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Reviewed by:
  • History of Literature in Canada: English-Canadian and French-Canadian
  • David Staines (bio)
Reingard M. Nischik , editor. History of Literature in Canada: English-Canadian and French-Canadian. Camden House. xii, 606. US $90.00

For Canadian studies, in particular for Canadian and Quebec literatures, Germany has always been a formidable centre, indeed almost a pioneer. [End Page 484] The Association for Canadian Studies in Germany, for example, was an early organization in the realm of Canadian studies, coming into official existence as the Association of Canadian Studies in German-Speaking Countries in 1980. When Konrad Gross, one of Germany's celebrated Canadianists, conceived of his Kanadische Literaturgeschichte (2005), the volume, edited by Gross, Wolfgang Klooss, and Reingard M. Nischik, was a worthy compendium of German-speaking Canadianists writing about aspects of Canadian literatures and their histories.

Reingard M. Nischik took the original book, tried to 'make the material available to an international English-speaking Canadian Studies community,' and produced her new book, which uses some of the German chapters 'in English translation in a revised and updated form,' dispenses with many other contributors (including such distinguished scholars as Heinz Antor, Paul Goetsch, Konrad Gross, Wolfgang Klooss, Hartmut Lutz, and Waldemar Zacharasiewicz), and adds new chapters 'written from scratch by new German and, mainly, Canadian specialists.' The result is a hybrid collection of independent articles of varying degrees of relevance to the fields of Canada's literatures.

History of Literature in Canada 'traces literature produced in Canada over the centuries. Starting with the Indigenous population's oral tradition, which reaches back some twenty thousand years, it then turns to the development of French-Canadian and English-Canadian writing from colonial to contemporary times. While the volume conceives of Canada as a single though multifaceted culture, it accounts for the specific characteristics of English-Canadian and French-Canadian literatures, such as the vital role of the short story in English Canada or the chanson in French Canada. But herein lie some of the problems with this volume. English Canada is set up and discussed; French Canada is set up and discussed. From the beginning these are two polarities never brought together. And the world of Aboriginal literature is set up in a similar manner. The literatures of Canada are too complex, too multifaceted, too far-reaching to sustain this simplistic stance.

From her introduction to the book, which leans too heavily on the criticism of Frank Davey and Robert Kroetsch, to her later chapter on the English-Canadian short story since 1967, which heralds Margaret Atwood as 'the acknowledged figurehead of Canadian literature,' Nischik produces a volume whose chapters range from definitive to hasty and much-less-than-adequate studies. 'In English-Canadian Colonial Literature,' for example, Gwendolyn Davies offers a succinct and thoughtful account of her topic, which balances in-depth analysis and a perceptive overview. Ursula Mathis-Moser provides a fine and provocative study of 'French-Canadian Poetry up to the 1960s.' And in 'The English-Canadian Novel from Modernism to Postmodernism,' Martin Kuester establishes an appropriate vision of those writers who traverse his route to [End Page 485] postmodernism. On the other hand, Nicholas Bradley's 'English-Canadian Poetry from 1967 to the Present' mentions almost every poet who wrote anything, offering its reader no true hint about the worlds this poetry came from or addressed.

Then there are the many errors that plague this entire collection of articles. Every time a writer is introduced, there is a statement of his birth and (if appropriate) his death dates. How many times do we need to know, for example, that Margaret Atwood was born in 1939? Then there are the problems with these dates. Nino Ricci, for example, was born in 1939 in one chapter, in 1959 in another (he was born in 1959). James Reaney is still living in one chapter; in two other places he died in 2008. Frances Brooke was born in 1723 in one chapter, in 1724 in another. Janice Kulyk Keefer was born in 1952 in one chapter, in 1953 in another. There are many errors, too, with the dates in this volume. New Provinces, for example, was published in 1935 in one...


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