In his brief career, Edward Killoran Brown produced—besides six critical books, four edited works, and two translations from the French of full-length works—over 80 articles and 135 reviews. Since he held academic positions in the Departments of English at four universities between 1929 and 1951, his essays and reviews were often scholarly and critical in nature. They appeared in such North American academic journals as American Literature, College English, Modern Philology, Sewanee Review, University of Toronto Quarterly, Queen’s Quarterly, and Yale Review. He wrote literary-critical articles and reviews chiefly on 19th– and 20th-century American, Canadian, and English literature; however, he also wrote for encyclopedias, newspapers and popular reviews such as Chambers, the Winnipeg Free Press, Canadian Forum, and Saturday Night.
In the late 1920s, Brown wrote two doctoral dissertations at the Sorbonne, one of which concerned Matthew Arnold. One of the principal motives for his essays and reviews was an Arnoldian impulse to disseminate culture. More particularly he sought to improve Canadian culture, and to broaden and deepen awareness of the tradition of Canadian poetry in English. This he attempted not only in his ground-breaking book On Canadian Poetry (1943), which he calls in the preface “less an historical enquiry than a critical essay,” and in his preface to the second edition “this essay,” but also in a series of annual review articles on the year’s books of Canadian poetry in English which he contributed to the University of Toronto Quarterly from 1935 to 1949. He wrote an introductory essay to a selection of Victorian poetry as well as introductions to selections of poems by Archibald Lampman and Duncan Campbell Scott whom, together with E.J.Pratt, he considered English Canada’s foremost poets. Brown introduced a selection he had made of Canadian poetry for a special issue of Poetry (Chicago) in 1941. He also wrote essays on English and French Canadian politicians and historians for Harper’s and Canadian Forum, and 46 essays on literary topics, several of which were Canadian, for the “Causeries” column of the Winnipeg Free Press between 1947 and his death in 1951.
Brown’s friends and colleagues Leon Edel and A.S.P. Woodhouse gathered, but failed to publish a collection of his essays shortly after his death. However, David Staines in 1977 (at a high point of renewed interest in Canadian literature) was able to publish a collection of Brown’s essays in the New Canadian Library series, entitled Responses and Evaluations: Essays on Canada. Brown is more highly regarded as a pioneer critic in the study of Canadian literature, a position he achieved in part through the writing of essays and reviews, than he is as an Arnold scholar, though his Alexander lectures, Rhythm in the Novel (1950), and his biography of Willa Cather are still kindly remembered.
Brown’s biographer, Laura Smyth Groening (1993), argues convincingly that “He wrote articles carefully adapted in tone, style, and content for the general reading public.”
Of his “Causeries,” she remarks that they “allowed him to indulge a less formal voice (for which he had a distinct and perhaps surprising ear) than he needed for his academic prose.” However, Brown’s two voices are modulated rather than being sharply distinct.
Brown always writes clearly and directly; he never patronizes or condescends to his general reader, nor is his style pedantic. A representative example of Brown’s essay style can be found in an early essay on Abbé Lionel Groulx for the Canadian Forum published in 192.9: The vials of his wrath are, it will be seen, copious; but in their flow, the British lion has the lion’s share. The Abbé Groulx’s references to Britain are mostly in the strains of the popular song which long ago ran like wild-fire through Quebec: “Les Français aiment l’équité,/Les Anglais la duplicité,/Voilà la difference.”
This, if a little distressing, is explicable. The Abbé Groulx exhorts, he does not expound; history is to him a mine not for science, but for art, and in particular for the art of preaching.
The elegant repetition of “the British lion has the lion’s share” is characteristic, as is the delicate irony of the ending. Imagine the effect of omitting the words “and in particular for”; Brown eschews such brutal directness.
In “The Immediate Present in Canadian Literature” (1933), Brown implies the importance of the essay in literary culture when he connects what he calls “the poverty of our criticism” with the lack of Canadian literary periodicals as venues for critical discussion in essay form:
As Mr. Norris Hodgkins remarks in the excellent introduction to his recent collection Some Canadian Essays: “Essays are rarely written in bookfuls.”
Essays flourish where literary periodicals flourish; and literary periodicals do not flourish in Canada. How many of Mr. Paul Elmer More’s essays would have remained unwritten had he not edited the New York Nation? or of Mr. Middleton Murry’s had he not edited The Adelphi, or even of Mr. T.S.Eliot’s without his Criterion as a platform? We have no periodicals of importance in which literature is the sole concern, or even the admittedly chief concern. The periodical which seems to me to have done most for the erection and diffusion of critical standards in Canada is The Canadian Forum.
Though Brown’s essays are not well known internationally, they are not likely to be forgotten in his “home and native land,” where he entreated and cajoled his countrymen to take literature (particularly their own literature) more seriously. In one of the last “Causeries” pieces written before his death, Brown noted that “Canadians do not care what other Canadians think.” Brown cared passionately about what his fellow Canadians thought. In his essays for a wide variety of American and Canadian journals, he sought to leaven the lump of Canadian culture.
Edward Killoran Brown. Born 15 August 1905 in Toronto. Studied at the University of Toronto, B.A., 1926; the Sorbonne, Paris, Docteur-ès-Lettres, 1935. Taught English at the University of Toronto, 1929–41, University of Manitoba, 1935–37, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1941–44, and the University of Chicago, 1944–51. Contributor to many journals and newspapers; coeditor, Canadian Forum, 1930–33, and the University of Toronto Quarterly, 1932–41. Married Margaret Deaver, 1936: two sons.
Died in Chicago, 24 April 1951.
Essays and Related Prose
On Canadian Poetry, 1943
Rhythm in the Novel (Alexander lectures), 1950
Responses and Evaluations: Essays on Canada, edited by David Staines, 1977
Other writings: a biography of Willa Cather (1953) and books on literature. Also translated Balzac and Louis Cazamian; edited works by English and Canadian writers.
Staines, David, “E.K.Brown (1905–1951): The Critic and His Writings,” Canadian Literature 83 (Winter 1979):176–89
Breen, Melwyn, “Man of Letters: A Talk with Professor E.K. Brown and Some Facts About the State of the Nation’s Fiction,” Saturday Night, 27 December 1949:12
Bush, Douglas, “E.K.Brown and the Evolution of Canadian Poetry,” Sewanee Review 87
Fee, Margery, “On E.K.Brown,” Canadian Literature 86 (Autumn 1980):142–43
Fee, Margery, English-Canadian Literary Criticism, 1890–1950: Defining and Establishing a National Literature (dissertation), Toronto: University of Toronto, 1981
McDougall, Robert L., Introduction and Notes to The Poet and the Critic: A Literary Correspondence Between D.C.Scott and E.K. Brown, Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1983
Smyth Groening, Laura, Art, Vision, and Process: The Literary Criticism of E.K.Brown
(dissertation), Ottawa: Carleton University, 1985
Smyth Groening, Laura, “Critic and Publisher: Another Chapter in E.K.Brown’s Correspondence,” Canadian Literature 110 (Fall 1986):46–58
Smyth Groening, Laura, E.K.Brown: A Study in Conflict, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993
Staines, David, Introduction to Responses and Evaluations: Essays on Canada by Brown, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977: i–xviii
Steele, Apollonia, “On E.K.Brown,” Canadian Literature 89 (Summer 1981):186–87
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