Hugh MacLennan : biography
John Hugh MacLennan, CC, CQ (March 20, 1907 – November 9, 1990) was a Canadian author and professor of English at McGill University. He won five Governor General’s Awards and a Royal Bank Award.
MacLennan and his sister were pushed extremely hard by their father to spend long hours learning the Classics. While this was very difficult for Frances, who had no interest in Greek, Hugh grew to enjoy this field of study. Their father had an ambitious educational path planned for Hugh: studying the Classics at Dalhousie University, getting a Rhodes Scholarship, and then continuing his studies in England.Cameron (1981), 20. MacLennan received top marks at Dalhousie and succeeded in winning a Rhodes Scholarship, allowing him to go on to Oxford University.Cameron (1981), 21.
While at Dalhousie, he realized that his inner wish was to pursue an artistic career, the influence of his creative mother. At Oxford, he struggled with balancing his passion for Greek and Latin studies with these artistic instincts.Cameron (1981), 23, 58. In his first year, MacLennan worked incredibly hard at his Classics courses, but was only able to achieve second-class.Cameron (1981), 26–27, 33. By his second year, he had resigned himself to such results, and while still working diligently, decided not to overwork himself as before.Cameron (1981), 48. In his fourth year, he was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on his studies, and spent more and more time at tennis and writing poetry.Cameron (1981), 56. In letters to his family from around this time are hints that he hoped to be a successful writer.Cameron (1981), 57–58. In late 1931, MacLennan sent some of his poetry to three publishers, including the firms of John Lane and Elkin Mathews, but it was turned down.Cameron (1981), 58.
MacLennan’s four years in Oxford gave him the opportunity to travel throughout Europe, and he visited countries such as Switzerland, France, Greece and Italy.Cameron (1981), 31–32, 34–36, 39–40, 55–56. He spent some of his holidays lodging with a family in Germany, through which he acquired a very good proficiency in German.Cameron (1981), 46, 53–54, 60. His travels and his exposure to different political ideas caused MacLennan to begin to question his father’s puritanical, Conservative attitudes that he had until then taken for granted.Cameron (1981), 43, 58–59.
MacLennan won a $400 scholarship to continue his studies at Princeton University, and despite his growing disinclination to keep studying the Classics, he decided to go there.Cameron (1981), 62. This was partly to appease his father, and partly because the Great Depression meant that there were few jobs available.Cameron (1981), 61–62. In June 1932, while sailing home from England, he met his future wife, American Dorothy Duncan.Cameron (1981), 66. Falling in love with her made him change his mind about Princeton.Cameron (1981), 71. For one thing, his father insisted he should not get married before becoming financially independent, which would mean delaying marriage at least until his graduation. In addition, MacLennan was already unhappy about having to accept money from his father for the part of his Princeton studies that would not be covered by his scholarship. However, his applications were rejected from both of the Canadian universities he applied to that had Classics Department positions opening; thus, he grudgingly agreed to go to Princeton after all.Cameron (1981), 72–73.
His three years at Princeton were unhappy. The style of classical study there was very different from what he was used to at Oxford, with Princeton’s scholarship "consist[ing] of extremely detailed analyses of classical texts and sources—thorough, but unoriginal."Cameron (1981), 73. He began to rebel against his father’s ideals: he stopped going to church and put increasing energy into his writing at the expense of his studies; furthermore, in addition to resenting his financial dependence on his father, he continued his relationship with Dorothy even though he knew his father would not approve of her American, Lowland Scottish, Christian Science, business-world background.Cameron (1981), 77. During this time, MacLennan also began to be influenced by Marxism.Cameron (1981), 78–79, 82.