10 September 2012

Lilian Vaux MacKinnon and Her Critics

A fleeting follow-up to the previous post:

Lilian Vaux MacKinnon earned a English B.A. (Honours) at Queen's, though I don't see much evidence of this in Miriam of Queen's. What the university's website describes as a "critical success" received a mixed bag of reviews. The harshest appraisal comes from an anonymous critic in the December 1921 edition of Canadian Bookman:
The book gives one the idea that Mrs. MacKinnon enjoyed her student life under "Geordie" Grant to the full, and wants to enable others to see it as she did, but is handicapped in her effort by a desire to stick to literal facts. It is somewhat as if one were to attempt to describe  the life of a great university by reproducing a sophomore's diary.
There's more, of course, but I've chosen these words because they touch on the autobiographical nature of the novel. It's this reading of Miriam of Queen's – as a roman à clef – that brought the most positive reviews, like this one in The Ottawa Citizen:
Many of the characters in "Miriam of Queen's" will be recognized. There is for instance her father, a good civil servant. "Roderick Campbell had been in the government employ in increasingly responsible positions since he had moved to Ottawa from the Island of Cape Breton. Highly esteemed, reserved to the point of austerity, a scholarly man, books were his favorite pastime." The Campbell's lived "in a substantial brick house set among the trees" in the Capital.
Like Miriam, Lilian Vaux MacKinnon called Ottawa home, and like her heroine she travelled widely. The Citizen review describes Marion of Queen's as being "almost Dominion-wide in its scope, the scenes extending from the countryside to Cape Breton to the cities of eastern, middle and western Canada."

And so I'm left shaking my head over this:

Canadian Bookman, June 1922
Never assume that a reviewer has actually read the book in question.

Related post:


  1. "Never assume that a reviewer has actually read the book in question."
    Quote of the month.

    1. Thanks, Timothy.

      The snippet on the TLS reminded me of a review for my first book, Character Parts, in which the reviewer proved the wrong price, an incorrect page count and failed to mention that he himself featured in the text.

  2. Lilian Vaux MacKinnon was my great Aunt - good to find info and opinions about her on the net