Hood, Hugh (John Blagdon)
HOOD, Hugh (John Blagdon)
Nationality: Canadian. Born: Toronto, Ontario, 30 April 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. Family: Married Ruth Noreen Mallory in 1957; two sons and two daughters. Career: Teaching fellow, University of Toronto, 1951-55; associate professor, St. Joseph College, West Hartford, Connecticut, 1955-61; professor titulaire, since 1961, Department of English Studies, University of Montreal. Lives in Montreal. Awards: University of Western Ontario President's medal, for story, 1963, for article, 1968; 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. Officer, Order of Canada, 1988.
Flying a Red Kite. 1962; as volume one of The Collected Stories, 1987.
Around the Mountain: Scenes from Montreal Life. 1967.
The Fruit Man, The Meat Man, and The Manager. 1971.
Dark Glasses. 1976.
Selected Stories. 1978.
None Genuine Without This Signature. 1980.
August Nights. 1985.
The Collected Stories:
A Short Walk in the Rain. 1989.
The Isolation Booth. 1991.
You'll Catch Your Death. 1992.
White Figure, White Ground. 1964.
The Camera Always Lies. 1967.
A Game of Touch. 1970.
You Can't Get There from Here. 1972.
The New Age:
The Swing in the Garden. 1975.
A New Athens. 1977.
Reservoir Ravine. 1979.
Black and White Keys. 1982.
The Scenic Art. 1984.
The Motor Boys in Ottawa. 1986.
Tony's Book. 1988.
Property and Value. 1990.
Be Sure To Close Your Eyes. 1993.
Five New Facts about Giorgione. 1987.
Dead Men's Watches. 1995.
Great Realizations. 1997.
Friends and Relations, in The Play's the Thing: Four Original Television Dramas, edited by Tony Gifford. 1976.
Strength Down Centre: The Jean Beliveau Story. 1970.
The Governor's Bridge Is Closed: Twelve Essays on the Canadian Scene. 1973.
Scoring: The Art of Hockey, illustrated by Seymour Segal. 1979.
Trusting the Tale (essays). 1983.
Unsupported Assertions (essays). 1991.
Editor, with Peter O'Brien, Fatal Recurrences: New Fiction in English from Montreal. 1984.*
by J. R. (Tim) Struthers, in The Annotated Bibliography of Canada's Major Authors 5 edited by Robert Lecker and Jack David, 1984.
"Line and Form" by Dave Godfrey, in Tamarack Review, Spring 1965; "Grace: The Novels of Hood" by Dennis Duffy, in Canadian Literature, Winter 1971; The Comedians: Hood and Rudy Wiebe by Patricia A. Morley, 1977; Before the Flood: Hood's Work in Progress by J. R. (Tim) Struthers, 1979; On the Line: Readings in the Short Fiction of Clark Blaise, John Metcalf, and Hood by Robert Lecker, 1982; Hood, 1983, and Hood, 1984, both by Keith Garebian; Pilgrim's Progress: A Study of the Short Stories of Hood by Susan Copoloff-Mechanic, 1988; The Influence of Painting on Five Canadian Writers: Alice Munro, Hugh Hood, Timothy Findley, Margaret Atwood, and Michael Ondaatje, John Cooke, 1996.* * *
In a postmodern world characterized by an acceptance of multiple perspectives and cultural relativity and differences and by a rejection of easy cause and effect, linear plots, and definitive, exclusive narratives, Hugh Hood remains a steadfast believer in the harmony, the order, and the universal in humans' relationships with their community, environment, inner selves, and divine creator. This response to human experience unflaggingly informs Hood's novels and essays as well as his stories. The sense of harmony, order, and universality that defines his themes also extends to the form and style of his stories. There is a unified, coherent quality to each story and to each collection that makes them not just linked or contiguous but also structurally integrated. And his stories function integrally at one and the same time as realistic and allegorical narratives.
The hallmarks of Hood's short fiction are to be seen in his first collection, the 11 stories of Flying the Red Kite (1962), and particularly in the title story, which relates the incident of a father who takes his daughter to fly her kite in Mount Royal Park in Montreal, the city that is the locale of many of his stories. Hood provides graphic details of the Montreal setting, evoking its summer heat and dust, the grimy, yellow-and-black bus stops in its poorer districts, and the splendor of Mount Royal. He portrays with lifelike touches such characters as a drunken priest on a bus who cynically rejects the idea of the Resurrection. He also evokes the warm relationship between the father and the daughter as they send aloft her new red kite. The father is introduced as someone who is tired and frustrated by his lot in life and who initially feels that he is not equal to the task of launching his daughter's kite, having been inept at sports even as a boy. On his third try, however, he succeeds in flying the kite, and the story concludes with a moving picture of him kneeling in the dust with his arm around his daughter, whose face is stained with red raspberry juice, triumphantly watching her kite soaring in the bright sky.
The story, however intent on re-creating real-life individuals and locales, points up a cogent allegory. It celebrates our ability to achieve regeneration through moral, spiritual, and even religious faith. (Hood is a Roman Catholic.) The despondent father comes to reject the cynical priest's denial of a spiritual resurrection. The kite aloft, framed with a cross, links us to God. It is both heavenly and earthly. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins's majestically gliding windhover, the kite "buckles" and links itself with the earthbound. Ascending significantly on the third try and floating above the Notre Dame des Neiges cemetery, it is also a sign of salvation, redemption, and rebirth. The story is economically written and tightly constructed. Every image and incident serves to evoke place and character while retaining an essential allegorical function.
