The Hundefraulein Papers

Ever scratched an ear or rubbed a belly upon opening a book? The Hundefräulein Papers, charmingly illustrated by its author, invites us to do so before reading on. The cover (Kathy Mac morphing into a dappled hound), Living in the Dog House section titles, seven “setter sonnets,” one “not-a-setter” sonnet, and one “more-than-a-setter” sonnet also imply that art’s gone to the dogs. Not so. Drawings, photos, poetry and prose-a help-wanted ad, an extraordinary recipe, email correspondence, an obituary notice-provide insight into the character of two exceptional women: dog-sitter (now St. Thomas University professor of English) Kathleen McConnell, and her former employer, Elisabeth Mann Borgese (1918-2002)-oceans activist, founding member of the Club of Rome, and Order of Canada recipient. As early as 1963, Mann Borgese, once executive secretary to the board of Encyclopedia Britannica, predicted a world state: “The earth has become too small, physically and spiritually, to stand divided.” A prolific author, she long affirmed joint management systems are “more important than political boundaries.” Ironically, Mann Borgese is better known for having taught a dog to play the piano than for her environmentalism. What’s of primary interest in The Hundefräulein Papers, however, is the negotiation between-and accommodation of-two fiercely independent wills, at least one of whom meets rebellion “with a look borrowed from the sky / pressing down on the ocean’s surface.” The undertones of Honest Reportage, Relative to Mirabel (the Eeyore of Setters), and Shore Bird, all of which illuminate differences between Mac’s Mrs. Sensible Pearce and Mann Borgese, suggest much remains to be resolved. Were you smitten by the Blakeian sweep of Tooke, Suitor to the Spectacular Givens from Mac’s first book, Nail Builders Plan for Strength and Growth? Delight, then, in Hundefräulein’s English setters Isabella, Little Napolean, and Princess (“Such a neck, giraffesque, speckled bitchumen / and ivory; and eyes Dogwood Cove dark”). Delight, too, in the collection’s last words: “… I learned from the best // how to chase a shadow through myriad dapples.” Heed, dear readers, the counsel of Serio Mann Borgese, canine philosopher and double-naught dog. On Social Mobility: “Know your place / to better it; // pee on anyone / who stays too long.” On Resolve: “Don’t bite. // And when you do, / Don’t let go.” A biography of “rare piper” Elisabeth Mann Borgese would be most welcome. The German-born environmentalist’s cool relationship with her father, Nobel laureate Thomas Mann (author of Death in Venice); empathy for gay brother-in-law W. H. Auden; and marriage to a man 36 years her senior are dangled before us, too soon snatched from view. The Hundefräulein Papers-a quick, clever sketch-reveals bone country like none other. Few are better qualified to research and render the whole than Kathy Mac. - reviewed by DIANE REID For The Daily Gleaner

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