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Ethel Wilson and sophistication

Hammill, Faye (2011) Ethel Wilson and sophistication. Studies in Canadian Literature, 36 (2). pp. 54-75.

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Abstract

Critics often use the term “sophisticated” to describe the fiction of Ethel Wilson. Though it is difficult to capture the full range of the word’s connotation, sophistication in Ethel Wilson’s work is embodied by three features: experience, complexity, and elegance. Wilson’s narratives construct hierarchies of sophistication and often juxtapose sophistication of narrative with that of subject, making novels like Hetty Dorval (1947), Swamp Angel (1954), and Love and Salt Water (1956), as well as Wilson’s short stories, fertile ground for examining sophistication as both theme and technique. Hetty Dorval centres on themes of innocence and experience, and presents sophistication as unshockability or unawareness of conventional moral standards on the part of Mrs. Dorval, while Frankie becomes more shockable as she becomes more experienced. In Love and Salt Water, straightforward and sparse prose yields exceedingly complex impressions. In the context of mid-twentieth-century Canadian literature, Wilson’s cosmopolitan detachment, as opposed to her compatriots’ earnestness and national commitment, sets her work apart.