This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Others, running every Friday. The following is from the chapter on Teacher, Novelist, Essayist , and Cottager, Hugh MacLennan.
One of the things I liked best about Hugh MacLennan — and there were many things to like — was his easy democratic touch. He loved to tell the story from his earliest days about his household in Cape Breton being wakened by a crowd of men fresh from an altercation. When his doctor father threw up the window to make enquiries, a voice floated up. “We’re sorry to disturb you, Doctor, but the gentleman I was fighting with has bitten off my nose!” (I once told that story in Alistair MacLeod’s presence, and Alistair — a proud son of Cape Breton — was not pleased. I hope he’ll forgive this repetition, with its marvellous use of the courteous “gentleman,” which Robert Louis Stevenson’s Alan Breck would have understood completely, and which Hugh relished.)