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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The image of Canada in the literature of the United States Doyle, James


This dissertation is a study of the extent, nature, and significance of the image of Canada in the literature of the United States, with particular reference to the nineteenth century. After a preliminary chapter on Colonial American writing, the dissertation traces the development of various ideas about Canada as evinced in the work of obscure or "popular" writers as well as authors of acknowledged literary reputation, from 1776 to 1900, and concludes with a summary chapter on twentieth-century achievements and prospects. To the British American authors of various journals and captivity narratives in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Canada is mainly the stronghold of French Roman Catholic heresy and Indian barbarism. To post-revolutionary authors, Canada becomes the last enclave of British imperialism in the New World, although a few Loyalist dissenters view Canada more favorably. Some writers of travel narratives and of anti-Catholic novels express their aversion to the French Canadians, and a few authors compare unfavorably the exiled Canadiens on the American prairies to American frontiersmen. James Fenimore Cooper evokes an indirect but symbolically suggestive conception of Canada in the Leatherstocking Tales, but most subsequent historical romancers emphasize the alleged religious decadence and racial inferiority of French Canadians. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Evangeline (1847), expounds a more sympathetic—but very idealized—view of the French in North America. Pre-eminent among the many nineteenth-century American narratives of travel in Canada is Henry Thoreau's "A Yankee in Canada" (written 1850). Thoreau postulates an irreconcilable conflict between the civilized sensibility and the northern wilderness, and suggests that Canadians have failed to meet the unique challenge of their geographical and historical situation. Francis Parkman's epic history, France and England in North America (1865-92) attributes the fall of New France partly to the savagery of the northern wilderness, but primarily to the decadence of the anti-democratic French regime. William Dean Howells suggests in Their Wedding Journey (1872), and other novels, that the great age which Parkman depicted has given way to a tranquil period when American tourists use Canada to test their optimistic view of New World society. In the fiction and essays of various "local color" writers, Canada serves similarly as a vast tourist resort where Americans can reassess their political and social values, which are usually revealed as superior to those of Canada. One writer who expresses a completely favorable reaction to Canada is Walt Whitman. The exuberant optimism of his Diary in Canada (1880) is echoed by various American authors who discovered the Canadian northwest in the last two decades of the century, but is qualified by Hamlin Garland, whose Trail of the Gold Seekers (1899) is a nostalgic lament for the disappearance of the "wild places" in America. In the early twentieth century, Jack London sees Canada mainly as the setting of a stark and elemental struggle for survival. The successors of London include James Oliver Curwood, who wrote many novels of northern adventure, and Sinclair Lewis, whose Mantrap (1926) is an ironic treatment of the "back-to-nature" theme. Other twentieth-century novelists, including Willa Cather in Shadows on the Rock (1936), have turned back to Canadian history. Eminent twentieth- century American writers who have written about Canada include Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Edmund Wilson, but none of these writers seem to have been very interested in the country. In general, it appears that twentieth-century writers have continued to express basic attitudes about Canada which were defined and articulated in the nineteenth century by such writers as Thoreau, Parkman, and Howells.

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