Historical Fiction and Changing Ideas of Canada
Publication Year: 2010
Fiction that reconsiders, challenges, reshapes, and/or upholds national narratives of history has long been an integral aspect of Canadian literature. Works by writers of historical fiction (from early practitioners such as John Richardson to contemporary figures such as Alice Munro and George Elliott Clarke) propose new views and understandings of Canadian history and individual relationships to it. Critical evaluation of these works sheds light on the complexity of these depictions.
The contributors in National Plots: Historical Fiction and Changing Ideas of Canada critically examine texts with subject matter ranging from George Vancouver’s west coast explorations to the eradication of the Beothuk in Newfoundland. Reflecting diverse methodologies and theoretical approaches, the essays seek to explicate depictions of “the historical” in individual texts and to explore larger questions relating to historical fiction as a genre with complex and divergent political motivations and goals. Although the topics of the essays vary widely, as a whole the collection raises (and answers) questions about the significance of the roles historical fiction has played within Canadian culture for nearly two centuries.
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
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Historical Fiction and Changing Ideas of Canada
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National Plots is organized around the following question: What happens to the "Canadian" when it intersects with the "historical" in fictional writing? From its roots in the early nineteenth century to the present, the Canadian historical novel has been the subject of sustained debate about the role that history and fiction have played in the formation of national identity. A set of...
PART ONE: A USABLE PAST? NEW QUESTIONS, NEW DIRECTIONS
"A Trading Shop So Crooked a Man Could Jump through the Cracks": Counting the Cost of Fred Stenson's Trade in the Hudson's Bay Company Archive
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This chapter argues that in his 2000 novel, The Trade, Fred Stenson both breaks new literary ground and creates—from the past he reads and the past he imagines—a narrative so dependent on Gothic form that it raises unsettling questions about the ethics of historical fiction. Early in the novel, the narrator figures the epistemological act on which the text is based...
Past Lives: Aimée Laberge's Where the River Narrows and the Transgenerational Gene Pool
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On 1 July 2001, an article by Jack Aubry appeared in the Ottawa Citizen entitled "Diving into the Gene Pool." The article, featured as "A Citizen reporter's ancestral search," describes the author's discovery of his "authentic" Canadian/Quebec roots. A "ninth-generation Canadian" born in Quebec, Aubry's numerous and welcome discoveries include the revelation...
The Orange Devil: Thomas Scott and the Canadian Historical Novel
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The extraordinary resurgence of the historical novel since the 1970s is often attributed to contemporary writers' desire to recover lost or elided stories, particularly those of peripheral groups. It supposedly reflects authors' conscious attempt to expand the number of narratives in a society, to bring into light that which has been suppressed. Implicit in such an overtly...
State of Shock: History and Crisis in Hugh MacLennan's Barometer Rising
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In The Historical Novel, Georg Lukács discusses a general inability among nineteenth-century German writers to produce convincing or compelling historical fictions, an artistic failure whose roots, he argues, lay in the nation's own defective historical consciousness. For Lukács, no genuine portrayal of history is possible in the absence of a "felt relationship" between...
"And They May Get It Wrong, After All": Reading Alice Munro's "Meneseteung"
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None of Alice Munro's stories has been more quickly canonized than "Meneseteung," the first harvest of an interest in the nineteenth-century history of southwestern Ontario that culminates in The View from Castle Rock (Munro 2006). After it appeared in the New Yorker of 11 January 1988 (Thacker 2005, 567), the story was included by Margaret Atwood in...
PART TWO: UNCONVENTIONAL VOICES: FICTION VERSUS RECORDED HISTORY
Windigo Killing: Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road
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In Dubious Glory: The Two World Wars and the Canadian Novel, Dagmar Novak examines the profound influence the two world wars have had on twentieth-century Canadian fiction. Despite a brief reference to "an important few [works] that have appeared more recently" (Novak 2000, 2), Novak's survey, published in 2000, ends with a detailed...
Telling a Better Story: History, Fiction, and Rhetoric in George Copway's Traditional History and Characteristic Sketches of the Ojibway Nation
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Discussions of contemporary historical fiction often define the genre as a kind of writing that recreates a segment of the past in the interests of negotiating an issue of contemporary concern. The absence of minority and marginalized groups from canonical history offers one instance of a problem with which the form has recently engaged by imagining some of the people...
The Racialization of Canadian History: African-Canadian Fiction, 1990–2005
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African-Canadian writing of the past two decades has fleshed out African-Canadian experience, broadly historicizing its presence even as it reflects a regionalism that interrupts the notion of a singular pan-African-Canadian story. In the poetry of Wayde Compton, for instance, West Coast African-Canadians can learn about their ancestry and literary
Turning the Tables
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Women characters in a number of recent Canadian historical novels "turn the tables" on history by challenging the trajectory of the master narratives they are made to play within. Their deployment does not serve as a simple inversion, but works to undermine and "contest the entire notion of continuity in history and its writing" (Hutcheon 1989, 66). Present...
PART THREE: LITERARY HISTORIES, REGIONAL CONTEXTS
"To Free Itself, and Find Itself": Writing a History for the Prairie West
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In March 1972, the Manitoba Historic Sites Advisory Board met to review an application for a historical plaque from the town of Oakburn. In declining the application, the board concluded that "Oakburn is typical of many small, northern prairie towns; it has a brave past, an uncertain future and a self-conscious present." Rifling through dozens of similar files on similar...
"Old Lost Land": Loss in Newfoundland Historical Fiction
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Early in Wayne Johnston's The Colony of Unrequited Dreams the father of the protagonist rages drunkenly against the island of his birth: "They should have called it Old Lost Land, not Newfoundland, but Old Lost Land" (Johnston 1998, 17). A little later, Charlie Smallwood shifts focus from the island to his son, himself, and all Newfoundlanders: "You're ruined...
Imagining Vancouvers: Burning Water, Ana Historic, and the Literary (Un)Settling of the Pacific Coast
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Although they (re)write historical periods separated by nearly a century, George Bowering's Burning Water and Daphne Marlatt's Ana Historic participate in similar post-structural and postmodern dialogues as experimental projects that implicate their readers in the histories they (re)create. The most immediate connection between the novels is evident in...
Too Little Geography; Too Much History: Writing the Balance in "Meneseteung"
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The Munro Tract is a written-over district in Ontario bounded by lakes Huron and Erie on the west and south, the towns of Goderich on the north and London in the east. A transparent overlay of the Munro Tract would largely match the boundaries of the Huron Tract, first developed by the Canada Land Company in 1829. My name for Munro's fictional territory stems...
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Page Count: 276
Publication Year: 2010