The author, Sinclair Ross has managed to produce a marvelous piece of work that has become one of Canada’s most sought after novel. The exceptional piece As for me and my house captures the life of Philip Bentley who is a minister during the depression. The minister was also an artist and his life during this period is vividly captured by his wife in her diary. Even though this was the first writing that Ross worked on, his prowess in clearly highlighting Canadian literature cannot be doubted in any way. The puzzling book provokes confusion but this is seen as a carefully orchestrated move by the author with the main aim of bringing about an ambivalence effect on the book.
This meditative insightful book is written in such a way that it evokes criticism by the author’s use of Mrs. Bentley as the narrator of Phillip’s life. The narrative is told in the contents of Mrs. Bentley’s diary of Phillips struggles as a preacher where he was led there by circumstance even though naturally he is an artist. Being a minister had left him both bitter and unapproachable even though it provided for him a constant wage. The years he had spent in false pretence in the end cost him his faith and self worth. Matters are made worse when everything seems to be better again after adopting a child after which, their happiness is cut short by the death of the child. This prompts him to turn to a younger girl for reproach. His wife on noticing how they are growing apart adapts a child in order to preserve their marriage.
Ross usage of exceptional themes in the story has been highlighted as one of the main strong points in his illustrious writing career. The author uses the theme of art and paintings to depict the miserable life that is characteristic of Phillip Bentley’s life. Philip is portrayed as the typical Canadian artist whose is a victim of his own circumstances. His paintings as the author has portrayed them to be; are emblems of his own self. The paintings vividly capture his state of being entrapped and the failure that has characterized his life at the moment.
Mrs. Bentley unlike Philip is not as passionate about her art as is Phillip at his. The author uses this contrast to highlight the predominant character in Phillip of expressing his true self through paintings. Phillip greatly shows passion and feelings in his drawings and this is clearly evident in the drawing he marvelously produced of Mrs. Bentley playing her piano and what he thought of her. Mrs. Bentley however felt that the painting was too harsh and while giving an account to the painting she depicts it as “false fonts haven’t seen the prairie. Instead they stare at each other across the street as into mirrors of themselves, absorbed in their own reflections” (Ross, 91).
The theme of this painting as the author tries to depict depicts the condition in which Philip would liked to be. The horse in the painting expresses Phillip’s idea of freedom since the horse is basically detached from the small town. Mrs. Bentley however, does not find it acceptable for the sole reason that she sees the painting in her own perspective. She vehemently suggests that the town should not have been included in the painting. She seems to perceive the town as standing “insolent, smug and self assertive” in a way that one would contemplate removing it (Ross, 92).
The author through the paintings depicts the thematic aspect of the narrative by portraying Philip as his own ardent critic. He sometimes rejects his paintings as not worthy and just like his wife; he embraces two totally different opposing aspects of his form of art. Sometimes Philip embraces Modernism while at other times he finds favor in expressing it as Romantic. Phillips drawings are characteristic of their powerful emotions and this is one of the main reasons that Phillip does not find them worthy. His wife explains how Philip believes that “its form” that supersedes the “subject or associations” in a picture (Ross, 131)
Ross also uses contrast and comparison between Phillips drawings and those of veteran artist El Greco. Great parallels are drawn between their work El Greco is perceived to prefer use of cold colors; yellow and vivid red while Philip although not very clearly highlighted can be seen to also use colors. “A trim, white, neat gabled little schoolhouse” (Ross, 105). El Greco’s paintings are often characterized by a dominant whiteness. El Greco paints the women faces in different aspect from that he gives his male paintings. Phillips paintings are also characteristic of El Greco’s style. Ross uses this comparison to illustrate Philips prowess in producing exceptional pieces by comparing him to a Spanish artist who is by no mean chances a novice.
Ross goes further to offer differences in the two types of exceptionally great artists. El Greco is an artist by profession and in his painting of a congregation he is more heavenly. Philip in contrast is more earth bound which represents his bitterness as a minister of the church where he worked out of false pretence. Both artists as the author portrays them find fascination in drawing skies. Mrs. Bentley notes that as she noticed the painting that she only imagined an exceptional artist could really “ever paint the prairie, the vacancy and still of it, the bare essentials of a landscape, sky and earth (Ross, 78).
Ross has in the novel given Mrs. Bentley the rare honors of telling the story in her perspective while it is not her that is actually the main character. However, the story is supposed to focus on Phillip who is a trapped artist in the wrong profession and is at the same time surrounded by an uncomprehending society that is at most narrow and his marriage is not so rosy either. This has had the effect of the author directing much of the attention to Mrs. Bentley. The reader then has to either to choose in which light to view her. Mrs. Bentley on the other hand may seem to be either rebellious or sympathetic all in equal measure depending on the reader’s perspective.
Philip however, tries to lock her out of his life which is evident when she laments that she is unable to “posses him” (Ross, 12). This statement alone clearly illustrates the perspective in which Phillip is portrayed since his wife as she declares, does not know everything about him. Ross by using Mrs. Bentley as the narrator obviously provoked room for criticism sine it is almost obvious that the reader cannot be satisfied with anything the narrator (Mrs. Bentley) says since she may not be even very sure of what she is talking about.