REACTIONS FROM CBC LISTENERS TO THE HUGH MACLENNAN CHAT

As you know, I used this blog to spread the word about my forthcoming chat with Michael Enright on The Sunday Edition. But I sat there nervously, listening to the show.

It seems that I was wrong to worry.  Lots of kind people got in touch with me to tell me that they enjoyed it. Sometimes they told me fascinating, moving things. One friend, for instance, really liked the positive spin I put on Hugh’s use of the term “Two Solitudes”. He said that he came from a family with a French-Canadian father and a mother whose language was English. At her funeral  he spoke about the successful touching of the two solitudes in the house where he grew up.

Others wrote about family memories involving The Watch That Ends The Night. One man proudly recalled that his father ran the Bookstore Launch for the book in Montreal in 1959. Another spoke excitedly of her recent discovery of a fine Dartmouth restaurant named The Watch That Ends The Night. Another wrote warmly about the book’s excellence, remembering especially the moonlit escape by canoe by young Jerome after his mother’s murder in the New Brunswick lumber camp. ( I recall when I put together the anthology, Hugh MacLennan’s Best, just after his death, that particular set piece leaped out of the book, although the book was full of very fine essay and novel selections).

As you know, greatly daring, I read aloud the passage in Barometer Rising where Hugh sees Canada, coast to coast, as if from outer space. My claim that this paragraph marked the start of Canadian Literature seems to have pleased a number of people. Many told me that they now had TWO books by Hugh MacLennan on their reading list.

The CBC people keep track of the impact of the programme. Before the show, the Toronto Reference Library had no “holds” on Hugh’s great novel. By Monday there were over 50  such eager requests. Even more today, maybe. It’s the perfect response to a show that’s intended to get people reading neglected books.

One of the other results was that people brought out their memories of Hugh the man. One woman contacted the programme with her memories of being a high school journalist who, with another over-awed colleague, were assigned to interview the great man, in 1962. Hugh was, of course, charming, and the interview went well. Afterwards he bought both of them a chocolate milk-shake. To this day, she says, milk-shakes make her think of Hugh MacLennan!

A West-Coast book trade friend recalled taking Hugh on a publicity tour. Hugh was concerned about my friend’s  limp, the result of weeks of lugging boxes of heavy books. The long-term implications worried Hugh so much that he insisted on taking my friend back to the Hotel Vancouver, showing him important back exercises, and even massaging his back. When he was in mid-massage, there was a knock at the door, and both the masseur and the patient roared with laughter at the gossip column possibilities of the massage.

Under Michael Enright’s shrewd direction of the conversation, I talked about how love was at the centre of Hugh’s great novel. But there was no chance to talk about Anne Coleman’s fine book about how friendly she and “Mr. MacLennan” became in her teenage years in North Hatley. She stresses that it was always “correct”, with nothing physical at any point. As an explanation, I’ve suggested that at the time Hugh was immersed in writing The Watch That Ends The Night, where one of the major characters is young Sally, who, like Anne, was a McGill undergraduate, and thus a very good model for Hugh to study.

Of course, people who have read ACROSS CANADA BY  STORY know that in Montreal I was approached by “Emily” who informed me that she was Hugh MacLennan’s daughter. The details of this proud love-child are in the book, and of the long affair Hugh apparently had with her mother. Fascinating.

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4 comments on “REACTIONS FROM CBC LISTENERS TO THE HUGH MACLENNAN CHAT

  1. Fiona says:

    Hi Douglas, i listened in live from Norway: 11 a.m. for Canada and 6 hours ahead for Bergen. You were very informative and entertaining. The half hour was over so quickly and that only happens when you are having fun.
    I hope the CBC can note that the show captured international attention.
    The books you discussed are on my reading list.
    Best Fiona

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      Hi Fiona,
      As you know, I’m delighted to think of our conversation in Toronto taking flight around the world, and reaching you in Norway. I’ll pass on this good news to my CBC friends. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the books. Keep reading! Doug

  2. Adele Hurley says:

    Dear Mr. Gibson;

    I too am motivated to write and say how much I have learned from this blog and from the interview with Michael Enright. Thank you for your explanation of the title *Two Solitudes. *It made me smile.

    We’ve never met but you’re slowly becoming part of life.

    With gratitude.

    Adèle Hurley

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      Dear Adele,
      I’m so glad that you found my interview with Michael informative. At the end of the interview, when we were off the air, I said “You’re pretty good at this!” He laughed, and I now have fun joking that he’s getting good with practice.
      I’m honoured to read that I’m slowly becoming part of your life. I hope you’ll keep reading the blog, and the books.
      With very best wishes,
      Doug

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