rejected for seeming so conservative in his writing style and sensibility.
"[He's thought of as] blinkered basically in what he thought of as the peoples of Canada, which is to say predominantly French and English.
MacLennan's books aren't appreciated for how substantial they are, how very good they are.
"MacLennan's books aren't appreciated for how substantial they are, how very good they are — and also the deep irony in that we wouldn't have the wild pluralism of Canadian writing today without him."
Randy Boyagoda's comments have been edited for length and clarity.