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T h e P a c if ic N o r t h w e s t a n d t h e P o s t - C o l o n i a l Im a g in a tio n : R o b e r t C a n t w e l l ’s Th e Hid d e n N o r th w est J o h n T r o m b o l d American historians and literary critics— though not Americans gen­ erally— have come to view the ideology of the American frontier and Manifest Destiny as powerfully interwoven with an imperial American legacy. In studies by Richard White, Patricia Nelson Limerick, and Walter LaFeber, and in writings by postnationalist critics collected by Amy Kaplan and Donald Pease, scholars have elucidated the American sense of national mission that motivated the conquest of Native American peoples and the expropriation of their land. Frank Bergon notes the fre­ quency with which the journals of Lewis and Clark, seminal texts in the tradition of American writing about the West, have been understood as epic narratives in what is a tradition of writing about the conquering of previously uncharted nature. Kris Fresonke considers such exploration narratives— whether fully encapsulated by the term epic or understood as a “tradition”— as manifestations of a preconceived national design. Numerous western writers have self-consciously inscribed, with refer­ ence to this Lewis and Clark narrative tradition of exploration and discovery, an epic literary inclination evident in both fiction and non­ fiction. Given the current understanding of this convention of narrative devoted to description, exploration, and colonization, it is sometimes difficult to keep in mind not only that narratives of colonization are imbricated with utopianism, but also that the trope of western regions such as the Pacific Northwest has served purposes other than imperial ones, that not each and every rhetoric of design apparently manifest in the landscape serves the empire wholly. A region of riches for exploitation and for narratives of epic wilder­ ness adventure, the Northwest is also, as the personification of the idea of nature itself in what Stewart Holbrook dubbed the “Far Comer” and Nancy Wilson Ross called the “Farthest Reach” in their respective books on the subject, a very elastic signifier for writers’ political imaginations. For the 1930s novelist Robert Cantwell in particular, writing about the Northwest, with its heritage of colonization in the wilderness, was a W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L i t e r a t u r e 40.4 ( W in t e r 2006): 386- 403. JO H N TR O M B O LD 3 8 7 vehicle for self-expression at variance with a dominant ideology. What might be mistaken for his Jacksonian populism— or Pacific northwest­ ern provincialism— in Cantwell’s nonfictional writing as he rose from a northwestern timber town writer to national fame as a novelist and editor recast but did not negate his proletarianism of the Depression era. His extended elaboration on the idea of the Northwest develops into an idiosyncratic postcolonial literary enterprise re-creating and reflecting on the history of the region, with its odd history of joint governance by Britain and the United States, the competing imperial powers that displaced Spain, Russia, and France in their struggle for control. Bom in 1908 in Vader (formerly Little Falls), Washington, Cant­ well knew intimately northwestern timber towns and the forests that surrounded them. As a result of his father’s illness, he left the University of Washington after one year of college and worked in a plywood mill in Hoquiam, Washington, from 1925 to 1929. He wrote two northwest­ ern, proletarian novels: Laugh and Lie Down (1931) and Land of Plenty (1934), but he underwent a professional metamorphosis in the 1940s, working on the editorial staffs of Time and Fortune, becoming the literary editor oiTime magazine, an editor of Newsweek from 1949 to 1954, and then an editor of Sports Illustrated. Cantwell worked successfully for and became well acquainted with Henry R. Luce, the founder and publisher of Time Life and Fortune magazines and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 386-403
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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