Hugh Hood Biography
Hugh Hood comments:
Nationality: Canadian. Born: Hugh John Blagdon Hood in Toronto, Ontario, 1928. Education: De La Salle College, Toronto; St. Michael's College, University of Toronto, 1947-55, B.A. 1950, M.A. 1952, Ph.D. 1955. Career: Teaching fellow, University of Toronto, 1951-55; associate professor, St. Joseph College, West Hartford, Connecticut, 1955-61; professor titulaire, Department of English Studies, University of Montreal, 1961-95. Awards: University of Western Ontario President's medal, for story, 1963, for article, 1968; Women's Canadian Club of Toronto Literary award, 1963; Beta Sigma Phi prize, 1965; Canada Council grant, 1968, award, 1971, 1974, and Senior Arts grant, 1977; Province of Ontario award, 1974; City of Toronto award, 1976; Queen's Jubliee medal, 1977; QSPELL award, 1988; 125th anniversary of Canadian Confederation medal, 1992; University of Montreal medal for distinguished service, 1995. Officer, Order of Canada, 1988.
White Figure, White Ground. Toronto, Ryerson Press, and New York, Dutton, 1964.
The Camera Always Lies. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1967.
A Game of Touch. Don Mills, Ontario, Longman, 1970.
You Can't Get There from Here. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1972; NewYork, Beaufort, 1984.
Great Realizations. Concord, Ontario, Anansi Press, 1997; Buffalo, New York, General Distribution Services, 1997.
The New Age/Le nouveau siècle:
The Swing in the Garden. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1975.
A New Athens. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1977.
Reservoir Ravine. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1979.
Black and White Keys. Downsview, Ontario, ECW Press, 1982.
The Scenic Art. Toronto, Stoddart, 1984.
The Motor Boys in Ottawa. Toronto, Stoddart, 1986.
Tony's Book. Toronto, Stoddart, 1988.
Property and Value. Toronto, Anansi, 1990.
Be Sure to Close Your Eyes. Toronto, Anansi, 1993.
Dead Men's Watches. Toronto, Anansi, 1995.
Five New Facts about Giorgione (novella). Windsor, Ontario, BlackMoss Press, 1987.
Flying a Red Kite. Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1962.
Around the Mountain: Scenes from Montreal Life (sketches). Toronto, Peter Martin, 1967.
The Fruit Man, the Meat Man, and the Manager. Ottawa, OberonPress, 1971.
Dark Glasses. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1976.
Selected Stories. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1978.
None Genuine Without This Signature. Downsview, Ontario, ECWPress, 1980.
August Nights. Toronto, Stoddart, 1985.
A Short Walk in the Rain. Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1989.
The Isolation Booth. Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1991.
You'll Catch Your Death. Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1992.
Friends and Relations, in The Play's the Thing: Four Original Television Dramas, edited by Tony Gifford. Toronto, Macmillan, 1976.
Strength Down Centre: The Jean Béliveau Story. Toronto, PrenticeHall, 1970.
The Governor's Bridge Is Closed: Twelve Essays on the Canadian Scene. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1973.
Scoring: The Art of Hockey, illustrated by Seymour Segal. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1979.
Trusting the Tale (essays). Downsview, Ontario, ECW Press, 1983.
Unsupported Assertions (essays). Concord, Ontario, Anansi, 1991.
Editor, with Peter O'Brien, Fatal Recurrences: New Fiction in English from Montréal. Montreal, Véhicule Press, 1984.
"A Bibliography of Works by and on Hugh Hood," in Before the Flood: Our Examination round His Factification for Incamination of Hugh Hood's Work in Progress, edited by J.R. (Tim) Struthers, Downsview, Ontario, ECW Press, 1979, and "Hugh Hood: An Annotated Bibliography" also by Struthers, in The Annotated Bibliography of Canada's Major Authors: Volume Five, edited by Robert Lecker and Jack David, Downsview, Ontario, ECW Press, 1984; "Hood, Hugh (1928-)" by Allan Weiss, in his A Comprehensive Bibliography of English-Canadian Short Stories, 1950-1983, Toronto, ECW Press, 1988.
The University of Calgary Libraries, Alberta.
