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T.D. MACLULICH Our Place on the Map: The Canadian Tradition in Fiction Northrop Frye's magisterial 'Conclusion' to the first edition of Literary History of Canada remains the best overview we possess of the principal features of Canadian literary culture. Yet in the course of his masterful synthesis Frye remarks: 'of the general principles of cultural history we still know relatively little." Like most of Frye's pronouncements, this one has an imposing air of finality. It is with considerable trepidation, therefore, that I venture upon a discussion that combines elements of social and literary history. I wish to ask whether there is a 'tradition' of Canadian fiction. In other words, is there a body of novels that exhibit family resemblances - similar characters, similar settings, similar conflicts, and perhaps similar stylistic features? If there is such a Canadian tradition , when and why did it begin to take shape? What is the relationship of the Canadian tradition to the older tradition of Europe and to the new tradition of the United States? These questions demand an analysis that goes beyond the evaluation and explication of individual books and takes into account not only Canada's debt to European culture but also its participation in North American SOciety. The literatures of English Canada and the United States both began as Ihe expression ofcommunities that felt themselves exiled from the culture of Europe. However, divergent political histories soon created cultural differences. The sociologist Geoffrey Gorer finds that American society is pervaded by the after-effects of a collective slaying of the European faIher.' Since the American Revolution each generation of Americans must repeat, both individually and collectively, the original disavowal of parental domination. Canada, however, remained a colony in legal fact and in spirit until well into the twentieIh century. This subordination to Great Britain has expressed itself at many levels of Canadian life, both personal and collective. In Roughing It in the Bush, for example, Susanna Moodie's exaggerated respect for God, country, king, governor, and her own father shows her fixed habit of reliance upon traditional authority. Even after Confederation Canada's loyalty to Britain remained strong, so Ihat in 1891 John A. Macdonald could appeal to Canadian voters by declaring, 'A British subject I was born, a British subject I will die.' Until quite recently the predominant motif of Canadian politics could be described as loyalty to Ihe European father. UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 52, NUMBER 2, WINTER 1913.1/3 0042-(24718) /0200-{)191-{)208$/JI .501o Itl UNIVERSITI OF TORONTO PRESS 192 T.O. MACLULICH This basic difference in cultural history has marked the literatures of the two nations. Most Canadian writers do not share the overriding compulsion of many American writers to express a private self through a distinctive personal style. American literary history has doomed American writers to an unending struggle not only to escape from the shadow of European tradition but also to supplant their own national predecessors. As a result, much of twentieth-century American writing still sounds a shrill, strident note of querulous self-importance - its very aggressiveness betraying an abiding insecurity. This is not the dominant note in Canadian writing. Canadian authors realized that their nation was subject to the powerful assimilative force-field exerted by American culture. In order to resist the attraction ofthe elder-buterring- American brother Canada's writers have allied themselves with the father - with tradition: at first with European tradition and later with their own newly created tradition. The persistence of the British influence on nineteenth-century Canadian writing has meant that Canadian literary history differs markedly from American. Nineteenth-century American literature constitutes an emphatic declaration of literary independence. Early in the century the works of James Fenimore Cooper staked out an enduring claim on a literary terrain that was recognizably American rather than European. The territorial claim was solidified at mid-century by the masterpieces of Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, and Whitman. Later in the century the vernacular artistry of Mark Twain proclaimed a distinctively American voice to the world. In Canada, however, a distinctive national tradition not only took longer to appear but also took a less flamboyant form than did the American...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 191-208
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
N
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