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Walking out on a demoralizing second marriage, Maggie Lloyd leaves Vancouver to work at a fishing lodge in the interior of British Columbia. But the serenity of Maggie’s new surroundings is soon disturbed by the irrational jealousy of the lodge-keeper’s wife. Restoring her own broken spirit, Maggie must also become a healer to others. In this, she is supported by her eccentric friend, Nell Severance, whose pearl-handled revolver – the Swamp Angel – becomes Maggie’s ambiguous talisman and the novel’s symbolic core.
Ethel Wilson’s best-loved novel, Swamp Angel first appeared in 1954. It remains an astute and powerful study of one woman’s integrity and of the redemptive power of compassion.
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Ethel Wilson was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in 1888. She was taken to England at the age of two after her mother died. Seven years later her father died, and in 1898 she came to Vancouver to live with her maternal grandmother. She received her teacher’s certificate from the Vancouver Normal School in 1907 and taught in many local elementary schools until her marriage in 1921.
In the 1930s Wilson published a few short stories and began a series of family reminiscences which were later transformed into The Innocent Traveller. Her first published novel, Hetty Dorval, appeared in 1947, and her fiction career ended fourteen years later with the publication of her story collection, Mrs. Golightly and Other Stories. Through her compassionate and often ironic narration, Wilson explores in her fiction the moral lives of her characters.
For her contribution to Canadian literature, Wilson was awarded the Canada Council Medal in 1961 and the Lorne Pierce Medal of the Royal Society of Canada in 1964. Her husband died in 1966, and she spent her later years in seclusion and ill-health.
Ethel Wilson died in Vancouver in 1980.
Ten twenty fifty brown birds flew past the window and then a few stragglers, out of sight. A fringe of Mrs. Vardoe’s mind flew after them (what were they – birds returning in migration of course) and then was drawn back into the close fabric of her preoccupations. She looked out over the small green garden which would soon grow dark in evening. This garden led down a few steps to the wooden sidewalk; then there was the road, dusty in fine weather; next came the neighbors’ houses across the road, not on a level with her but lower, as the hill declined, so that she was able to look over the roofs of these houses to Burrard Inlet far below, to the dark green promontory of Stanley Park, to the elegant curve of the Lions’ Gate Bridge which springs from the Park to the northern shore which is the base of the mountains; and to the mountains. The mountains seemed, in this light, to rear themselves straight up from the shores of Burrard Inlet until they formed an escarpment along the whole length of the northern sky. This escarpment looked solid at times, but certain lights disclosed slope behind slope, hill beyond hill, giving an impression of the mountains which was fluid, not solid.
Mrs. Vardoe had become attached to, even absorbed into the sight from the front- room window of inlet and forest and mountains. She had come to love it, to dislike it, to hate it, and at seven- fifteen this evening she proposed to leave it and not to return. Everything was, she thought, in order.
Behind her unrevealing gray eyes of candor and peace she had arranged with herself that she would arrive at this very evening and at this place where, on Capitol Hill, she would stand waiting with everything ready. There had been time enough in which to prepare. She had endured humiliations and almost unbearable resentments and she had felt continual impatience at the slowness of time. Time, she knew, does irrevocably pass and would not fail her; rather she might in some unsuspected way fail time. Her look and habit had not betrayed her although she had lived more and more urgently through the last few weeks when an irrational fear had possessed her that she – or he – would become ill, would meet with an accident, that some car, some fall, some silly bodily ailment would, with utmost indignity and indifference, interfere; but nothing had happened to interfere. The time was now half past five. It was not likely that the unlikely – having so far held its hand – would happen within two hours, but, if it did, she was armed against revealing herself and she would build in time again, or again, like the bird who obstinately builds again its destroyed nest. So strong was the intention to depart.
She had been most vulnerable and desperate when, more than a year ago, she had taken a small box of fishing flies to the shop known by sportsmen up and down the Pacific coast.
“May I see Mr. Thorpe or Mr. Spencer?”
“There’s no Mr. Thorpe. I am Mr. Spencer.”
“Here are some flies, Mr. Spencer.”
He picked up each fly and scrutinized it. Turning it this way and that he looked for flaws in the perfection of the body, the hackle, the wings. There were no flaws. He looked up at the pleasant young woman with less interest than he felt in the flies. There were small and large flies, dun- colored flies, and flies with a flash of iridescent green, scarlet, silver.
“Who made these flies?”
“Who taught you?”
“Where did he learn?”
