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(March 8, 2001, Gazette)

Pratt lecture close-up

Mary MacGillivrayBy Mary MacGillivray

This year’s annual Pratt lecture series featured author, critic and editor Dr. Stan Dragland. Recently, Dr. Dragland designed and taught a course called Secret Nation: Literature of Contemporary Newfoundland and Labrador at the university of Western Ontario, where he taught Canadian Literature until his (early) retirement.

Dr. Dragland currently lives and works in St. John’s. Having an interest in Newfoundland literature, he offered a lecture on Newfoundland author Wayne Johnston’s 1998 novel Colony of Unrequited Dreams, titled: The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: Romancing History?

Exploring Wayne Johnston’s controversial “romancing of history” including his historically- altered portrayal of Joey Smallwood in Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Dr. Dragland focused on the value of the myth created by Johnston in his critically- acclaimed novel. As a “multi-vocal novel” that “flirts with epic” and is “elegiac in tone,” Dr. Dragland placed less value on the historically incorrect aspects of the novel. Instead, he explored the values of the mythic proportion of Johnston’s characterization of Joey Smallwood, the main character of the novel who is followed throughout his childhood into adulthood and confederation.

The blurring of lines between fiction and fact in the novel has caused controversy. Various historians have dismissed this novel as being historically inadequate. In my opinion, this “romancing of fiction” is a valuable device used by Wayne Johnston to engage the reader in a non-biographical life of Joey Smallwood, touching upon the elements of the myth of Smallwood. For many, the J. R. Smallwood myth and man are entwined.

For Dr. Dragland, there are many Smallwoods that he finds “residing in the one identity.” Dr. Dragland points out that many different writers have their Smallwoods, and he listed authors who have written about Smallwood such as Ray Guy, Robert Payne, Tom Cahill and even J. R. Smallwood himself, with his characterization of himself in his book I Chose Canada. Dr. Dragland points out that “Johnston’s Smallwood is not definitive.” Though very alive in the novel, Smallwood is not restricted to a compilation of historical facts.

Chair of the Pratt committee, English professor Mary Dalton, said of Dr. Dragland’s work, “In all of his writing, whatever the category, Stan Dragland conveys a sense of the engagement of the whole man in the act of reading and writing, and, by extension, of the shifting forces that underlie most human endeavors.” Dr. Dragland continues his life work of writing and editing in St. John’s.

This is the 33rd year for the annual Pratt lecture. Of the lecture series, Ms. Dalton said, “Over the years the Pratt lecture has been the occasion for members of the university and the public to come together in a celebration of literature and literary criticism in the company of lecturers of high achievement.”

Past lecturers have included speakers Northrop Frye, Cleanth Brooks; William Empson, Anne Saddlemeyer, Helen Vendler, Seamus Heaney and, most recently, the painter Christopher Pratt.

The Pratt lecture is sponsored by the Faculty of Arts and the Department of English and was set up in 1968 at the initiative of now professor emeritus of the Department of English at Memorial, Dr. Patrick O’Flaherty, to honour the achievements of Newfoundland poet E. J. Pratt.

A copy of the 2001 lecture is expected to be available in printed form soon. Copies will be available from the Department of English.

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