(Charles) Fred(erick) Bodsworth Biography
Fred Bodsworth comments:
Nationality: Canadian. Born: Port Burwell, Ontario, 1918. Education: Port Burwell public and high schools. Career: Reporter, St. Thomas Times-Journal, Ontario, 1940-43; reporter and editor, Toronto Daily Star and Weekly Star, 1943-46; staff writer and editor, Maclean's Magazine, Toronto, 1947-55. Since 1955 freelance writer. Director and former president (1965-67), Federation of Ontario Naturalists: leader of worldwide ornithological tours. Since 1970 honorary director, Long Point Bird Observatory; chair of the Board of Trustees, James L. Baillie Memorial Fund for Ornithology, 1975-89; editor, Natural Science of Canada series, 1980-81. Awards: Doubleday Canadian Novel award, 1967. Agent: Curtis Brown, 10 Astor Place, New York, New York 10003, U.S.A.
Last of the Curlews. Toronto and New York, Dodd Mead, 1955;London, Museum Press, 1956; foreword by W. S. Merwin, afterword by Murray Gell-Mann, illustrated by Abigail Rorer, based on original drawings by T.M. Shortt. Washington, D.C., Counterpoint, 1995.
The Strange One. Toronto and New York, Dodd Mead, 1959;London, Longman, 1960.
The Atonement of Ashley Morden. Toronto and New York, DoddMead, 1964; as Ashley Morden, London, Longman, 1965.
The Sparrow's Fall. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, New York, Doubleday, and London, Longman, 1967.
The People's Health: Canada and WHO, with Brock Chisholm. Toronto, Canadian Association for Adult Education, 1949.
The Pacific Coast. Toronto, Natural Science of Canada, 1970.
Wilderness Canada, with others. Toronto, Clarke Irwin, 1970.
Introduction by James Stevens to Last of the Curlews, Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1963; article in The Oxford Companion to Canadian History and Literature edited by Norah Story, Toronto, New York, and London, Oxford University Press, 1967; Don Gutteridge, in Journal of Canadian Studies (Peterborough, Ontario), August 1973; Olga Dey, in Canadian Author and Bookman (Toronto), Fall 1981; article in A Reader's Guide to the Canadian Novel by John Moss, Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1981.
(1991) The major part of my work has been novels linking human and animal characters in a fiction format with strong natural history content and wilderness backgrounds. The nature storyteller who uses birds or mammals in fictional situations treads a narrow path if he wishes to be scientifically authentic and portray them as they really are. On the one hand, he has to personalize his animal as well as his human characters or he simply has no dramatic base for his story. Yet if the personalizing of animal characters goes too far and begins turning them into furry or feathered people—the nature writer's sin of anthropomorphism—the result is maudlin nonsense that is neither credible fable nor fiction. I enjoy the challenge of presenting wildlife characters as modern animal behavior studies are showing them to be—creatures dominated by instinct, but not enslaved by it, beings with intelligence very much sub-human in some areas yet fascinatingly superhuman in others. Out of the blending of human and animal stories comes the theme that I hope is inherent in all my books: that man is an inescapable part of all nature, that its welfare is his welfare, that to survive he cannot continue acting and regarding himself as a spectator looking on from somewhere outside.
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Fred Bodsworth, writing in imaginative, uncomplicated prose, has used the Canadian shield of pine-tree laden granite for the setting of his novels. He calls it "a benign land sometimes amiable, even indulgent, but at other times a land of perverse hostility." These sparsely Indian-populated lands provide a unique characteristic which distinguishes Canada from its gargantuan neighbor to the south. Bodsworth is then readily identifiable as a Canadian novelist.
The strength of his writing is the skillful portrayal of characters who are dependent upon the milieu and the forces within it. He is able to make his birds and humans unpredictable because of unforeseen but crucial subtleties in the environmental settings. Bodworth's naturalist and ornithological knowledge fosters such keen insight. Atook, a native hunter in The Sparrow's Fall, seems doomed because Christian myth interferes with his hunting prowess. But the will to survive, which resides in all his characters, eventually causes Atook to cast aside his alien beliefs and adjust to his natural surroundings.
Last of the Curlews is his most stimulating and moving novel. Bodsworth reveals the brutal and senseless slaughter of a bird that has not developed a fear of the earth's most irrational creature, man. In sensitive prose, the tiny bird becomes personalized but not human; thus he avoids sham. The theme of this novel has increased in importance since its writing because of the growing awareness of our threatened environment.
Although Bodsworth commits the occasional transgression by allowing his creatures to reason, it does not seriously detract from his animal characters.
In The Strange One, he adroitly interweaves the mating of an alien Hebridean Barra goose with a native Canada goose and the love of a young biologist for a Cree maiden, who has been socialized in the whiteman's world. Indian-white miscegenation is as old as Canada itself and this theme intertwined with the geese is unusual in Canadian literature. Bodsworth is the first to write about it. The parallel between man and bird in this novel clearly reveals the interrelationship of man with animal when Rory, the scientist, follows what appear to be almost instinctual feelings, disregards social convention and returns to the beautiful Cree, Kanina.
The Strange One and The Atonement of Ashley Morden involve what may be melodramatic relationships between men and birds, but the two themes are drawn together skillfully, and are quite effectively written. An underlying theme in both these novels, as well as the others, is the complicated, often contradictory behavior of men contrasted with the logical, conditioned instincts of animals and birds.
In the context of Canadian literature, Bodsworth is one of the leading traditional novelists.
—James R. Stevens
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