Sheila Watson, (photo by Rowland McMaster).

Sheila Watson, née Doherty, novelist, critic, teacher (b at New Westminster, BC 24 Oct 1909; d at Nanaimo 1 Feb 1998). Publication of Watson’s novel The Double Hook (1959) marks the start of contemporary writing in Canada. She attended UBC and later completed a PhD at U of Toronto under Marshall McLuhan. A distinguished scholar of the early modernist period in Britain, specializing in the works of Wyndham Lewis, Watson taught school in the BC interior and later taught at U of Alberta. She was awarded the Lorne Pierce medal by the Royal Society of Canada in 1984.

Her Four Stories appeared in 1979, and one other story, And the Four Animals, in 1980; these two works were later amalgamated as Five Stories (1984). Her critical articles were collected in a special issue ofOpen Letter (1974). She was the founding editor of the periodicalWhite Pelican (1971-75), and a volume of essays in her honour, Figures in a Ground, appeared in 1978. The Collected Works of Miriam Mandel (ed by Watson) was published in 1984. In 1992, a much earlier novel, Deep Hollow Creek, written in the early 1930s, was finally published.

Watson made possible-through her intellectual daring, the sophistication she assumed in her readers and her sceptical care for the nature of language itself-the development of contemporary writing in Canada. The Double Hook presents in concise, symbolic terms a drama of social disintegration and redemption, set in an isolated BC community. Watson has said of the novel that it is “about how people are driven, how if they have no art, how if they have no tradition, how if they have no ritual, they are driven in one of 2 ways, either towards violence or towards insensibility – if they have no mediating rituals which manifest themselves in what I suppose we call art forms.” These themes are presented in a style which itself balances on a “double hook”: it is simultaneously local and universal, realistic and symbolic.

Writers such as Robert Kroetsch have seen in the image of the double hook a balancing of opposites that is a fundamental characteristic of Canadian culture. Deep Hollow Creek treats many of the same themes in a manner which is more direct and conventional, but no less elliptical and challenging. It is fascinating to imagine the ways in which Canadian fiction might have been transformed if this startling and brilliant novel had been published at the time of its first composition. She was married to Wilfred Watson, with whom she retired to Vancouver in 1980. (Source: )

Dust jacket for Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook, 1959, designed by Frank Newfeld

Wilfred Watson

Wilfred Watson, poet, playwright, professor emeritus of English literature at the University of Alberta (b at Rochester, Eng 1 May 1911; d at Nanaimo 25 Mar 1998).

Click for Bio and Links.

Wilfred Watson, poet, playwright, professor emeritus of English literature at the University of Alberta (b at Rochester, Eng 1 May 1911; d at Nanaimo 25 Mar 1998). A highly innovative writer, Watson influenced 1960s theatre in Canada; his number-grid verse is significant to prosody and to poetry performance. His first book, Friday’s Child (1955), won the British Council and the Governor General’s awards for poetry. Its mythological, literary and religious imagery and intense energy persist in his later work.

In the 1960s, Watson turned to drama, producing 10 plays, mostly in verse (including Cockrow and the Gulls, produced 1962; O Holy Ghost DIP YOUR FINGER IN THE BLOOD OF CANADA and write, I LOVE YOU, 1967; Let’s murder Clytemnestra, according to the principles of Marshall McLuhan, 1969), the immediate influence of which was considerable. A close reader of Marshall MCLUHAN (they coauthored From Cliché to Archetype, 1970), Watson believed the world of multimedia produces multiconsciousnesses, demanding a theatre of “radical absurdity” in which realistic settings and action are replaced by “multi-environments.” Much of his work is political allegory.

In the 1970s he returned to poetry: The Sorrowful Canadians (1972) counterpoints type fonts, refrains and “voices.” With I Begin with Counting (1978) and Mass on Cowback (1982), he developed number-grid verse using a vertical grid of 9 numbers with 17 slots for words, syllables or phrases. By stacking the grids, Watson writes a “score” for the performance of multivoice poems which exist not on the page but in transformations from visual to auditory forms. His 1983 work, Gramsci x 3 (produced 1986), though partly “docudrama,” is characterized by absurdity, continual experimentation with verse forms, satire alternating with lyricism, and an energy and exaltation that transcends the horrors it depicts.

Watson’s Collected Poems (1986) and Plays at the Iron Bridge (1989) bring together his most important work. Five of his short stories, all of them allegories, are collected in The Baie Comeau Angel and Other Stories (1993). His papers are deposited in the University of Alberta Archives. Watson was married to the influential novelist Sheila WATSON. (Source: )