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AREAS OF RESEARCH IN CANADIAN LITERATURE* DESMOND PACEY I T IS symptomatic of our growing self-confidence that Canadian literature, the very existence of which was seriously debated in academic circles a generation ago, should now be recognized as a legitimate subject of research. Already valuable pioneer work has been done by faculty members and graduate students in several Canadian, and in a few American, universities. Canadian literature remains, however, a very rich and virtually unexploited field. So far, our operations in it may be compared to those of a harvesting machine which merely removes the heads from the grain: we have still to examine the soil in which the seed grew, and to investigate the processes of growth. To state that Canadian literature offers a rich field for academic literary research is not necessarily to imply that Canadian literature is itself a luxuriant growth. We need have no illusions about the quality of Canadian writing in order to believe that the conditions under which it has been produced and the characteristics which it has manifested are worthy of serious study. A stunted plant may offer more excitement to the investigator than its more prolific neighbour. There seem to me to be seven major areas in which research in Canadian literature might profitably be conducted: bibliography, biography, literary sociology, cultural analysis, philosophy, comparative literature, and the study of reputations. This list does not pretend to be exhaustive, but it at least should provide a broad basis for discussion and a sufficiently challenging programme of action. It is a grim commentary on our cultural apathy that there is as yet no satisfactory and comprehensive bibliography of Canadian literature. The only two bibliographies-one of poetry, the other of fictionwhich aim at comprehensiveness were published over fifty years ago. Recently, Professor R. E. Watters of the University of British Columbia has been preparing an up-to-date bibliography with the aid of grants from the Canadian Humanities Research Council. His work will be immensely valuable, but, if I understand its scope correctly, it will leave considerable room for the researches of the expert bibliographer. The Watters bibliography will be in the nature of a check-list, compiled largely on the basis of existing partial bibliographies rather than upon a volume by volume examination of the books themselves. It will leave unsolved such bibliographical puzzles as the existence or non- *This article fonned the substance of an address delivered to the National Conference of University Teachers of English, Toronto, May, 1952. 58 Vol. XXIII, no. I, Oct., 1953 RESEARCH IN CANADIAN LITERATURE 59 existence of Major John Richardson's Westbrook, a novel which is listed in severa! bibliographies of that author but about which no precise information is given. I have made inquiries about Westbrook from almost all the leading libraries of this continent and from several abroad, but have not succeeded in tracing a single copy. My guess is that the novel was advertised for sale, but that it was either never written or never published. It will also be left for subsequent researchers to sort out all the special and limited editions in which Bliss Carman 's poetry appeared in the first two decades of this century: a task, I suspect, which will challenge the energy and ingenuity of even the most devoted student. Similar bibliographical puzzles will readily occur to most of my readers. Think, for example, of Stephen Leacock, whose books were so multifarious, were translated into so many languages , and excerpts from which appeared in so many anthologies. There will also be the task of tracing the periodical contributions of Canadian authors. Who can guess what new light might be shed upon the development of Lampman or Roberts or Duncan Campbell Scott if we had an accurate chronological record of their poems as they appeared in the magazines of the last two decades of the nineteenth century? If bibliography seems too specialized a field for the potential scholar, perhaps the work waiting to be done in biography wiil arouse his excitement . It would not be too rash to assert that there is not yet a single definitive biography of a Canadian author. Perhaps Professor Carl Klinck's study...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 58-63
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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