The Tightrope Walker: Autobiographical Writings of Anne Wilkinson


275 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-5745-4
DDC C811'.54




Edited by Joan Coldwell
Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is an editor in the College Division of Nelson Canada.


Despite their fragmentary appearance, Wilkinson’s journals and
autobiography cover most of her life (a frustrating exception being the
five years that preceded the poet’s death in 1961). As Coldwell notes,
together they “provide contrasting and complementary insights into a
creative woman’s act of self-definition.” In addition to
illuminating her poetry, Wilkinson’s autobiographical writings are a
valuable document of social history.

While the journals are not without their celebratory
moments—particularly in relation to the pastoral pleasure Wilkinson
derived from her lifelong summer home, Roches Point—depression and
self-castigation are more persistent motifs. Wilkinson struggled
valiantly to mediate the conflicting roles of poet, wife, and mother,
and berated herself for self-perceived failures in both the artistic and
domestic spheres. Her own intensely self-critical nature, coupled with
the rigid social expectations of the 1940s and 1950s, made possible, if
not inevitable, her belief that “it is better for my family when I
bury the poet.”

In assessing her abilities as a writer, Wilkinson the diarist is
unrelenting: “I am not second-rate. I do not rate at all.” After
reading A Writer’s Diary, she rightly senses “a painful kinship”
with Virginia Woolf, but then with characteristic self-disparagement
likens herself to an “untalented younger sister.” The poetry of Anne
Wilkinson (a handful of poems are included in this volume), and now
these deeply evocative and moving autobiographical writings, refute this
charge admirably.


Wilkinson, Anne., “The Tightrope Walker: Autobiographical Writings of Anne Wilkinson,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024,