The collection in which this story appears has two sections, originally of five stories each. (The last story, "The End of It," apparently was added at the request of Hood's editor.) The first five raise the issue of whether there is an underlying awareness of the unity of things, whether the imagination is informed by reality, art by life, spiritual by mundane, religious by profane, present by past (particularly in "Fallings from Us, Vanishings," which makes allegorical use of the Arthurian Grail legend), and mental by manual (as in "Recollections of the Work Department," a narrative of a graduate student's experience with a Toronto road crew). The second group of stories, with which "Flying the Red Kite" is grouped, answers these questions in the affirmative.
Hood's subsequent volumes, including The Isolation Booth, published in 1991 but featuring previously uncollected stories written between 1957 and 1966 and including his first published piece, the title story, are fascinating variations on these perceptions and renditions of experience. They are not simply repetitions but rather fascinating variations. They have a tangible commonality yet a subtle distinctness in texture, tone, artistry, and perspective as Hood has progressively found nuances in his perceptions and refined his skills.
Taken together, the 12 stories of Hood's second collection, Around the Mountain (1967), reflect a seasonal progression. Reproducing the structural pattern of Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender, Hood sets each in a particular month, the first and last in December. But there is another structural principle at work in the volume, for the stories are arranged in a spiraling ascent and descent of Montreal's Mount Royal, which is crowned with a landmark crucifix. In the sixth story, "Looking Down from Above," the narrator reaches the top of the mountain and revels in his closeness to the heavens and in his clear vision of the world beneath and around him. There is in this and the other stories a photographic realism to Hood's panoramic and close-up depiction of the city, but it never obliterates the allegorical significance.
In the stories that precede the pivotal sixth, the world at progressive levels up the mountain is characterized by images of walls, fences, and disruptive road constructions and is defined by a lack of communality, harmony, and resilience. The first story, "The Sportive Centre of Saint Vincent de Paul," portrays a hockey team bereft of team spirit and destructively divisive. In "Looking Down from Above" the narrator at the summit is at one with the divine and redemptive. In this otherworldly state he senses that "the world is slipping away from him," yet paradoxically, suggestive of the intertwining of the heavenly and the earthly, he gains an encompassing "wide wide vision" of the city.
The remaining stories, whose settings spiral down the mountain, have the enlightened narrator aware of the individual's struggle and surrender to the divisive that persistently informs human relationships in the world below the mountain. In "Bicultural Angela" the title character exists in the desolate interstice between the English and French cultures, and in "Around Theatres" a lonely character for whom God is dead comes to see April as the cruelest month. The last story tells of a father and son expressing love for each other at Christmas, but the father's gift to the boy is not the musical instrument he had promised but instead one of war, a "Johnny Seven One Man Army." The narrator's final perspective is looking up at the mountain from the river, the mountain veiled in mist that contrasts with the clearly defined, dismal black figure of a Charon-like boatman on the riverbank.
The 15 stories of The Fruit Man, the Meat Man, and the Manager (1971) emphasize the Hoodian belief that human bonds are strong in a community in which devotion to love, art, and the divine are preeminent. Some stories depict protagonists aspiring to realize this world, with others bent on debasing it. The 12 stories of Dark Glasses take on a darker tone, re-creating a society preoccupied with worldly matters, with politics and power, elements that obviate harmony and redemption. None Genuine without This Signature (1980) provides further narratives of a disharmonious, redemptionless world. The focus here is on a consumer society devoid of spiritual values and refined sensibilities. In the title story the salesman has appropriated the role of the clergy and artist. "God Has Manifested Himself unto Us as Canadian Tire," which censures this consumer society, ranks among Hood most cogent satirical pieces. August Nights (1985), in exploring how all of us—whether we are aware of it or not—are part of a grand design, relates stories set in a variety of social and natural contexts—at baseball games, on country roads, in city offices, and on the high seas—and they introduce individuals involved with birds, sea turtles, real estate, newscasting, and weight watching. The concluding story, "Weight Watchers," examines the life of a married couple, showing how rewarding but fragile is this union of two individuals, a metaphor for human relationship at large.
Hood has also pursued his thematic preoccupation in several stories with locales beyond Montreal and Canada. You'll Catch Your Death (1992), for instance, has pieces set in Italy, England, France, and the United States. The 13 stories are framed by narratives that prominently feature birds, a recurring image in his late work. In the first story, "More Birds," the narrator is appalled at the horribly cruel, Holocaust-like method of transporting birds in the baggage car on a train in northern Italy. Though he empathizes with the birds and his "heart [is] breaking" over their brutal treatment, he himself does nothing as he sits in his first-class carriage. The title story, with which the volume concludes, is a portrait of an older woman that states tellingly that pets (birds) and modern technology are no substitute for human warmth and companionship.
In 1975 Hood published The Swing in the Garden, a novel conceived as the first work in a 12-volume philosophical roman-fleuve (The New Age/Le Nouveau Siècle) that would synthesize various aspects of his experience. The 11th volume, Great Realizations, was published in 1997. Hood envisions such a encompassing unity as an underpinning of his collections of stories, in fact, of his oeuvre. He has stated that all of his books make up "one huge novel … one bright book of redemption and atonement." In his view of art and life there is some such kind of "intelligent and meaningful unity." It is a perception that individualizes his work but that sets it at odds with the postmodern view of the human condition.
—Victor J. Ramraj