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Space and identity formation in twentieth-century Canadian realist novels : recasting regionalism within Canadian literary studies Chalykoff, Lisa

Abstract

This dissertation develops and demonstrates a new mode of regional literary analysis. I begin by assessing the work of five Canadian literary regionalists from perspectives provided by human geographers and spatial theorists. Although discourses of Canadian literary regionalism vary, I argue that this field has tended to rely upon a reified understanding of regional analysis, a mystified conception of regional identity, and a passive construction of regional space. I offer a means of disrupting these tendencies by re-imagining the process of regional literary analysis. As I define it, literary regionalism is the process of demonstrating patterns in the way that literary texts deploy representations of sociomaterial space to enable performances of identity. This approach foregrounds literature's capacity to elucidate space's social efficacy. It also directs literary regionalism towards a more contemporary understanding of space and identity. In part two I begin to apply my mode of analysis to eight twentieth-century Canadian realist novels by introducing the concept of place. Because place-studies focus on the organization of social relations within a single text, I argue that they offer a useful means of initiating cross-textual, regional analyses. I demonstrate this point by analyzing the relationship between place and gender identity in Charles Bruce's The Channel Shore, and then looking for parallels in the way other novels articulate this relationship. In part three I construct a "region of denial and purgation" by interrogating how and why authors deploy representations of nature to deny the social origins of identity formation. I relate the power such representations have to articulate seemingly epiphanic shifts in identity to the sublime's enduring legacy. Because sublime experience enables characters to reconstitute themselves as new, it facilitates their desires to purge those aspects of their personal histories that have caused them guilt or shame. I conclude that this dissertation makes two contributions to Canadian literary studies. First, it advances a productive dialogue between human geography and Canadian literary studies. Second, by re-imagining the practice of Canadian literary regionalism through alternate disciplinary lenses, this dissertation helpfully foregrounds the heterodox character—and'unexplored potential—of a regional mode of literary analysis.

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