Friday, October 15, 2010

Bob and Hippolyte and Louis and Gabriel

John Ralston Saul, impresario of the extraordinarily successful Extraordinary Canadians series of short stylish biographies, is now an author in his own series.  This one is a Siamese twin biography: Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine & Robert Baldwin.  It would be the first dual biography in the series, except it's published this month, in another twinning, along with Louis Riel & Gabriel Dumont by Joseph Boyden.

I'm a bit hmmm about dual biographies. Shouldn't extraordinary lives also be unique lives, worth attention in their own right?

Ever since Donald Creighton's long-ago crack "Are there really biographies of Baldwin, Hincks, and Laurier, or are these merely lives of Robert Responsible-Government, and Francis Responsible-Government and...?," Canadian historians have almost entirely avoided that subject and its leading protagonists. I wonder if Saul's book, twinning LaFontaine and Baldwin once again, does seem to lend credence to Creighton's still-echoing dismissal.  

But the people need attention -- and the issue that made them partners too. I'm looking forward to Saul's treatment of both men, even if at the moment I kinda sorta wish it had been in two books.

A long time ago, George Woodcock's romantic biography of Gabriel Dumont set him up as the anti-Riel, the guerrilla warrior and true spirit of the M├ętis defeated by the Euro-Catholic rigidities of Riel.  Interesting to see how Boyden works out that one: twins or polars?
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