Sheila Watson and Her Works
David A. Kent teaches English at Centennial College and is the editor of
Christian Poetry in Canada.
When complete (probably in 1987), ECW Press’s 20-volume series entitled Canadian Writers and Their Works will provide readers with concise introductions to 100 of Canada’s poets and fiction writers. Stephen Scobie’s contribution to the series, Sheila Watson and Her Works, aptly illustrates the utility of the whole undertaking. Its subject, Sheila Watson, has had an influence and possesses a stature in prose fiction comparable to that of Margaret Avison in poetry; both writers have reputations that are out of all proportion to the actual body of their published work. The narrow compass of the Watson canon (one published novel and a few short stories) allows Scobie — after the mandatory glances at “Biography,” “Tradition and Milieu,” and “Critical Overview and Context” dictated by the structure of each essay in the series — the freedom to concentrate on her major achievement, The Double Hook. His view of her consequent place in Canadian literary history is directly stated: “Watson does not stand as the culmination of any movement in Canadian fiction: she stands at the start. It is she who made modern Canadian writing possible” (p.6). Nearly half Scobie’s essay is devoted to an explication of this novel. His style is clear and unpretentious, his criticism of certain earlier commentators (guilty perhaps, in one instance, of “incredibly sloppy scholarship,” p.8) frank and direct, and his analysis informed and perceptive. Scobie appreciates the dense allusiveness of Watson’s prose as well as her playfulness and “sly” (p.14) humour. He is, in short, persuasive in his claims for her influence on modern Canadian writing, and his essay stakes that claim effectively.