Christl Verduyn analyses Engel's work from a feminist literary perspective, examining Engel's concern with women's experiences and perception of the world, female identity and the social constraints on its development, female subjectivity and self, the mother-daughter relationship, and forces opposing women's artistic self-expression. Verduyn presents in-depth readings of both the novels and Engel's reflections on her experiences as a woman and a writer as found in her personal journals and other writings. Verduyn demonstrates the extent to which Engel's work not only deserves to be ranked with the best of Canadian literature but also enriches our understanding of women's experiences and broadens our view of women's worlds. Lifelines makes an important contribution to Canadian literature, women's studies, and the growing genre of life writing.
Lines of enquiry - "The tattooed woman"; between the lines - Marian Engel's notebooks; scratching around - early writings and unpublished work; the texture of women - "Sarah Bastard's notebook" and "The honeymoon festival"; instincts and lessons - "Monodromus"; transformations - "Bear"; translated without transubstantiation - "The glassy sea"; ambivalence towards completion - "Lunatic villas"; in the Golden City - conclusion.