“Bear” is a controversial piece of Canadian literature. It is set on a remote island in Ontario where a woman is trying to find items of historical significance in a unique house. Her other task is to take care of the pet bear that resides in a cabin behind the house. Marian Engel takes this narrative and turns it into a discussion about feminism and women’s sexuality.
It intrigues me that during the sexual scenes Engel completely changes the language that she uses. Most of the novella is written simply, with a soft language that plays with characters’ emotions and struggles. During intimate moments between Lou and the bear Engel’s language becomes harsh, rough, and off-putting. Suddenly she uses more foul language and harsh, direct words. There is nothing beautiful about the words and its makes these moments even more garish, since they are already conflicting morals by having elements of bestiality. If Engels wanted to make these scenes intimate and pleasurable then a kinder, softer language should be used.
“Bear” was written in the early 1970s and is a discussion of feminism and women’s sexuality. The bear is supposed to be a reflection of Lou (maybe it represents her animalistic desires) and shows that a woman, Lou, does not need a man to make her happy. Lou remarks that she has sex with her boss because she feels a need to, but finds no intimacy with him. Lou also, after being neglected by the bear, has sex with Homer, the estate’s caretaker. This book is written during a time of female sexual revolution where women were fighting for their bodies and their right to have sex for pleasure, which became easier with the birth control pill. Although Lou never does have sex with the bear, she finds pleasure with him and love him more than any man, demonstrating that men are not key to women’s sexual satisfaction.
“Bear” was completely outside of my comfort zone for reading. I do not seek out erotica in fiction and prefer to read soft romance with glances and sighs rather than erotica with claws and orgasms. I am glad that I have read “Bear”; it has broadened my library of literature. I found it to be a good perspective into what women were battling for in the seventies and how women wrote about their sexual power and feelings. I think that was the key for me: to read “Bear” as a study of seventies feminist literature, rather than reading it for pleasure. I do recommend it as a study of women’s authorship during the sexual revolution and hope that others will read it as it is written and not as a book about a women who has sex with a bear (because she doesn’t).