Marian Engel’s Notebooks
“Ah, mon cahier, écoute...”
Marian Engel emerged as a writer during that period in Canada when nationalism increased and “new feminism” dawned. Although she is recognized as a distinguished woman of letters, she has not been widely studied; consequently we know relatively little about her and her craft. The material collected in Marian Engel’s Notebooks: “Ah, mon cahier, écoute. ..” is a major step in redressing that neglect.
Extracts carefully chosen by Christl Verduyn from Marian Engel’s forty-nine notebooks — notebooks Engel began in the late 1940s and which she maintained until her death in 1985 — track Engel’s creative development, illustrate her commitment to the craft of writing and document her growth as a major Canadian writer. The notebooks also portray Engel’s surprising leaps of logic, her fascination with the bizarre, the eclecticism of her reading and the depth and variety of her thinking. Finally, they present moving documentation of a woman facing cancer and early death.
Christl Verduyn’s illuminating introductory discussions to each of the notebooks unobtrusively guide us in the reading of these sometimes difficult writings. Marian Engel’s Notebooks: “Ah, mon cahier, écoute. ..” leaves readers with a vivid sense of Canadian culture during the 1960s and 1970s. It provides insight into the literary life of one of Canada’s significant woman writers, including her connections with other Canadian writers, and will be of special interest to scholars working in the field of literature.
Editor's Choice, 1999- The Globe and Mail, December 11, 1999
"Marian Engel, the author of Bear, still stands as an outrageous and enigmatic figure in Canadian literature. In Ah, mon cahier, ecoute; Christl Verduyn gathers together, in edited form, the fugitive fragments of Marian Engel's notebooks or cahiers. These notebooks are not journals or diaries per se, but a mosaic of idea and intention, including plot outlines, travels, longings, and pleasures. Most important of all, they offer to the reader the enigmatic passions of Marian Engel, the workings of a working writer's mind, her furies and frustrations dancing with her over-riding desire to write fiction as transparent and transcendent as glass. Reading Engel's notebook entries is both frightening and exhilarating. Full of possibility and reflection, they chronicle a life drawn with the uneven crayon of private dreams and demons. Her fierce tiltings against the windmills of adversity, her observations on sex, survival and literature, are all present here, fiction jostling against life, a collage of images, pleasure and fury and fun. Astute comments on writing and art are juxtaposed with recipes for Gumdrop Cake and Lemon Bread. Lists of colours, plants, and birds sit next to critical observations and back-of-the-envelope budgets. The reader is both reassured by this woman's `ordinary' life and dazzled by her brilliance. Christl Verduyn has undertaken a Sisyphean task in editing this volume; and she has succeeded in shaping its compelling scramble of notes, questions, and quirks into an ineluctable portrait of Marian Engel. This book grants the reader the immense privilege of seeing inside the rag and bone shop of a gifted writer's heart. Verduyn enables us to hear the powerful voice of a woman a difficult, intelligent, outrageous, thoughtful, compelling woman determined to live and work as an artist in Canada. "- Aritha van Herk, author of No Fixed Address: An Amorous Journey (Howard O'Hagan Fiction Award), Places Far From Ellesmere, and Restlessness
"Establishes the cahiers' public value as literary and social history. "- Laurie McNeill, Canadian Literature, 178, Autumn 2003
"Engel's personal reflections are funny, moving, perceptive, sometimes profound, and frighteningly honest. ...This hefty volume is full of nuggets of insight for both writers and readers. "- Patricia Morley, Canadian Book Review Annual
"Marian Engel's Notebooks begins with a superb introduction by Christl Verduyn. ... The editor's success in imposing considerable order on diverse content is remarkable. "- Stella Algoo-Baksh, English Studies in Canada, 28, 2002
"Verduyn does a superb job of editing. Each of the forty-one notebooks is introduced with a physical description of the cahier and its contents. Information is offered about dating, necessary since Engel's disregard for chronology and dates often made the editor's task difficult. Engel wrote in several notebooks at once, cross-referenced, and reread constantly. Verduyn's footnotes are illuminating and often engaging. The book delivers on its promise. Most exciting is to watch the evolution of a writer's imagination from that of the young girl who exhorted herself at the age of sixteen to `live creatively' and make of her life `a work of art' to that of the mature writer. "- Rosemary Sullivan, University of Toronto Quarterly, Letters in Canada, 1999
"An aspiring biographer interested in writing the life of Marian Engel would do well to study the late writer's copious notebooks, now compiled in comprehensive volume. ...Fans of the writer will also be pleased with Verduyn's scholarly offering, a treasure trove of information both about Engel's too-brief life and about the scaffolding upon which she built her well-earned reputation. ...Engel's notebooks are not to be scanned in one or two or even six sittings. The scattered nature of the book suggests that it be read piece-meal. It is a collection of commentand complaint, enthusiasm and exultation that will appeal to readers already familiar withEngel's work and with her cast of mind. It is a thought-provoking look at one of the country's most respected writers. "- Nancy Schiefer, The London Free Press
"Engel's notebooks. ..constitute a valuable scholarly tool for students of Engel in particular, and life writing in general. "- Quill & Quire
"Marian Engel's Notebooks provides a wealth of material for reconsidering Engel's achievements. "- Carol L. Beran, American Review of Canadian Studies, Vol. 32, # 1, Spring 2002