Tay John and the Cyclical Quest: The Shape of Art and Vision in Howard O'Hagan


160 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55022-132-9
DDC C813'.54






Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


Howard O’Hagan’s novel Tay John was first published in England in
1939; it fell flat not through any fault of its own but because of the
outbreak of World War II. Only since its 1974 appearance in a New
Canadian Library edition has it been readily available, and only in the
last 10 years or so has O’Hagan begun to come into his own as a
significant writer of fiction.

Tay John and the Cyclical Quest is the first full-length study of his
most important book. Tanner writes helpfully and perceptively on various
aspects of its achievement, drawing special attention to its
environmentalist concerns—the way it expresses “an organic and a
spiritual conception of the earth,” “the Indians’ reverence for
the oneness of life,” and “a visionary re-sacrilization of the
world.” But she also insists on its technical virtuosity and its
artistry: “It is not only a work of art, but also about art—the art
of language and of living in the world.”

Tanner doesn’t impose any preconceived literary-critical position on
the novel. Instead, she carefully considers its structural, mythic,
philosophical, and stylistic aspects, and shows how they coalesce to
form a novel that combines originality of conception with a deep sense
of tradition and continuity. This admirable study adds substantially to
our understanding of Western Canadian fiction—and, indeed of Canadian
literature as a whole.


Tanner, Ella., “Tay John and the Cyclical Quest: The Shape of Art and Vision in Howard O'Hagan,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/31285.