"Grace: The Novels of Hugh Hood" by Dennis Duffy, in Canadian Literature 47, 1971; "An Interview with Hugh Hood," in World Literature Written in English, (11)1, 1972, and "An Interview with Hugh Hood," in Le Chien d'or/The Golden Dog, 3, 1974, both by Victoria G. Hale; "An Interview with Hugh Hood," in Journal of Canadian Fiction (2)1, 1973, and "Space, Time and the Creative Imagination" in Journal of Canadian Fiction, 3(1), 1974, both by Pierre Cloutier; "Hugh Hood and His Expanding Universe," in Journal of Canadian Fiction, 3(1), 1974, and "Formal Coherence in the Art of Hugh Hood" in Studies in Canadian Literature, 2, 1977, both by Kent Thompson; "An Interview with Hugh Hood" by Robert Fulford, in The Tamarack Review, 66, 1975; "Near Proust and Yonge: That's Where Hugh Hood Grew Up and Why He's Making a 12-Novel Bid for Immortality" by Linda Sandler, in Books in Canada, December 1975; The Comedians: Hugh Hood and Rudy Wiebe by Patricia A. Morley, Toronto, Clarke Irwin, 1977; "Hugh Hood and John Mills in Epistolary Conversation" by Hugh Hood and John Mills, in The Fiddlehead, 116, 1978; Before the Flood: Our Examination round His Factification for Incamination of Hugh Hood's Work in Progress, Downsview, Ontario, ECW Press, 1979, and The Montreal Story Tellers: Memoirs, Photographs, Critical Essays, Montreal, Véhicule Press, 1985, both edited by J.R. (Tim) Struthers; "Hugh Hood" in Profiles in Canadian Literature, edited by Jeffrey M. Heath, vol. 2, Toronto, Dundurn Press, 1980, and "A Secular Liturgy: Hugh Hood's Aesthetics and Around the Mountain, " in Studies in Canadian Literature, 10, 1985, both by Struthers; "The Case for Hugh Hood," in An Independent Stance: Essays on English-Canadian Criticism and Fiction, Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1991, and "The Atmosphere of Deception: Hugh Hood's 'Going Out as a Ghost'," in Writers in Aspic, edited by John Metcalf, Montreal, Véhicule Press, 1988, and "Hugh Hood," in A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada, Toronto, ECW Press, 1989, all by W.J. Keith; "Hugh Hood's Celebration of the Millenium's End" by Geoff Hancock, in Quill and Quire, November 1980; "Field of Vision: Hugh Hood and the Tradition of Wordsworth" by Anthony John Harding, in Canadian Literature, 94, 1982; "'Incarnational Art': Typology and Analogy in Hugh Hood's Fiction" by Barry Cameron, in The Fiddlehead, 133, 1982; On the Line: Readings in the Short Fiction of Clark Blaise, John Metcalf and Hugh Hood by Robert Lecker, Downsview, Ontario, ECW Press, 1982; "Tradition and Post-Colonialism: Hugh Hood and Martin Boyd" by Diana Brydon, in Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, 15(3), 1982; "Faith and Fiction: The Novels of Callaghan and Hood" by Barbara Helen Pell, in Journal of Canadian Studies, 18(2), 1983; Hugh Hood by Keith Garebian, Boston, Twayne, 1983; "Hugh Hood's Edenic Garden: Psychoanalysis Among the Flowerbeds" by Patrick J. Mahony with a reply by Hugh Hood, in Canadian Literature, 96, 1983; Hugh Hood and His Works, Toronto, ECW Press, 1985, and "Onward to the New Age," in Books in Canada October 1990, both by Keith Garebian; Pilgrim's Progress: A Study of the Short Stories of Hugh Hood by Susan Copoloff-Mechanic, Toronto, ECW Press, 1988; "On the Trail of Hugh Hood: History and the Holocaust in Black and White Keys " by Dave Little, in Essays on Canadian Writing, 44, 1991; "Changing Metropolis and Urbs Eterna: Hugh Hood's 'The Village Inside"' by Simone Vauthier, in her Reverberations: Explorations in the Canadian Short Story, Concord, Ontario, House of Anansi Press, 1993; Canadian Classics: An Anthology of Short Stories, Toronto, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1993, and How Stories Mean, Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1993, both edited by John Metcalf and J.R. (Tim) Struthers; "A Scriptible Text" by John Mills, in Essays on Canadian Writing 50, 1993; "The History of Art and the Art of History: Hugh Hood's Five New Facts About Giorgione " by Alex Knoenagel, in Mosaic: 27(1), 1994; The Influence of Painting on Five Canadian Writers: Alice Munro, Hugh Hood, Timothy Findley, Margaret Atwood, and Michael Ondaatje by John Cooke, Lewiston, New York, Edwin Mellen Press, 1996.