Mr. Spencer now regarded the young woman with some respect. She was unpretentious. Her gray eyes, rimmed with dark lashes, were wide set and tranquil and her features were agreeably irregular. She was not beautiful; she was not plain. Yes, perhaps she was beautiful. She took no pains to be beautiful. The drag of her cheap cloth coat and skirt intimated large easy curves beneath.
“Would you like to sell us your flies?”
“Yes, but I have no more feathers.”
“We can arrange that. Have you a vise?”
“Yes, my father’s vise.”
“We will take all the flies you can make. Would you like to work here? We have a small room at the back with a good light.”
“I would rather work at home.”
“Where do you live?”
“Out Capitol Hill way.”
“And you come from . . . ?”
“I have lived in Vancouver for some time.”
“Oh. You were not born . . . ?”
“I was born in New Brunswick.”
“Will you come to the desk? Sit down.”
He took up a pen. “Your name?”
“Lloyd.” The word Vardoe died in her mouth.
He looked at her large capable hands and saw the ring.
He smiled. “You won’t mind me saying, Mrs. Lloyd, but I always back large hands or even short stubby hands for tying flies.”
She looked down at her hands as if she had not noticed them before. “Yes,” she said, “they are large,” and she looked up and smiled for the first time, a level easy smile.
“Your telephone number?”
“There is no telephone.”
“Oh, then your address?”
“I’d rather call on Mondays.”
He pushed his lips out and looked at her over his glasses.
“Oh,” she said, “I know. The feathers. Please trust me the first few times and then I’ll pay for my own.”
“No, no,” he protested. “Oh no, you must do whatever suits you best.”
“It suits me best,” she said, coloring a very little, “to call on Monday mornings and bring the flies I’ve made, and see what you want done for the next week and take away the material.”
“That suits me too. What do you know about rods?”
“Not as much as I know about flies. But I can splice a rod, and mend some kinds of trout rods.”
“Would you want to take the rods home too?”
She hesitated. “No, if I do rods, I must do them here. But I would like to do all the work you can give me . . . if I can arrange to do it.”
That was how it had begun and she had been so clever; never a bright feather blew across the room; vise, hooks, jungle cock and peacock feather were all ingeniously hidden, and Edward had never known. The curtains, drawn widely, now framed her in the window as she looked out and out over the scene which she had loved and which she hoped not to see again.
In the woodshed by the lane was her canvas bag packed to a weight that she could carry, and a haversack that she could carry on her shoulders. There was her fishing rod. That was all. How often she had lived through these moments – which had now arrived and did not stay – of standing at the window; of turning; of walking through to the kitchen; of looking at the roast in the oven; of looking, once more, to see that her navy-blue raincoat with the beret stuffed in the pocket hung by the kitchen door, easy to snatch on her way out into the dark; of picking up the bags and the rod inside the woodshed door as quickly as if it were broad daylight because she had learned their place so well; of seeing the light in the Chinaman’s taxi a few yards up the lane; of quickly entering the taxi on seeing the slant face of the Chinese boy; and then the movement forward. She had carefully planned the time, early enough to arrive; too late to be seen, recognized, followed, and found.
Now she advanced, as planned, along these same minutes that had so often in imagination solaced her. When, in the night, as had soon happened after their marriage, she lay humiliated and angry, she had forced her mind forward to this moment. The secret knowledge of her advancing plan was her only restoration and solace. Often, in the day and in the night, she had strengthened herself by naming, item by item, the contents of her haversack and bag. She would, in fancy, pack a sweater, her shoes . . . the little vise and some flies. . . . How many scores of times, as her hands lay still, she had packed these little bags. Each article, as she in fancy picked or discarded it, comforted her and became her familiar companion and support. And last night she had lain for the last time beside her husband and he did not know that it was the last time.
She had once lived through three deaths, and – it really seemed – her own. Her country had regretted to inform her that her husband, Tom Lloyd, was killed in action; their child was stricken, and died; her father, who was her care, had died; and Maggie Lloyd, with no one to care for, had tried to save herself by an act of compassion and fatal stupidity. She had married Edward Vardoe who had a spaniel’s eyes. Now she was to disappear from Edward’s eyes.
Mrs. Vardoe, still standing at the window, raised her left hand and saw that the time was now a quarter to six. She turned and went through to the kitchen. She took her large apron from the chair where she had thrown it, tied it so that it covered her, opened the oven door, took out the roast, put the roast and vegetables back into the oven, and began to make the gravy in the pan. These actions, which were familiar and almost mechanical, took on, tonight, the significance of movement forward, of time felt in the act of passing, of a moment being reached (time always passes, but it is in the nature of things that we seldom observe...
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Book Description New Canadian Library, 1990. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0771089589
Book Description McClelland & Stewart, 1990. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0771089589