ROSS, SINCLAIR (1908-1996)
James Sinclair Ross was born on a homestead near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, on January 22, 1908. His parents separated when he was seven, and he was raised by his mother on a series of Saskatchewan farms where she made her living as a housekeeper. After grade eleven schooling, he joined the Royal Bank of Canada in 1924 and, with the exception of service in the Canadian Army in England from 1942 to 1946, continued with the bank in several Saskatchewan towns, Winnipeg, and Montreal until his retirement in 1968. He died in Vancouver on February 29, 1996.
Ross is best known for three titles. The Lamp at Noon and Other Stories (1968) collects the works of short fiction he wrote in the 1930s and 1940s. These stories chronicle the physical and psychological hardships of living and working on isolated Prairie farms during the drought and depression of the 1930s. They dramatize the heroic determination that kept the settlers from defeat as well as the pride that cut them off from nearly all contact with others. Ross's major novel, As for Me and My House (1941), is the story of the Reverend Philip Bentley and his unnamed wife, their loveless marriage, and their efforts to escape from the small Prairie town in which they are living. Like Ross's short fiction, As for Me and My House is set against a 1930s background of dust storms and economic hardship that gives the novel dramatic and historical authenticity. But its lasting interest derives from the way the story is told: in a series of diary entries from Mrs. Bentley's point of view and in a taut, lyrical prose style that renders for the imagining eye both the beauty and the harshness of the Prairie setting. Ross's last novel, Sawbones Memorial (1974), is the story of a small Saskatchewan community that looks back over its past on the evening of the local doctor's retirement party. Critics have praised the comic exposure of small-town meanness and prejudice and the skill with which Ross handled an experimental dramatic form. Ross's other two novels, The Well (1951) and Whir of Gold (1970), have earned less critical and popular interest.
David Stouck Simon Fraser University
McMullen, Lorraine. Sinclair Ross. Boston: Twayne, 1979.
Stouck, David, ed. Sinclair Ross's "As for Me and My House": Five Decades of Criticism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.