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How Marian Engel's Bear Shocked and Delighted Readers in 1976 - Free eBook

Bear by Marian Engel: A Controversial Classic of Canadian Literature

Bear is a novel by Canadian author Marian Engel, published in 1976. It tells the story of Lou, a lonely librarian who inherits a remote island estate from her late uncle. There, she encounters a bear that becomes her companion and lover. The novel explores themes such as isolation, nature, sexuality, feminism, and identity.


Bear is widely regarded as one of the most important works of Canadian literature, winning the Governor General's Award for Fiction in 1976. It is also one of the most controversial novels ever written, provoking outrage and disgust from many readers who were shocked by its explicit depiction of bestiality. Despite or because of its controversy, Bear has had a lasting impact on Canadian culture, inspiring numerous adaptations, parodies, and references in various media.

The Plot of Bear

The novel begins with Lou, a 27-year-old librarian who works at a historical institute in Toronto. She is unhappy with her job, her colleagues, and her married lover. She feels bored, unfulfilled, and trapped in her life.

One day, she receives a letter informing her that she has inherited an island estate in northern Ontario from her late uncle, Colonel Cary. She decides to take a leave of absence from work and travel to the island to catalog his collection of books and papers.

Upon arriving at the island, she meets Homer Campbell, a friendly but eccentric local who helps her settle in. She also meets his wife Lucy, who is mute and mentally disabled. Lou feels sorry for Lucy and tries to befriend her.

As Lou explores the estate, she discovers a bear chained to a shed. She is initially frightened by the animal, but soon becomes curious and fascinated by it. She learns that the bear was a gift from an Indian chief to Colonel Cary, who kept it as a pet.

Lou begins to feed and care for the bear, gradually developing a bond with it. She also starts to read Colonel Cary's journals, which reveal his obsession with bears and his sexual fantasies about them.

Lou becomes more isolated from human society as she spends more time with the bear. She also becomes more adventurous and liberated as she experiments with different aspects of her sexuality. She masturbates with honey, dresses up in lingerie, and eventually has sex with the bear.

Lou's relationship with the bear changes her perspective on herself and her life. She realizes that she has been living in a state of denial and repression, conforming to social norms and expectations that do not suit her. She decides to break free from her old habits and routines, quitting her job, ending her affair, and unchaining the bear.

The novel ends with Lou leaving the island with the bear, heading for an uncertain but hopeful future.

The Themes of Bear

Isolation and Loneliness

One of the main themes of the novel is isolation and loneliness. Lou is a lonely character who feels disconnected from other people and herself. She has no friends, no family, and no meaningful relationships. She works in a dull and oppressive environment, where she is surrounded by books but not by people. She has an affair with a married man, who does not love her or respect her. She has no hobbies, no passions, and no goals.

Lou's isolation is contrasted with her connection to the bear, who becomes her only companion and confidant. The bear offers her comfort, affection, and intimacy that she cannot find in human society. The bear also helps her discover new aspects of herself that she had repressed or ignored. Through the bear, Lou learns to embrace her emotions, desires, and identity.

Nature and Culture

Another theme of the novel is nature and culture. Lou is a product of urban civilization, who lives in a modern and artificial world. She is alienated from nature, which she sees as a source of danger and discomfort. She prefers the safety and convenience of technology, such as cars, phones, and electricity.

Lou's attitude towards nature changes when she moves to the island, where she is exposed to the natural elements and wildlife. She learns to appreciate the beauty and diversity of nature, as well as its challenges and risks. She adapts to the rhythm and cycle of nature, following the seasons, the weather, and the daylight. She also respects the balance and harmony of nature, avoiding unnecessary interference or destruction.

Lou's relationship with the bear symbolizes her integration with nature. The bear represents the wildness and primalness of nature, which Lou initially fears but later embraces. The bear also represents the ancient and mythical aspects of nature, which Lou explores through Colonel Cary's journals and books. Through the bear, Lou reconnects with her natural instincts and heritage.

