Stephen Leacock: His Remarkable Life


432 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55041-600-6
DDC C818'.5209




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.


The Moritzes published Leacock: A Biography in 1985, and you need to
read the fine print to discover that the present book is merely an
updating of the old. It draws on new information—notably, so far as I
can see—the findings of a recent bibliography, and there has been some
rearrangement of material, but most of the chapter titles remain the
same, and whole chunks of text are reproduced word for word.

Leacock is a challenge for biographers. His private life, after a
dramatic boyhood, was uneventful, and as writer he covered a wide area:
humor, economics, and how to put the world to right generally. As a
result, moving smoothly from one topic to another can be difficult, and
any attempt to cover all his publications leads to lists and bland
summary. In addition, of course, humor is one of the trickiest subjects
imaginable, since explanations and formal demonstration can be deadly.
The Moritzes quote comparatively seldom, yet in my view a considerable
proportion of the specimens come across as decidedly unfunny.

In this revision, Leacock is also, alas, scrutinized in the interests
of political correctness. It is, in the main, a sympathetic biography,
but he is duly rapped over the knuckles for offences against modern
standards in such sensitive areas as race or the position of women. This
inevitably leads to a suggestion of trendiness—which was, of course,
one of Leacock’s main topics for parody. Humorists are always
vulnerable in this area, because they properly claim the liberty to make
fun of everything. A thoughtful discussion of this point could have
lifted this biography to a higher level of commentary.

The main facts of Leacock’s life are assembled here, and an adequate
sense of his human qualities and equally human contradictions is well
conveyed. Nevertheless, some doubts remain. I am, frankly, suspicious
when, in a brief survey of humor in English, The Diary of a Nobody is
attributed to (of all gloomy writers) George Gissing—and this blooper
remains unrevised from the first edition!


Moritz, Albert, and Theresa Moritz., “Stephen Leacock: His Remarkable Life,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 12, 2024,