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Reviewed by:
  • Editing Modernity: Women and Little-Magazine Cultures in Canada, 1916-1956
  • Michael Epp
Editing Modernity: Women and Little-Magazine Cultures in Canada, 1916-1956. By Dean Irvine . Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. 304 pp. $57.

This rigorous and informative book should be required reading for scholars and students interested in little magazine production in Canada. Irvine's rigorous inquiry remakes literary-historical narratives about modernist women writers and editors through a compelling methodology that seeks to transformatively fill in the blanks of those narratives—that is, Irvine writes into gaps left out of historical records using the results of tough archival research, and he writes about those gaps by studying poems by major authors that were either never published or never republished. While Irvine's book engages modernism through multiple dimensions (literature, identity, history), his thinking is always informed by considerations of the material production of magazines, artistic taste, and dominant literary meta-narratives. These tastes for, and narratives about, modernism, in manifestly political ways, tend to conventionally feminize and masculinize even the most experimental, radical, and aesthetic literature and art, and it is Irvine's aim to historicize this gendering to better understand traditional approaches to modernism and to promote new narratives that recognize not only the dominant, but also [End Page 193] the emergent potentials that still constitute modernity.

Editing Modernity is a most thoroughly and precisely researched book on the relationship between women, modernism, and literary production. The opening chapters weave together substantial critiques of dominant historical narratives about major Canadian modernist writers and editors, including Dorothy Livesay, Anne Marriott, P. K. Page, and Miriam Waddington. These critiques, which engage literary production in multiple Canadian regions (one of Irvine's most successful and important methodological practices), center on discussions of the material and social relations between writers and editors as those relations are indexed by literary production at major little magazines (including Masses, New Frontier, Canadian Poetry Magazine, and Contemporary Verse) and through organizations such as Progressive Arts Clubs (PACs) and the Canadian Authors Association (CAA). Irvine's major contribution here is his history of literary production at leftist organizations in Canada, a history that is often gestured to in dominant literary-historical narratives of the period but rarely investigated in detail.

The final two chapters, however, will probably be of most interest to students of magazine history. Here, Irvine provides histories of multiple little magazines in two contexts: women's making of little-magazine cultures, and the relationship between modernism and the Massey Commission, a federal and crudely nationalist inquiry that resulted later in the establishment of major arts funding. Such funding eased the difficult (but also exciting) economic situations that usually resulted in the premature deaths of little magazines and opened up new possibilities for extended literary production, but also sometimes worried away at the radical (and fun) potentials that constitute modernist artistic and political practice. Irvine's history of "editing women" and their contribution to little-magazine cultures ranges widely, including discussions of Flora Denison's Sunset of Bon Echo and the always-complex intersection of modernism and advertising, of Florence Custance's leftist-feminist work for the Woman Worker, of Mary Davidson's Twentieth Century and its bold project to become a major magazine (this includes a fascinating reference to Leslie Bishop's Paper Kingdom, a semi-autobiographical novel about magazine production), Hilda and Laura Ridley's editing of The Crucible, and Eleanor Godfrey's work at the Canadian Forum. Irvine's writing on the relationship between the avant-garde and the Massey Commission also engages modernist literary production at multiple locations, including Catherine Harmon's Here and Now, Myra Lazechko-Haas's Impression, Yvonne Agazarian's pm magazine, Aileen Collins' CIV/n, and Margaret Fairley's New Frontiers. The final chapter tracks the transition between the little-magazine cultures of 1916-56 and those that emerged later in the century under significantly modified economic circumstances determined to a great extent by new national and global economic conditions—and by new funding opportunities. In all of these histories, Irvine theorizes the [End Page 194] relationship between economic and material printing circumstances, women's literary labor, and the massively gendered personal...


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