In 1974 John Metcalf was thirty-four years old and Margaret Atwood was thirty-five, and in the story that Metcalf tells in An Aesthetic Underground (Thomas Allen), he bought a cup of coffee for Atwood, who harangued him for not letting her pay for it. With this trivial incident, Metcalf introduces the feminist spectre to the history of Canadian literature: “Sisterhood was relentless,” he writes. “Bastions were stormed, institutions toppled with maenadic energy.” He describes the Atwood encounter as an example of “frenzy” and “feminist schtick,” and resorts twice to italics for emphasis; the whole passage contains some of the worst writing in the book, which at its best is a sloppy compendium of self-serving remarks and blowhardisms (what, for example, is the sound of an institution toppling with maenadic energy?). Atwood’s determination to pay for her own coffee must have wounded Metcalf, who sees in it evidence that “aggressive feminism was central to the Zeitgeist,” and that its invidious influence, at least by juxtaposition in the next paragraph, was the cause of his wife leaving him, so to speak, for another woman. Such are the sad ravings of literary gents of a certain age, all of whom were wounded similarly in or around 1974. How many times have we heard these guys raging against Dorothy Livesay and her proteges for bringing great questions into the so-called literary discourse? They speak about these incidents without humour or generosity, as if such transgressions against male dignity had happened only yesterday. Metcalf’s unwillingness to allow the world of ideas anywhere near his ideology of triumphant aestheticism is reflected in his simple-minded dismissal of anyone he doesn’t like as a cultural nationalist, a stance that was commonly held by the Brits and Yanks who were running Canadian English departments in the 1970s, none of whom seemed to understand that a literature must not only be well written, it must be about something.