Dozens of promising younger essayists are writing in Canada today, many as full-time journalists and many more freelancing, often supported through connection in some capacity with colleges or universities. The latter group are more typically experimental, but both groups are tending to take the familiar essay toward persuasion rather than detached observation and reflection. It might be argued that personal journalism and essays clearly aimed at changing the attitudes of readers stand somewhat apart from the traditional model of the familiar essay, but the essay has at many points in its history been an agent for social change, and the frankness of Canadian writers today about where they stand in relation to controversial subjects reflects the openness of the time. Whatever developments the new century may bring in the familiar essay, the current interest in this flexible but distinctive genre suggests that it will become more central in Canadian
During the period 1893–1909 Meynell published the five collections of essays that I discuss here: The Rhythm of Life (1893), The Children (1897), The Colour of Life (1897), The Spirit of Place (1899), and Ceres’ Runaway (1909). These are collections of familiar essays, informal in tone and—with the exception of The Children, which is specifically about children—miscellaneous or occasional in content. They are mostly compiled from essays that Meynell had previously published in periodicals, and they discuss many and varied objects, including plants and other natural phenomena, historical figures, places, landscapes, and architecture, social mores, incidents seen and heard, children, childhood, and parenting, and literature. These essays are generally very short, about 5–8 pages in their original editions, and they have a striking quality of compression and density. Schaffer describes Meynell’s essays as epigrammatic (2000, 171) and ascribes to them a gem-like quality (2000, 159)—an ascription that captures their remote, glittering exquisiteness. The lapidary quality and epigrammatic features of Meynell’s prose firmly identify her essays with Aestheticism; Meynell wrote in what Schaffer describes as a “fundamentally Aesthetic style” (171).
250 Topics for Familiar Essays (Writing Suggestions)
essay, as it is called—and letters, is the aristocrat, the Brahmin among readers, because he, among all others, has the taste of the connoisseur for delicate flavor, for fragrance, for aroma…” But World War I brought out another view. As Agnes Repplier—one of the most important familiar essayists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries—wrote in “The American Essay in War Time” (1918), “To write essays in these flaming years, one must have a greater power of detachment than had Montaigne or Lamb.”