(1971) My interest in the sound of sentences, in the use of colour words and the names of places, in practical stylistics, showed me that prose fiction might have an abstract element, a purely formal element, even though it continued to be strictly, morally realistic. It might be possible to think of prose fiction the way one thinks of abstract elements in representational painting, or of highly formal music…. It's the seeing-into-things, the capacity for meditative abstraction, that interests me about philosophy, the arts and religious practice. I love most in painting an art that exhibits the transcendental element dwelling in living things. I think of this as true super-realism. And I think of Vermeer, or among American artists of Edward Hopper, whose paintings of ordinary places, seaside cottages, a roadside snack bar and gasoline station, have touched some level of my own imagination which I can only express in fictional images…. Like Vermeer or Hopper or that great creator of musical form, Joseph Haydn, I'm trying to concentrate on knowable form as it lives in the physical world. These forms are abstract, not in the sense of being inhumanly non-physical but in the sense of communicating the perfection of the essences of things—the formal realities that create things as they are in themselves. A transcendentalist must first study the things of this world, and get as far inside them as possible…. That is where I come out: the spirit is totally in the flesh. If you pay close enough attention to things, stare at them, concentrate on them as hard as you can, not just with your intelligence, but with your feelings and instincts, you will begin to apprehend the forms in them…. The illuminations in things are there, really and truly there, in those things. They are not run over then by the projective intelligence, and yet there is a sense in which the mind, in uniting itself to things, creates illumination in them…. The poetry of Wordsworth supplies us again and again with examples of this imaginative colouring spread over incidents and situations from everyday life…. Like Wordsworth, I have at all times endeavoured to look steadily at my subjects. I hope my gaze has helped to light them up.
(1978) I am trying to assimilate the mode of the novel to the mode of fully-developed Christian allegory, in ways that I don't fully understand. I want to be more "real" than the realists, yet more transcendent than the most vaporous allegorist. In short, I am following what I conceive the method of Dante…. Now let me put it to you that since I am both a realist and a transcendentalist allegorist that I cannot be bound by the forms of ordinary realism.
(1979) I think it would be marvellous for Canada if we had one artist who could move easily and in a familiar converse with Joyce, and Tolstoy, and Proust; and I intend to be that artist if I possibly can; and I am willing to give the rest of my life to it. I don't say that to put down Margaret Atwood or to make Margaret Laurence seem insignificant. That isn't my point at all. I want simply—and I think every artist does—to do what I think I can do as fully, and as powerfully, and as many-modally, and as exhaustively, as I can…. I really want to endow the country with a great imperishable work of art. If I do, it will be the first one that we have. I think it would make an enormous difference to the confidence of this country if we did have one thing like the plays of Shakespeare or War and Peace or A la recherche du temps perdu, and we knew it, and were sure of it. Jalna, ha, ha, won't do. It isn't good enough. I think that The New Age and the works of mine which go with it and around it will be good enough, and I think it will do a lot for the country.
(1995) I am now, February 1995, at work on the eleventh volume (of twelve) in the novel sequence The New Age/Le nouveau siècle, which I've been working on since I began to make notes for the project in late 1966. The first volume actually appeared, as The Swing in the Garden, in 1975, and the final book in the series is scheduled for publication at the end of 1999 when the "new age" will really be directly in front of us as new century and new millenium. At this moment I can feel myself beginning to wonder how it will feel to write the closing page. Now I can suspect what Gibbon, Proust, and Joyce of Finnegans Wake (seventeen years in the making) must have gone through towards the end, an end that Proust unfortunately never saw. Temptations and distractions of a long work!
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Hugh Hood is a writer in whom pedantry wars with creative gifts of a high order. His best work so far occurs in his short stories which demonstrate his mastery at revealing what is immense through what is small. He is an indefatigable explorer of human aspiration, conveying much of its mystery, heroism, and comedy. An impassioned drive towards some symbolic victory is celebrated seriously or gaily in such stories as "Silver Bugles, Cymbals, Golden Silks" (Flying a Red Kite), "The Pitcher" (Dark Glasses), and "Le Grand Déménagement" (Around the Mountain). His art is at its finest in "Looking Down from Above" (Around the Mountain), where separate characters connect in a visionary moment of great beauty, crowded like a medieval tapestry with life: "inscrutable but undeniable."
