Marian Engel

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Marian Engel
Born May 24, 1933
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died February 16, 1985(1985-02-16) (aged 51)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Occupation Writer, Activist, Teacher
Nationality Canadian
Genre Fiction
Subject Women: mid-advanced years
Notable works Bear
Children 2 children

Marian Engel, OC, née Marian Ruth Passmore (May 24, 1933 – February 16, 1985) was an award-winning Canadian novelist.


Born May 24, 1933[1] in Toronto, Ontario, to teacher parents[2] Frederick Searle and Mary Elizabeth (Fletcher) Passmore.[3] She grew up in Port Arthur, Brantford, Galt, Hamilton and Sarnia.[1]

Engel was educated at Sarnia Collegiate Institute & Technical School, Sarnia, Ontario, McMaster University (B.A. in Language Studies 1955) Hamilton, Ontario, McGill University (M.A. in Canadian Literature 1957) Montreal, Quebec[1] and studied on a Rotary Foundation Scholarship at the Université d’Aix-Marseille (French Literature 1960-61), Aix-en Provence, France.[3] At McGill University she wrote her Master’s thesis on the English Canadian novel, under the supervision of Hugh MacLennan.[4]

She taught briefly at The Study (1957–58) (Westmount, Montreal, QC), McGill University and University of Montana-Missoula (Missoula, Montana) and St. John’s School (Nicosia, Cyprus).[1]

She met Howard Engel, a mystery novel writer and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio producer in Canada, and married him in England in 1962. They returned to Toronto, ON in 1964.[4] She began to raise a family, twin children, William Lucas Passmore and Charlotte Helen Arabella,[5] and to pursue a writing career. Marian and Howard separated in 1975 and divorced in 1977.[1]

Engel was writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta (1977–1978)[1] and at the University of Toronto (1980–1982).[4]

She died of cancer in Toronto on February 16, 1985.[4]

Public life[edit]

Engel was a passionate activist for the national and international writer's cause. She was the first chair of the Writer’s Union of Canada (1973–74)and helped instigate the Public Lending Right Commission.[6]

From 1975-1977 she served on the City of Toronto Book Award (an award she won in 1981 for Lunatic Villas[1]) Committee and the Canadian Book and Periodical Development Council. She held a trusteeship on the Toronto Public Library Board from 1975-1978.[1]

In 1982 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.[7]

Engel was Metro Toronto YWCA's Woman of Distinction in Arts and Letters in 1984.[1]

After her death the Writer's Development Trust of Canada instituted the $10,000 Marian Engel Award, which was presented annually to a woman writer in mid-career.[8] The Engel and Findley Awards are no longer awarded separately, but were combined into the new Writers’ Trust Notable Author Award as of 2008.

Literary life[edit]

Marian Engel's first published novel, No Clouds of Glory, was published in 1968.[6]

She wrote two children's books; Adventures of Moon Bay Towers (1974) and My name is not Odessa Yarker (1977).[8]

Engel's most famous and controversial novel was Bear (1976), a tale of erotic love between a librarian and a bear.[7] She won the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction in 1976 for Bear.[1]

Inside the Easter Egg (1975) and her posthumous The Tattooed Woman (1985) were collections of short stories.[9] Some of these short stories had originally been written for Robert Weaver’s CBC radio program Anthology.[9] The novel JOANNE: The Last Days of a Modern Marriage was originally commissioned as a radio-novel by CBC for the program This Country in the Morning.[citation needed]

In 1981 she wrote the text for a coffee-table style travel book Islands of Canada[5] with photographs by J. A. Kraulis.

Engel was an avid journal keeper. Her journals were primarily a repository for memories and details[10] from which she drew for her fiction.[11] In 1999, this material was edited and published as Marian Engel's Notebook: ‘Ah, mon cahier, écoute...’.

From 1965-1985 she corresponded with literary peers and friends such as, Hugh MacLennan, Robertson Davies, Dennis Lee, Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence, Matt Cohen, Robert Weaver, Graeme Gibson and more.[12] Some of this correspondence can be found in Dear Hugh, Dear Marian: the MacLennan-Engel Correspondence (1995) and Marian Engel: Life in Letters (2004)

The novel on which she was working at the time of her death, Elizabeth and the Golden City was never completed[13] until Christyl Verduyn incorporated it into Marion and the Major: Engel’s Elizabeth and the Golden City which was published in 2010.[14]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • No Clouds of Glory [1968] (reissued as Sarah Bastard's Notebook, [1974][13])
  • The Honeyman Festival [1970]
  • Monodromos [1973] (reissued as One way street [1975][8])
  • Adventure at Moon Bay Towers [1974][8]
  • Inside the Easter Egg [1975]
  • JOANNE: The Last Days of a Modern Marriage [1975]
  • Bear [1976]
  • My name is not Odessa Yarker [1977][8]
  • The Glassy Sea [1979]
  • Lunatic Villas [1981] (UK published as The year of the child[8])
  • Islands of Canada (photographs by J. A. Kraulis) [1981]
  • The Tattooed Woman [1985]

Posthumous bibliography[edit]

  • Verduyn, Christl, ed. Dear Marian, Dear Hugh: The MacLennan-Engel Correspondence. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1995.
  • Verduyn, Christl, ed. Marian Engel's Notebook: ‘Ah, mon cahier, écoute...’. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1999.
  • Verduyn, Christl and Kathleen Garay, eds. Marian Engel: Life in Letters. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004
  • Verduyn, Christl, Marion and the Major: Engel’s Elizabeth and the Golden City Montreal-Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press, 2010.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Brady, Elizabeth Marian Engel and her Works. Toronto: ECW Press, 198(5+). Print
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Toye, William, ed. The Concise Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature Don Mills: Oxford UP, 2001. Print
  4. ^ a b c d "Marian Engel Biography". 2010-11-02. Retrieved 2014-07-10. 
  5. ^ a b Simpson, Kieran , ed. Canadian WHO’S WHO 1984 Volume XIX Toronto: University of Toronto P, 1984. Print
  6. ^ a b web?did=813227711&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientld=6974&RQT=309&VName=PQD
  7. ^ a b Wilson, Jean. "Marian Engel". Historica Canada. Retrieved 23 July 2016. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main &entry=t201.e456
  9. ^ a b Engel, Marian The Tattooed Woman (Intro) Markham: Penguin Books Canada Ltd., 1985. Print
  10. ^ web?did=276421141&sid-1&Fmt=3&clientld=6974&RQT=309&VName=PQD
  11. ^ "Marian Engel Essay - Critical Essays". Retrieved 2014-07-10. 
  12. ^ "Marian Engel: Life in Letters: Marian Engel, Kathleen Garay, Christl Verduyn: 9780802036872: Books". 2004-07-30. Retrieved 2014-07-10. 
  13. ^ a b Retrieved November 1, 2010.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  14. ^ a b