Aritha van Herk: Essays on Her Works


126 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-55071-133-4
DDC C813'.54





Edited by Christl Verduyn
Reviewed by Laura M. Robinson

Laura M. Robinson is assistant professor of children’s literature at
Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario.


This volume will appeal to anyone interested in Canadian writing,
feminist writers, and the work of Aritha van Herk in particular. Given
the wide range of perspectives the volume covers, each essay conveys a
remarkably similar theme. Van Herk’s work is primarily about escape
from the traditions and beliefs that oppress and constrain her heroines.
The interview between Verduyn and van Herk sparkles with van Herk’s
wit: “the perfect reader is the perfect lover,” she says, for

Marlene Goldman’s reprinted essay, “Go North Young Woman,” is the
strongest in the collection, exploring van Herk’s problematic
relationship with the generic tradition of both the Western and the
“Northern.” Goldman questions van Herk to a greater degree than do
the other critics in the collection: “some may wonder if it is sound
political strategy to champion invisibility and escape,” she muses,
thus challenging the central vision in van Herk’s work. Robert Budde
and Robert Kroetsch each follow Goldman with “ficto-critical”
examinations. Van Herk would no doubt approve, as Verduyn points out in
her introduction, since she would like critics to break out of “the
strait-jacket of academic criticism.” However, both essays wax too
lyrical and avoid wrestling engagement with van Herk’s texts; rather
they dialogue with her very collegially.

Verduyn’s essay, “Tongue in Cheek,” argues that Dutch is a
central element in van Herk’s fiction and critical writing. Verduyn
might take her assertions a bit further. What does this tell us about
van Herk’s project then? In “Professions for Women,” Isabel
Carrera Suarez discusses the extent to which van Herk challenges and
attempts to escape class limitations. The bibliography at the end of the
book makes this an important resource for van Herk scholars. A welcome
addition to the CanLit scene, these essays will hopefully pave the way
for an even deeper interrogation of van Herk’s position as a feminist


“Aritha van Herk: Essays on Her Works,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 17, 2024,