Hood's earlier novels have something of this imaginative intensity, as in the burning warehouse scene (A Game of Touch), an incident pivotal to the hero's fate and a keystone in the novel's structure. However, Hood is unable to control the tone of his prose over the long course of a novel. When the painter in White Figure, White Ground retreats to the safety of his old manner and family life, Hood's point of view is unclear. Although the hard urbanity and narrow sympathies of the wife offend, it is uncertain whether the artist's glorification of her is to be received with irony or approval. In The Camera Always Lies, a romance, Hood's continuing problem with creating likeable characters re-emerges. A romance requires archetypal figures on whom fantasies can be projected: yet "virtuous" Rose Leclair, suffering through near-death and rebirth, is a bore, the hero who saves her an overbearing prig. Precise detail of film financing, production, and costume design merely throws into relief Hood's difficulty with his characters. You Can't Get There from Here, set in an imaginary African nation, is both a study of struggle in a new society and "Christological [except] … that the Christ figure does not rise again…." Because he is writing satire and allegory, Hood must be excused for missing opportunities of further defining the two tribes, and of describing the personal history of his sketchy hero; but his Cabinet villains need sharper outlines to succeed either as allegory or satire.
When Hood attempts in The New Age, a serial novel in twelve volumes of which eight have been completed, to work on the scale of "Coleridge, Joyce, Tolstoy, and Proust," his inadequacies become obvious. He is striving for "a very wide range of reference without apparent connection on the surface which nonetheless will yield connections and networks and links and unities if you wait and allow them to appear." Moving back and forth through time, the huge project includes passages of philosophy, social history, topography, and lectures on a broad variety of topics, as well as the fictionalized incidents of his own life.
As a simultaneous "realist and transcendental allegorist" (his admitted aim), Hood falls short in these novels, for although characters and events have a formal importance, they rarely achieve emotive significance. The marriage in A New Athens, for instance, is never felt as the redemptive force intended, because Edie is no more than a shadow, and Matt Goderich remains, as one character observes, "a pompous ass." Too often Hood offers neither psychological nor pictorial realism, but the factuality of an encyclopedia or a catalogue. Obsessive lists of, for example, baseball players (The Swing in the Garden) suggest an inability to select. Local history and neighborhood cartography too often supply the substance rather than the raw material of these fictions. Pedantic tenacity in description cannot of itself invest places or objects with meaning, nor is Hood's style sufficiently adept, usually, to produce this result by its own power. He even slips into bathos with the showpiece engagement scenes in A New Athens and Reservoir Ravine. His uninspired prose has created a bland, provincial world where values do not develop organically, but are imposed from without. Only when he writes of marvels does the reader's interest freshen, as with the appearance of the visionary painter (A New Athens). Striving to write a masterpiece, Hood is so concerned with large patterns and themes that he fails to breathe life into the material of which these patterns are composed. Heterogeneity can succeed only for the writer gifted enough to consume disparate materials in the unifying fire of his art; but, with one third of the sequence still to come, Hood may yet produce work on a level comparable to that of the short stories.
Of course critical assessments may vary strikingly from one person to another; indeed, judgments frequently say as much about readers' assumptions as they do about writers' achievements. Perhaps genius needs to create—that is, to educate—its own audience, an audience that appreciates and quite possibly revels in the idiosyncrasies that some readers find disconcerting. A number of volumes so far in Hood's sequence, including The Swing in the Garden, A New Athens, Black and White Keys, Property and Value, and Dead Men's Watches, have been received with considerable enthusiasm by individual reviewers and critics. With time—and with the altered understanding that further attention, different assumptions, and a broader perspective can bring—The New Age may win the distinguished audience that its advocates believe it deserves. With the completion of the last two of twelve volumes as we reach a new millenium, the overall design and the inner workings of the sequence will certainly become clearer. Perhaps then The New Age will stand as Hood envisioned it twenty-five years earlier: "I hope it will be an enormous image, an enormous social mythology, an enormous prism to rotate, to see yourself and your neighbors and friends and your grandparents."
updated by J.R. (Tim) Struthers
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