The Ethel Wilson Symposium


152 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 2-7603-4388-X




Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is a professor of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University, an associate fellow of the Simone de Beauvoir
Institute, and author of Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Home.


The University of Ottawa’s celebration of Ethel Wilson (Spring 1981) followed closely on her death in December 1980 at the age of 92. Wilson should be much better known. Her carefully crafted stories and novels are subtle and witty, intelligent yet warm.

The Symposium includes critical and biographical papers in a nicely balanced mix, which adds considerably to the disgracefully small numbers of Wilsonian studies. The anthology consists of 13 papers and the editor’s Introduction.

Some of the panelists were Wilson’s friends: others had access to the Ethel Wilson papers housed at the University of British Columbia Special Collections Library; one, Vancouver journalist Mary McAlpine, is Wilson’s biographer.

Highlights include Beverly Mitchell’s essay, “The Right Word in the Right Place,” which sets Wilson’s work in F.R. Leavis’s “Great Tradition” of fiction distinguished by reverent openness and moral intensity; Donna Smyth’s “Strong Women in the Web,” a feminist analysis of women and community in Wilson’s fiction; and W.H. New’s “Critical Notes for a Concluding Panel,” which charts some new beginnings in Wilsonian studies using Wilson’s own favorite metaphor for independent activity: swimming.

This anthology takes its place in “Re-appraisals: Canadian Writers,” a series of critical anthologies which has assessed the work of Grove, Klein, Lampman, Pratt, Crawford, D.C. Scott, and Morley Callaghan. Contradictory views are useful in encouraging the reader to form independent conclusions.


McMullen, Lorraine, “The Ethel Wilson Symposium,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 7, 2023,