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GEORGE WOODCOCK When the Past Becomes History: The Half-Century in Non-Fiction Prose I Perhaps it would be an exaggeration to describe the foundation of the University of Toronto Quarterly in 1931 as an act of courage, since in those difficult times universities were among the few institutions within which it was still finanCially possible to engage in modest ventures. But it was certainly an act of faith and of foresight, a recognition that in Canada there existed and must be preserved an intellectual community which needed its organs of expression, the places of publication that would save Canadian scholars from being wholly dependent on the outside world for the presentation of their work. The role played by the university quarterlies during the period between the two great wars was more than merely important. Canada had - and still has - no weekly journals ofopinion like the New Statesman in England and the New Republicin the United States; no journals keeping their publi in touch with books as they appeared, like the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Times Book Review. The Canadian Forum, largely staffe and written by academics, was the nearest thing to such an unattached periodical, but it appeared only monthly and was plagued by recurrent financial crises. And apart from the Forum, the only journals in which j Canadians could then fmd intelligent discussion of books and currentl developments in the humanities and the arts, as well as reasonabl~ informed assessments of public affairs, were the university quarterlies, and to all intents and purposes these were a development of the years immediately after World War I. The Canadian Historical Review was founded in 1920, as was the Canadian Forum. The Dalhousie Review first appeared in 1921, and shortly afterwards Queen's Quarterly underwent a metamorphosis from a bulletin of university affairs into the broadly base journal of affairs and the arts which we know today. The appearance of the Canadian Historical Review coincided with th beginnings of the great development of Canadian historical writing tha has characterized the past half-century. For the University of Toront Quarterly an initiative taken five years later - in 1936- may have been eve more important in its consequences than the original founding of the journal; this was the initiation of the annual feature 'Letters in Canada, where for the first time a reader could find Canadian books of all kind, intelligently discussed. 'Letters in Canada' has been remarkable for the WHEN THE PAST BECOMES HISTORY 91 thoroughness with which it has traced books by Canadians, whether they were published at home or, as in those days happened more often, abroad. For during the 1930S Canadian publishing remained mostly in the doldrums, and it was difficult for any book not manifestly Canadian in content to find publication here. Indeed, even books with obvious Canadian relevance did not appear in large numbers, which is why the few important non-fiction books dating from this period, like W.E. Collin 's fine study of Canadian poets, The White Savannahs, and Donald Creighton's first major work, The Empire of the St. Lawrence, stand out in such singular prominence. The relationship between a literature, in the sense of the actual books that are written and published, and the pattern of external but relevant events within which that work of creation goes on is a question that always concerns the historian of literature and ideas. While it is impossible to establish any one-to-one link between the existence of an effective infrastructure and the increased production of works of art and literature, the two phenomena do seem to work together in ways that are not easy to explain. The pattern is certainly not one of infrastructure (publishers, magazines , the whole network of a literary world) being the cause, and a flood of poems, novels, works of history and biography being the effect. Both are more likely the effects of particular social climates, or special phases in the development of national or regional consciousness, that loosen the inhibitions which in pioneer societies and puritan societies (and Canada up to the early twentieth century was both) inhibit both imaginative creation and intellectual enquiry. But there is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 90-101
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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