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  • New Brunswick at the Crossroads: Literary Ferment and Social Change in the East ed. by Tony Tremblay
  • James W. Johnson (bio)
Tony Tremblay, ed. New Brunswick at the Crossroads: Literary Ferment and Social Change in the East. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. xxi, 215. $39.99

The contributors to New Brunswick at the Crossroads: Literary Ferment and Social Change in the East set out to contest the prevailing assumption about the supposed lack of culture in New Brunswick, contemporary and historical. They do so not by focusing directly on the products of literary and cultural activity in New Brunswick but, rather, by examining the social, economic, and cultural forces that contributed to periods of intense literary activity in the province [End Page 150] from the mid-eighteenth century to the end of the twentieth century. The result is an important intervention in both studies in Canadian regionalism and contemporary scholarship on the material conditions and socio-political contexts of literary production in Canada.

The book is divided into five chapters, each focusing on a particular period of literary ferment, and each penned by a different expert in the field of Atlantic Canadian studies: "Loyalist Literature in New Brunwsick, 1783–1843" by Gwendolyn Davies; "Emergent Canadian Nationalism, 1864–1955" by Chantal Richard; "The Fredericton Confederation Awakening, 1834–1900" by Thomas Hodd; "Mid-Century Emergent Modernism, 1935–1955" by Tony Tremblay; and "Modernity and the Challenge of Urbanity in Acadian Literature, 1958–1999" by Marie-Linda Lord. In her foreword to the book, Christl Verduyn situates the authors' multidisciplinary framework and methodological approach within the broader currents of theory and criticism in Canada. This approach, as well as the book's theoretical stakes, is then carefully delineated in Tony Tremblay's editorial introduction, which also traces the broad contours of New Brunswick's "cultural geography." Finally, David Creelman offers an analytical summary of the chapters, crystallizing the foregoing analyses into four socio-cultural conditions deemed necessary for the emergence of periods of heightened literary productivity.

Organized around the concept of "literary ferment," the chapters demonstrate a methodological unity that corresponds to the book's theoretical investments. As explained in Tremblay's introduction, "literary ferment" is meant to connote both periods "when literary activity is intensified" and "the material and symbolic forms that effect transformational change." Tremblay discusses this operational concept in relation to the broader field of cultural sociology, in which he positions New Brunswick at the Crossroads. The sociological framework appears to put the book at odds with recent critical trends, though this apparent discord results more from a terminological eclipse than from theoretical obsolescence. As Verduyn observes in her foreword, "by bringing material contingencies to bear from outside," the book participates in "a contemporary shift in Canadian studies toward broader, multidisciplinary – in this context, non-literary – critical approaches." It is the valuable contributions of the authors to the province's cultural history itself, however, that provide the clearest justification for the book's particular focus.

Providing thorough studies of the province's cultural history over more than two hundred years, the five chapters offer a much-needed corrective to the current paucity of cultural–historical research focusing on – or even acknowledging, for that matter – the important contributions New Brunswick has made to the literary culture of Canada. According to Tremblay, "New Brunswick continues to be the least studied province in the country." This is probably true, and the authors in this volume have begun to help fill that gap. More importantly, though, the authors successfully show why this critical neglect is undeserved, deconstructing what Creelman sees as the "reading of the province as an empty space, a blank signifier." Of course, not all of [End Page 151] the periods analysed in the book involve the recovery of critically neglected subjects. Few, for example, would protest a lack of scholarly attention to New Brunswick's role in the emergence of the Confederation poets. Nevertheless, by shifting their focus from writers and their works to the material and socio-cultural conditions from which those writers emerged, the authors illuminate the diverse strategies deployed by New Brunswick's cultural workers across a range of cultural spaces – spaces invariably situated on the periphery...


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