After five years buried like a mole amid the decaying maps and manuscripts of an historical institute, Lou is given a welcome field assignment: to catalogue a nineteenth-century library, improbably located in an octagonal house on a remote island in northern Ontario. Eager to reconstruct the estate’s curious history, she is unprepared for her discovery that the island has one other inhabitant: a bear.
Lou’s imagination is soon overtaken by the estate’s historical occupants, whose fascination with bear lore becomes her own. Irresistibly, Lou is led along a path of emotional and sexual self-discovery, as she explores the limits of her own animal nature through her bizarre and healing relationship with the bear.
A daring and compelling novel, Marian Engel’s Bear won the Governor General’s Award for 1976.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Marian Engel was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1933. She grew up in the Ontario towns of Brantford, Galt, Hamilton, and Sarnia. She received her B.A. (1955) from McMaster University and her M.A. (1957) from McGill University, where she wrote her thesis, “The Canadian Novel, 1921-55,” under the supervision of Hugh MacLennan.
After living abroad and teaching in the United States and Europe, Engel returned to Canada in 1964 and settled in Toronto, which was to remain her home.
Her many novels and short stories explore the daily lives of her contemporaries, frequently reflecting upon the human condition from the perspective of women.
Engel was a founding member of the Writers’ Union of Canada and served as its first chairman in 1973-74.
Marian Engel died in Toronto in 1985.
From the Hardcover edition.
1 In the winter, she lived like a mole, buried deep in her office, digging among maps and manuscripts. She lived close to her work and shopped on the way between her apartment and the Institute, scurrying hastily through the tube of winter from refuge to refuge, wasting no time. She did not like cold air on her skin. Her basement room at the Institute was close to the steam pipes and protectively lined with books, wooden filing cabinets and very old, brown, framed photographs of unlikely people: General Booth and somebody's Grandma Town, France from the air in 1915, groups of athletes and sappers; things people brought her because she would not throw them out, because it was her job to keep them. "Don't throw it out," people said. "Lug it all down to the Historical Institute. They might want it. He might have been more of a somebody than we thought, even if he did drink." So she had retrieved from their generosity a Christmas card from the trenches with a celluloid boot on it, a parchment poem to Chingacousy Township graced with a wreath of human hair, a signed photograph of the founder of a seed company long ago absorbed by a competitor. Trivia which she used to remind herself that long ago the outside world had existed, that there was more to today than yesterday with its yellowing paper and browning ink and maps that tended to shatter when they were unfolded. Yet, when the weather turned and the sun filtered into even her basement windows, when the sunbeams were laden with spring dust and the old tin ashtrays began to stink of a winter of nicotine and contemplation, the flaws in her plodding private world were made public, even to her, for although she loved old shabby things, things that had already been loved and suffered, objects with a past, when she saw that her arms were slug- pale and her fingerprints grained with old, old ink, that the detritus with which she bedizened her bulletin boards was curled and valueless, when she found that her eyes would no longer focus in the light, she was always ashamed, for the image of the Good Life long ago stamped on her soul was quite different from this, and she suffered in contrast. This year, however, she was due to escape the shaming moment of realization. The mole would not be forced to admit that it had been intended for an antelope. The Director found her among her files and rolled maps and, standing solemnly under a row of family portraits donated to the Institute on the grounds that it would be impious to hang them, as was then fashionable, in the bathroom, announced that the Cary estate had at last been settled in favour of the Institute. He looked at her, she looked at him: it had happened. For once, instead of Sunday school attendance certificates, old emigration documents, envelopes of unidentified farmers' Sunday photographs and withered love letters, something of real value had been left them. "You'd better get packing, Lou," he said, "and go up and do a job on it. The change will do you good."
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