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530 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 conjoined evocation of Virtue, Terror and the Sublime within a political setting is not simply an exercise in eighteenth-century antiquarianism, but a direct challenge to the political values of contemporary liberat secular society' (original emphasis). Unsettling as Findlay's verbal and visual commentaries on the emergent moment of modem democracies are, his concrete poetry has explored the even more troubling images of Nazi emblems and SS insignia. Unfortunately, Scobie limits his comments on these works to a rather short note. The visual challenge and the risky irony they present leaves this reader with some vexing questions: How are the inflections of irony altered when the political movement retrieved from past memory is not dedicated to liberty and equality, but to domination and supremacy? How might the presence of contemporary neo-Nazi groups in North America and Europe structure readers' responses to such representations? It would have been useful if Scobie had brought his extended analyses and insightful readings to these provocative works. Such a comment, however, is less a criticism than a desire for more of the perceptive commentary which characterizes Earthquakes and Explorations . Anyone who is interested in modernist aesthetics and culture history, in poetics and contemporary poetry~ in literary theory and cultural studies, will find engaging and rewarding reading in this book. (PAMELA MCCALLUM) Jonathan F. Vance. Deat11 So Noble University of British Columbia Press. xvi, 320. $39.95 Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail Or knock the breast; no weakness, no contempt, Dispraise, or blame; nothing but well and fair, And what may quiet us in a death so noble. The last line of this stanza from Milton's Samson Agonistes gives Jonathan Vance the title for his splendid book about the way in which Canadians chose to interpret the meaning of the First World War before the outbreak of the Second. These lines, found, among other places, on the Soldiers' Tower at the University of Toronto, also illustrate his central thesis that Canadians consciously chose 'High Diction' to describe in spiritual rather than realistic terms the nature of the Great War. When my Uncle Robin, a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, was killed during the Second World War, my grandmother chose the same stanza for the card she sent to all those who wrote sympathy notes. Robin's name can also be found on the Soldiers' Tower, as he was a graduate of the University of Toronto. For Canadians of a certain generation, this way of thinking about war and death in Canada did not end in 1939ยท Vance's bookhas two great virtues. First, he makes us rethink -or, more HUMANITIES 531 accurately, think about - seemingly familiar civic rituals, public monuments and buildings, and family memories. Second, he not only reminds us how seminal an event the First World War was in shaping twentiethcentury Canada, but also docwnents some of the psychic dimensions of that shaping. Take Remembrance Day. That annual ritual has now so entered our collective national consciousness that the public wearing of poppies is as associated with early November as Christmas lights are with December. Yet there is a feature of Remembrance Day that we may never have found curious until Vance draws our attention to it: the glorification of soldiers' mothers. Remember those Silver Cross mothers bringing forward their wreaths? Why no fathers? Vance suggests that beyond the cloying cliches of Edwardian sentimentality ('He was just a little, homesick lad I Flying straight to his mother's breast'), there were deeper messages. 'She is the personification of traditional, even immutable, values, her strength and constancy lending a sense ofcontinuity to events.' The soldier-mother bond also symbolized the relationships between the individual Canadian and his country, and Canada and 'Mother Britain,' a metaphor beloved of poet and popular illustrator alike. Vance covers an astonishing range of material in the book: war memorials , memorial church windows, veterans' reunions, the cult ofboyishness, the extraordinary impact of John McCrae's poem 'In Flanders Fields,' the renaming of Canadian streets after famous battles of the war. Above all, however, Vance chronicles the myths which the Great War gave rise to, or in many cases perpetuated...


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