|Born||Ethel Davis Bryant|
January 20, 1888
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
|Died||December 22, 1980 (aged 92)|
Wilson was born in 1888 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to Robert and Lila Bryant. She moved to England with her father in 1890 following the death of her mother. In 1898, after the death of her father, she was taken to live with her maternal grandmother, Annie Malkin in Vancouver, British Columbia. She received her teacher's certificate in 1907, and for thirteen years taught in Vancouver elementary schools. In 1921 she married Wallace Wilson, President of the Canadian Medical Association and professor of medical ethics at the University of British Columbia.
In 1980 she was hospitalized and suffering from a series of small strokes. The day before she died, she was in physical distress from passing a kidney stone. A doctor injected her with medication to ease the pain.
In the 1930s Wilson published a few short stories and began a series of fictionalized family reminiscences which were later published as The Innocent Traveller (1949). Her first published novel, Hetty Dorval, appeared in 1947, and was followed, seven years later by Swamp Angel (1954), generally thought of as her most accomplished work. Her final book was Mrs Golightly and Other Stories (1961).
Wilson is known as one of the first Canadian writers to truly capture the beauty of BC. She wrote often of places in BC that were important to her and was able to detail the ruggedness and magic of the landscape. Yet in 1958 at the University of British Columbia, in a talk entitled "An Approach to Some Novels," Wilson stated that there was no school of 'Canadian novel-writing,' nor was one necessary. In her opinion, there were novels written in Canada by Canadians, but these were written with no prescribed formula for what would make a 'Canadian novel.' While Wilson was not overly patriotic in her writing, she did find environment to be very important to her characters. In fact, the connection to place is central in her writings to exploring relationships and the way people react to life. Wilson's characters are observed in relation to the environment. In Love and Salt Water, she states that "the formidable power of geography determines the character and performance of a people."
Wilson is the subject of one work of criticism, Ethel Wilson by Desmond Pacey, and two biographies, The Other Side of Silence: A Life of Ethel Wilson by Mary McAlpine and Ethel Wilson: A Critical Biography.
- Hetty Dorval — 1947 (Republished in 2005 by Persephone Books)
- The Innocent Traveller — 1949
- The Equations of Love. (Lilly's Story) — 1952
- Swamp Angel — 1954
- Love and Salt Water — 1956
- Mrs. Golightly and Other Stories — 1961
- Ethel Wilson: Stories, Essays, and Letters — 1987 (edited by David Stouck)
Awards and recognition
For her contribution to Canadian literature, Wilson was awarded one of the Governor General's Literary Awards in 1961 and the Royal Society of Canada's Lorne Pierce Medal in 1964. In 1970, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada "for her contribution to Canadian literature".
The Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize is named in her honour.