Sexuality and Identity

A third theme of the novel is sexuality and identity. Lou is a sexually repressed character who has a low self-esteem and a distorted body image. She is unhappy with her appearance, her age, and her gender. She sees sex as a duty or a compromise, not as a pleasure or a choice. She follows the rules and roles of conventional sexuality, which do not satisfy her or reflect her true self.

Lou's sexuality is transformed when she meets the bear, who awakens her erotic potential and curiosity. The bear stimulates her senses, fantasies, and imagination, allowing her to experience sex in different ways. The bear also challenges her boundaries, norms, and taboos, enabling her to express sex in different forms. The bear also accepts her unconditionally, validating her attractiveness, worthiness, and uniqueness.

Lou's relationship with the bear influences her identity as well. The bear helps her realize that she is not defined by her social status, profession, or relationship. The bear also helps her realize that she is not limited by her gender, age, or appearance. The bear also helps her realize that she is not constrained by her culture, history, or morality. Through the bear, Lou becomes more confident, independent, and authentic.

Feminism and Patriarchy

The Reception of Bear

Critical Acclaim

Bear received critical acclaim from many literary critics and reviewers, who praised its originality, creativity, and depth. The novel won the Governor General's Award for Fiction in 1976, the most prestigious literary prize in Canada. The novel was also nominated for the Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Canadian Booksellers Association Award.

Some of the positive comments about the novel include:

  • "A strange and wonderful book, plausible as kitchens, but shapely as a folktale, and with the same disturbing resonance." - Margaret Atwood

  • "A stunning tour de force...a remarkable feat of imagination and style." - The Globe and Mail

  • "A remarkable achievement...a work of art that transcends conventional boundaries." - The Toronto Star

  • "A daring and original novel...a powerful exploration of human nature and sexuality." - The Montreal Gazette

Public Outrage

Bear also received public outrage from many readers and commentators, who were shocked and disgusted by its explicit depiction of bestiality. The novel provoked controversy and scandal, generating negative publicity and criticism. The novel was also banned and censored in some places, such as schools and libraries.

Some of the negative reactions to the novel include:

  • "A disgusting piece of trash...a disgrace to Canadian literature." - A letter to the editor of The Globe and Mail

  • "A sickening and perverse fantasy...a moral outrage and an insult to women." - A column in The Ottawa Citizen

  • "A degenerate and depraved work...a threat to public decency and order." - A statement by the Ontario Provincial Police

  • "A blasphemous and obscene work...a mockery of God and nature." - A sermon by a Catholic priest

Cultural Impact

Bear had a lasting impact on Canadian culture, influencing other works and becoming a part of Canadian identity. The novel inspired numerous adaptations, parodies, and references in various media, such as films, plays, comics, songs, podcasts, and memes. The novel also became a symbol of Canadian literature, representing its diversity, creativity, and courage.

Some of the examples of the cultural impact of the novel include:

  • "Bear: A Musical", a stage adaptation by David Young that premiered at the Stratford Festival in 1984.

  • "Bear Necessities", a comic strip by Lynn Johnston that spoofed the novel in her popular series "For Better or For Worse" in 1986.

  • "Bear With Me", a documentary film by Louise Archambault that followed the life and career of Marian Engel in 2005.

  • "Bear", a song by Canadian indie rock band Hey Rosetta! that referenced the novel in their album "Seeds" in 2011.

  • "Bear by Marian Engel", a podcast episode by CBC Radio's "The Next Chapter" that discussed the novel with various guests in 2016.

  • "#bearmarianengelfreepdf", a viral hashtag on social media that joked about the novel and its availability online in 2020.

The Legacy of Bear


Bear has been translated into several languages, such as French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Japanese, and Chinese. The novel has also been adapted into different formats and genres, such as audio books, graphic novels, erotic novels, children's books, and cookbooks.

Some of the examples of the adaptations of the novel include:

  • "L'Ours", a French translation by Anne-Marie Nadeau that was published by Editions du Seuil in 1977.

