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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Shaping the English-Canadian novel, 1820-1900 Gerson, Carole Fainstat


This dissertation examines nineteenth-century Canadian fiction in relation to the cultural context from which it emerged. The first three chapters present the difficulties which undermined the development of the novel in a conservative colonial community. Chapter I surveys the literary nationalists who called for the establishment of a distinctive Canadian literature and deplored the apathy of the Canadian public; chapter II documents Victorian Canada's suspicion of the novel as a valid literary form; chapter III looks at the problem of finding valid material for fiction in a recently settled land which appeared to lack the historical and cultural associations presumed necessary for literature. The fourth and fifth chapters provide the critical focus of this dissertation by analyzing nineteenth-century Canadian discussions of the theory of the novel. Sara Jeannette Duncan, post-Confederation Canada's most radical literary critic, argued consistently that the romantic novel was obsolete. Despite Duncan's vigorous promotion of Howellsian realism, most Canadians remained faithful to the standard of Sir Walter Scott, and read and wrote romantic fiction conforming to the moral and aesthetic principles outlined by Goldwin Smith in his 1871 address on "The Lamps of Fiction." The opposition between Duncan's realism and Smith's romanticism provides an indigenous critical framework in which to evaluate the work of nineteenth-century Canadian novelists. The last four chapters examine the efforts of Canadian writers to fit Canadian materials to the forms and conventions of popular romance. Chapter VI shows how John Richardson's search for exciting Canadian subjects suitable for the romance of high adventure was repeated by other writers throughout the century. Chapter VII discusses Victorian Canada's taste for historical romance as part of a movement to discover and recover Canadian history, and analyzes An Algonquin Maiden (1887) by G.M. Adam and E.A. Wetherald as a deliberate effort to prescribe historical romance as the proper mode for Canadian fiction. Most novelists interested in history abandoned English Canada for Acadia and Quebec, however, and their work is the subject of Chapter VIII. William Kirby's The Golden Dog (1877) provided a prototype for historical fiction about Quebec; the work of Susan Frances Harrison and Duncan Campbell Scott epitomizes the imaginative importance French Canada held for English Canada. Even when nineteenth-century writers turned to everyday experience their treatment of ordinary life was tinged by their taste for romance and didacticism, as Chapter IX shows. With a few exceptions, Canadian writers refrained from realism until many years after the route to modernism was indicated by Duncan Campbell Scott's stories of the North and Sara Jeannette Duncan's novel, The Imperialist (1904).

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