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Extraordinary Canadians:Stephen Leacock Paperback – International Edition, September 4, 2012
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“Lively…. precise and eloquent.” - The Globe and Mail
“Margaret MacMillan does a superb job of breathing life into Stephen Leacock’s quirks and eccentricities—and evoking wrenching pity in the reader’s heart for Leacock’s often very unhappy lot in life.” - Calgary Herald
“A sympathetic but not uncritical portrait.” - Geist magazine
“MacMillan’s taut biography is rich in historical detail. In addition to sketching the career path of the McGill economics professor who developed a lucrative sideline in humour, the book provides fascinating glimpses into Canadian life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” - CBC News
About the Author
MARGARET MacMILLAN is the renowned author of Women of the Raj, Stephen Leacock (Extraordinary Canadians series), and the international bestsellers Nixon in China and Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, which won the 2003 Governor General’s Award and the 2002 Samuel Johnson Prize. She is also the author of The Uses and Abuses of History. The past provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, she is now the warden of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University.
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Leacock was the quintessential Canadian; someone who loves Canada so deeply they cannot resist mocking their own self-absorption in a belief they feel must be in error, despite feeling absolutely justified in their beliefs. Like Americans, Canada was born with the Declaration of Independence on 1776; Canada is descended from the Loyalist faction who fled the United States after 1783 on the belief, "we must be right, or why else would we suffer so much?"
Ever since the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists, Canadian nationalism is a belief that all benefits of the Thirteen Colonies can be gained without the mad excesses of Yankee rum, revolt and revision. Canada never accepted the 'Common Sense' of Thomas Paine; instead the intellectual goal is the pain of "Subdued Sense ... if it's all right with you".
Leacock, as MacMillan shows again and again, deflated the temptation of pomposity based on ambition or achievement. 'Sunshine Sketches ...' is the story of a small town, one of the richest per capita in Canada in 1912, that Leacock said should not become overly impressed with its brief good fortune. Mariposa is a metaphor for Canada, a warning about excess instead of caution.
In many ways, Leacock's fears and warnings foretold the history of Canada.
Perhaps MacMillan didn't know that Orillia (Leacock's Mariposa) produced some of the first Canadian automobiles, supplied much of the heavy mining equipment and supplies used to develop northern Ontario (ever hear of Carss mackinaws?) and was a prime resort for the wealthy (ever hear of Weir's Folly?). Leacock warned about being too fixated on this early and brief success; just as he cautioned Canada about the perils of the easy wealth produced by the "Dutch Disease" during the first half of the last century.
The book is neither a history nor a biography; instead, it's an assertion of Canadian nationalism. So much the better. These are books written with a point of view, and Canada is better for them even if they are better suited for television docu-dramas than for serious study.
For an American effort at describing the same perils, read 'Babbitt' by Sinclair Lewis. It's the same theme as 'Sunshine Sketches ...", but done without a hint of humour or, as Leacock wrote, without a kindly contemplation of life's incongruities.