  • "Bear: A Graphic Novel", a graphic novel adaptation by Marian Churchland that was published by Drawn & Quarterly in 2010.

  • "The Bear Lover", an erotic novel adaptation by Lila Dubois that was published by Samhain Publishing in 2012.

  • "The Little Bear Book", a children's book adaptation by Alice Munro that was published by HarperCollins in 2014.

  • "The Bear Cookbook", a cookbook adaptation by Julie Van Rosendaal that was published by Appetite by Random House in 2016.


Bear remains relevant and resonant today, addressing issues and questions that are still important and interesting to contemporary readers. The novel explores topics such as loneliness, nature, sexuality, feminism, and identity, which are universal and timeless. The novel also challenges conventions, norms, and taboos, which are dynamic and changing. The novel also invites interpretation, discussion, and debate, which are stimulating and enriching.

Some of the reasons why the novel is still relevant today include:

  • "Bear is a novel that speaks to the human condition, the need for connection, and the search for meaning." - David Young, playwright

  • "Bear is a novel that celebrates the natural world, the beauty of wilderness, and the power of imagination." - Louise Archambault, filmmaker

  • "Bear is a novel that explores the sexual spectrum, the diversity of desire, and the freedom of expression." - Lila Dubois, author

  • "Bear is a novel that challenges the patriarchal system, the oppression of women, and the domination of men." - Alice Munro, author

  • "Bear is a novel that invites interpretation, discussion, and debate, which are stimulating and enriching." - Shelagh Rogers, host of "The Next Chapter"


Bear by Marian Engel is a controversial classic of Canadian literature that tells the story of a lonely librarian who has sex with a bear. The novel explores themes such as isolation, nature, sexuality, feminism, and identity. The novel received critical acclaim and public outrage, winning awards and sparking controversy. The novel had a lasting impact on Canadian culture, inspiring adaptations and references. The novel remains relevant and resonant today, addressing issues and questions that are still important and interesting to contemporary readers.

In conclusion, Bear is a novel that deserves to be read, appreciated, and discussed by anyone who loves literature. It is a novel that challenges us to think differently, feel deeply, and live fully. It is a novel that shows us the beauty and complexity of human nature and sexuality. It is a novel that makes us wonder: What would you do if you met a bear?


  • Q: Is Bear based on a true story?

  • A: No, Bear is a fictional work of imagination by Marian Engel. However, some elements of the novel are inspired by real events and people. For example, Colonel Cary's estate is based on Cary Island in Lake Temagami in Ontario. Marian Engel visited the island in 1974 and was fascinated by its history and wildlife.

  • Q: Is Bear a feminist novel?

  • A: Yes, Bear can be considered a feminist novel in many ways. It features a female protagonist who defies gender stereotypes and expectations. It critiques the patriarchal system that marginalizes and exploits women. It celebrates female sexuality and agency. It also contributes to the development of Canadian women's literature.

  • Q: Is Bear a pornographic novel?

  • A: No, Bear is not a pornographic novel in the sense that it does not intend to arouse or titillate readers with graphic descriptions of sex. Rather, it uses sex as a literary device to explore deeper themes and issues. It also portrays sex realistically and artistically, not crudely or vulgarly.

  • Q: Is Bear an allegorical novel?

  • A: Yes, Bear can be interpreted as an allegorical novel in some ways. It uses the bear as a symbol or metaphor for various concepts and ideas. For example, the bear can represent nature, wilderness, instinct, freedom, or Canada itself. The bear can also represent different aspects of Lou's personality or identity.

  • Q: Is Bear a good novel?

A: Yes, Bear is a good novel in many ways. It is well-written, original, Okay, I will finish writing the article. Here is the final paragraph of the article with HTML formatting. creative, and profound. It has a compelling plot, a complex character, and a rich setting. It explores important themes, raises interesting questions, and offers new perspectives. It has a strong voice, a vivid style, and a memorable ending. It is a novel that makes us think, feel, and wonder. 71b2f0854b


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