Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

MANDEL, ELI (1922-1992)

Elias Wolf Mandel, the Canadian poet and critic, was born to a Jewish family in Estevan, Saskatchewan, on December 3, 1922. He grew up there and in Regina, and he was always influenced by his western origins. He first left the Prairies in 1943, when he served in Europe with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. Returning in 1945, he completed his bachelor's (1949) and master's (1950) at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, then left again to complete a doctorate (on the writings of Christopher Smart) at the University of Toronto (1957). Mandel's academic appointments took him to St. Jean (Quebec), Edmonton (Alberta), and (after his separation from his first wife, the poet Miriam Mandel) to York University in Toronto, where he remained as professor of English and humanities from 1967 until he suffered a major stroke in 1989. He died on September 3, 1992.

Author and editor of twenty books, Mandel acquired a substantial reputation as a theorist of Canadian poetry (as in Another Time, 1977, and the anthology Contexts of Canadian Criticism, 1971) and as a poet. Early commentaries on his work (e.g., on Black and Secret Man, 1964) described it as mythic, seeing in it the influence of Northrop Frye. Later commentary, responding to Stony Plain (1973), Out of Place (1977, with photographs by his second wife, the critic Ann Mandel), Life Sentence (1981), and Dreaming Backwards (selected poems, 1981), recognized that the influences on his work are more wide-ranging. Mandel's interest in mysticism, his wit, and his fascination with doubles, ambiguity, chaos, and the paradox of being an individual in a socially interdependent world, for example, derive from his personal travels (in India, Spain, Peru), his readings in George Steiner and others, and his Jewish Prairie heritage. Increasingly, he meditated on what this heritage meant to him, not so much as a set of received religious traditions but as an accumulation of memories that he associates with place.

William H. New University of British Columbia

Cooley, Dennis. Eli Mandel and His Works. Toronto: ECW Press, 1992.

New, W. H. "Interim Conclusion: Reading Eli Mandel's 'The Madwomen of the Plaza de Mayo.'" In Inside the Poem, edited by W. H. New. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1992: 160–64.

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