How to describe the literature of a nation is often debatable, and is alsoin natural flux throughout the nation's history, so this beginner's guide to Canadian literature will offerlinks to as many actual Canadian authors as possible so the reader can weigh what isbeing said with first-hand research of his or her own.
The Problem of Canadian Literature
Canadian literature may be more difficult to discuss than most because of Canada's unique geographical and historicalsituation. It is a country larger and younger than most, is peopled with a widely diverse array of races , religions , and backgrounds, and is generally committed to multiculturalism . Therefore, just as one piece of the Canadiansocial puzzle has often been, "is there a Canadian identity?," one recurrently important piece of the Canadian literature puzzlehas been the question, "Is there a Canadian literature at all?"
This has been an ongoing point of debate since the mid- 1800s , and is still beingdiscussed in literary circles today. For example, a quick Internet search for university syllabi on Canadian literature courses will offer an overwhelmingmajority of professors who still discuss whether or not "Canadian" literature exists. For instance, one postmodern Can. lit. course offered as recently as 2002 at the College of William andMary , Williamsburg, Virginia , includes this inthe course syllabus:
In fact, it has frequently been suggested that the question, "what is a Canadian?" is entangled very intricately with thequestion "what is Canadian literature?" in a way that does not happen to so great an extent with other literatures. Leon Surette writes, "a disproportionateamount of commentary on Canadian writing has been cultural history (or prophecy) rather than truly literary commentary."
At the end of the debates, the verdict almost always returned is that there is a literature and an "identity"distinctly Canadian. However, because of its size and breadth, Canadian literature is often broken into sub-categories.
There are at least three ways that, traditionally, critics and scholars have chosen to deal with the geographic size andcultural breadth of Canadian literature. The most common, by far, is to divide it by region or province . There are anthologies of "Eastern Canadian literature" or"Prairie literature," for example. Another way has been to divide it by categorising the authors. For instance, the literature ofCanadian women, Acadians , aboriginal Canadians, and Irish -Canadians have been anthologised as bodies of work. A third way has been to divide it by literary period,such as "Canadian postmoderns" or "Canadian Poets Between the Wars."
Traits of Canadian Literature
The findings of those who believe that there is a distinctly Canadian body of literature include a prevalence of the followingtraits, in no particular order.
French-Canadian literature followed a very different evolutionarypath than English literature. French-Canadian literature was less an appendage to the literature of France than English Canada's was to Great Britain . Rather,the struggle of French Canada was to create a literature whole cloth. From the early settlements until the 1820s Quebec hadvirtually no literature to speak of. There were a few historians, journalists, and learned priests who published but overall,output was very low.
It was the rise of Quebec patriotism and the 1837 Patriotes Rebellion , combined with a modern system of primary school education that led to thefirst surge of French-Canadian fiction. The first genres to become popular were the rural novel and the historical novel.Influences from France began to be felt, especially such authors as Balzac .
In 1866 , Father Henri-Raymond Casgrain became one of Quebec's first literary theorists. He arguedthat literature's goal should be to project an image of proper Catholic morality.This view was accepted by most Québécois authors and much of what was written is generally considered bland and tedious. A fewauthors such as Louis-Honoré Fréchette and Arthur Buies did break acceptedconventions and write engaging works.
This pattern continued until the 1930s when a new group of authors educated at the Université deLaval and the Université de Montréal . Novelswith psychological and sociological foundations began to become the norm. Authors such as Gabrielle Roy and Anne Hébert for the first time beganto earn international acclaim. During this period, Quebec theatre, which had previously been melodramas and comedies, became farmore involved.
French-Canadian literature began to greatly expand with the turmoil of the Second World War , the beginnings of industrialization in the 1950s , and most especially the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s . French-Canadian literature also began to attract a great deal of attentionglobally, with Acadian novelist Antonine Maillet winning the Prix Goncourt . Anexperimental branch of Quebecois literature also developed, such as formalist poet Nicole Brossard .
See also: List of French-Canadianwriters
Canada only officially became a country on July 1 , 1867 , so some have argued that what was written there before that time was really the literature of British citizensliving away from Britain , French citizens away from France , etc. For example, SusannaMoodie and Catherine Parr Traill , English sisters whoadopted the country as their own, moved to Canada in 1832. They recorded their experiences as pioneers in Parr Traill's TheBackwoods of Canada (1836) and Canadian Crusoes (1852), and Moodie's Roughing It in the Bush (1852) andLife in the Clearings (1853). However, both women wrote until their deaths, placing them in the country for more than 50years and certainly well past Confederation. Moreover, their books often dealt with survival and the rugged Canadian environment-- these themes re-appear in other Canadian works, including MargaretAtwood 's Survival. Moodie and Parr Traill's sister, Agnes Strickland , remained in England and wrote elegant royal biographies, creating astark contrast between Canadian and English literatures.
However, one of the earliest "Canadian" writers virtually always included in Canadian literary anthologies is Thomas Chandler Haliburton ( 1796 - 1865 ), who died just two years before Canada's official birth. He isremembered for his comic character, Sam Slick, who appeared in The Clockmaker and other humourous works throughout theHaliburton's life.
Arguably, the best-internationally-known living Canadian writer (especially after the recent passing of Canadian greats, Robertson Davies and Timothy Findley ) is Margaret Atwood , a prolificnovelist, poet, and literary critic . This group, along with Alice Munro were the first to elevate Canadian Literature to the world stage.During the post-war decades only a handful of books of any literary merit would be published each year in Canada and Canadianliterature was viewed as an appendage to British and American writing. Much of what was produced dealt with extremely typicalCanadiana such as the outdoors and animals, or events in Canadian history. Most of what Canadians read was written in the UnitedStates or Great Britain. Most of what was studied in Canadian schools and universities was also foreign.
In the 1980s Canadian literature began to be noticed around the world. By the 1990sCanadian literature was viewed as some of the world's best and Canadian authors began to accumulate international awards. In 1992 Michael Ondaatje becamethe first Canadian to win the Booker Prize for The EnglishPatient. Atwood would also win it in 2000 for The Blind Assassin, while Yann Martel would win in 2002 forThe Life of Pi. Alistair Macleod won the 2001 IMPAC Award for No Great Mischief. CarolShields 's The Stone Diaries won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction , and in 1998 her novel Larry's Party won the OrangePrize .
Today Canadians still read much by foreign authors, but many Canadian books have been runaway best sellers.
There are a number of notable Canadian awards for literature:
Awards For Children and Young Adult Literature
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