Sep 162010


DG is being talked about again! This time for his apparent predilection for writing about weird sex (a Canadian thing, according to the author, Jeet Heer, who is, by the way, an otherwise estimable journalist), especially with large, hairy omnivores. DG has gone from being famous for being unknown to transforming bestiality into art. He thinks: Has anyone actually read the book? No one has sex with an animal in his novel! The heroine turns into a bear and grows extra sets of nipples, but she only has sex with humans. (Of course, this will no doubt disappoint many NC readers, a rowdy crowd, usually up for that sort of thing.)

As Katherine Monk points out in her book Weird Sex & Snowshoes, Canadian filmmakers are notable for their interest in outré forms of passion. Think of the acrobatic sexual positions displayed in the movies of Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, and Denys Arcand.

I’m wondering whether a similar fixation on erotic outrageousness isn’t also a running theme in Canadian literature: after all, the Governor General’s Award has twice been given to novels that feature a woman having sex with a bear (Marian Engel’s Bear and Douglas Glover’s Elle). [My emphasis.]

In many ways, bears make a natural sex symbol. With their hairiness, burliness, and wary aggression, bears embody a certain ideal of rugged Northern masculinity (notably among a subset of husky gay men). The image of ursine/human mating is redolent of both folklore (Beauty and the Beast) and mythology (the many occasions when Zeus took an animal guise in order to seduce a nubile maiden).

via “Sex, Prose, and the Veggie Aisle” by Jeet Heer | The Walrus Blog.

Okay, the last paragraph is interesting. Suddenly, bears come into focus for dg as attractive, sexual beings. He can see a canoe trip novel, something in Algonquin Park, a hunky male human of uncertain sexual orientation falls for a gay bear. All sorts of hanky panky ensues, while canoe-loads of campers look on in amazement.

Joking aside, you really ought to look at Marian Engel’s novel Bear, possibly the best book ever written about a woman having an affair with a bear.


  24 Responses to ““…novels that feature a woman having sex with a bear…””

  1. how very strange, on all counts!

  2. I read Marian Engel’s Bear in the 80’s. I believe it was required reading for all Canadian women living in or near an urban centre. It certainly made me look at bears in a new light.

    As for the other DG, he really does seem to have taken on a life of his own. I expect one of his novels will be winning the Giller Prize next, and we’ll all be watching the movie version, filmed in Vancouver.

    • Love it. I used an excerpt as an example in a mini-workshop about using nature as a setting. (Other examples were from Elle, Surfacing, Grendel, and The Heather Blazing.) The relationship was certainly erotic, but she never actually had sex with the bear.

      I think DG should write his proposed tale: an ursine Deliverance, perhaps. Let me know when the film comes out.

      • This sounds like a great book list. But I think she has sex with the bear. Maybe it’s not on the page, but clearly implied? Damn, now I have to look at the book again. I pretty clearly recall the heroine thinking about the peculiar shape and bristles on the bear’s penis. Maybe I remember wrong.

  3. I’d been camping in Alberta for almost a week, and I had just descened from Leah Peak and set camp. Mist rose above the glacial lake. My ankles were bloody and sore after trekking through scree. I needed a shower, a shave and a woman. Then I spotted Gertrude. She approached my tent, growling with yearning. I won’t say that it was love at first sight. No, there were other emotions involved: terror, denial, confusion. I laid out a tray of smoked salmon and two bottles of Labatt’s.

    In the end, Gertrude’s passion overcame my fear. She guzzled the beer, she devoured the salmon in one bite, and she won my heart.

    Sometimes at night, when my kids and wife are fast asleep, I sit on the back porch and think about Gertrude. I wonder if she’s still out there, roaming the Canadian Rockies, a Labatt’s bottle cap necklace around her hairy neck, the keloid scar tissue around mine,these the only reminders of our wild night passion.

    It feels so good to finally talk about this!

    Goodnight, Gertrude. I hope the salmon are running this year.

  4. I also like the bear in the photo, who has just said grace and is patiently waiting for someone to serve lunch.

    (As a slightly absurd footnote, my little grandsons gave me a Webkinz polar bear a couple of Christmases ago, and then instructed me on how to register my pet on the website. I named her Elle, of course.)

  5. OK, DG is right. Lou (the protagonist of Marian Engel’s *Bear*) does have sex with the bear, by any reasonable definition (although not by Bill Clinton’s definition). There are explicit descriptions on pp. 79, 82, and 95 (2002 Godine edition) of the bear performing oral sex on her. She states in a few places (e.g., p. 105) that he is not aroused by her. However, finally, on p. 113, he achieves an erection, but when Lou offers herself to be mounted, all he does is claw her back, rather painfully, and that’s the end of that idea.

    I re-read the whole book, so I hope this clears things up.

  6. Bubbles is jealous.

  7. Mea culpa. Obviously my memory of “Elle” is faulty, although in my defense I think it accurate to read “Elle” as being an offspring of the Marian Engel novel, at least to some degree. And in Elle the heroine does at one point think about having sex with a bear. So perhaps the sentence should have read: “the Governor General’s Award has twice been given to novels that raise the possibility of a woman having sex with a bear (an act that is consumated in Marian Engel’s ‘Bear’ and only raised as a hypothetical in Douglas Glover’s ‘Elle’).”

    • Everyone, This is Jeet Heer, the, as I said, estimable Canadian critic and journalist quoted in the post above. Very graceful of him to appear here and correct his mistake, to brave the ravening pack of NC hunting beasts. Please welcome him and be nice. No need to draw blood.


      • One more thing. It is amazing how sometimes on the internet you can cut straight through all the firewalls and red tape of the print media and go straight to the source and, instead of griping away impotently, actually have a conversation with the writer of the words.

      • I expect that we can all be teddybears on occasion. Nice to hear from you, Jeet.

        And I do think that Marian Engel’s book can be regarded as part of Elle’s ancestry; don’t you, DG?

  8. I’m thinking about winter nights in Canada, and the imagination at work on such nights. And then thinking about Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale,” with its marvelous and most famous of all time stage directions, “Exit pursued by a bear.” And then of the Elizabethan song, “Now Winter Nights Enlarge,” by the poet/composer Thomas Campion:

    Now Winter Nights Enlarge
    by Thomas Campion

    Now winter nights enlarge
    The number of their houres ;
    And clouds their stormes discharge
    Upon the ayrie towres.
    Let now the chimneys blaze
    And cups o’erflow with wine,
    Let well-tun’d words amaze
    With harmonie diuine.
    Now yellow waxen lights
    Shall waite on hunny Loue
    While youthfull Reuels, Masks, and Courtly sights,
    Sleepes leaden spels remoue.

    This time doth well dispence
    With louers long discourse ;
    Much speech hath some defence,
    Though beauty no remorse.
    All doe not all things well ;
    Some measures comely tread ;
    Some knotted Ridles tell ;
    Some Poems smoothly read.
    The Summer hath his ioyes,
    And Winter his delights ;
    Though Loue and all his pleasures are but toyes,
    They shorten tedious nights.

  9. You’re welcome.

    Of course, “Exit pursued by a bear,” has suddenly taken on new meaning. How crudely we’ve interpreted it all these years.

    And wait a minute. Is it possible? I mean, the bard could never have read Elle, but maybe be knew her?? Or knew of her??

  10. The thing is, that the bear in Marian Engel’s erotic novel, spurned the protagonist, as bears will, if let.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.