Canadian Gothic

Canadian Gothic: Literature, History, and the Spectre of Self-Invention

Cynthia Sugars
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
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  • Book Info
    Canadian Gothic
    Book Description:

    Focusing on the ways that Canadian writers turned to the Gothic for its vitalising rather than unsettling potential, this volume offers an important reconsideration of the Gothic legacy in Canada.

    eISBN: 978-1-78316-000-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Settled Unsettlement; or, Familiarizing the Uncanny
    (pp. 1-19)

    It is a fact rarely acknowledged that what are arguably the two most famous poems in Canadian literature, Robert Service’s ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’ (1907) and John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’ (1919), contain ghosts. More than that, both poems include a ghostly exhortation from the dead to the living, comparable to Hamlet’s father’s ghost who impels Hamlet to ‘Remember’. Both poems are a call to action, and both are about remembering, memorializing. I will discuss Service’s poem in chapter 4, but for now, let me consider the elegiac poem written by McCrae in 1917 while serving with the Canadian...

  5. 1 Here There Be Monsters: Wilderness Gothic and Psychic Projection
    (pp. 20-48)

    One of Northrop Frye’s more famous pronouncements about Canada was to delineate the ‘originary’ Canadian drama as a terrifying psychic allegory that describes the landscape as an engulfing Leviathan. As Frye expressed it, ‘The traveller from Europe edges into it like a tiny Jonah entering an inconceivably large whale, slipping past the Straits of Belle Isle into the Gulf of St. Lawrence . . . [T] o enter Canada is a matter of being silently swallowed by an alien continent’ (‘Canadian and Colonial Painting’, p. 824). Frye’s description, appear ing in his ‘Conclusion’ to the 1965Literary History of Canada,...

  6. 2 Haunted by a Lack of Ghosts: Gothic Absence and Settler Melancholy
    (pp. 49-74)

    In his critical studyWorrying the Nation, Jonathan Kertzer suggests that Canada has been haunted by a ‘ghost-of-a-ghost’ which he pinpoints as ‘the legacy of romantic historicism’ (pp. 38, 36). To Kertzer, this ‘legacy’ — a transatlantic inheritance of cultural movements that developed elsewhere — is the distinctive quality of Canadian literature. As he puts it, the elusiveness of a national ghost ‘haunts all efforts to define, and even to renounce’, a Canadian literature (p. 38). Contrary or perhaps as an addendum to Kertzer, I would argue that Canadian authors were aware of this dilemma from the outset, to the extent that...

  7. 3 French-Canadian Gothic: Excess as Emplacement
    (pp. 75-106)

    Susan Frances Harrison’s 1886 collection of short stories,Crowded Out! And Other Sketches, contains an opening preface that echoes the laments concerning the inherent Canadian lack that I discussed in the previous chapter. This time, however, there is a twist. Conscious of the tradition in which she is participating, Harrison asserts that Canada, as much as any other place, is a location well suited to romance and literary creation. Insisting that the ‘medium of Fancy’ can ‘inhabit as large a field in Canada as elsewhere’, the author declares that ‘there is no country, no town, no village, as there is...

  8. 4 Local Familiars: Gothic Infusion and Settler Indigenization
    (pp. 107-143)

    Ross’s speaker convinces his audience by appealing to their powers of reason: ‘We love the natural,’ he asserts, which means that we must therefore affirm the supernatural because ‘it is ever near and ever real.’ Ross’s poem anticipates the theory that was articulated sixty years later by Terry Castle inThe Female Thermometer. In Castle’s account, the supernatural was relegated to the realm of the unconscious in the wake of the emphasis on Enlightenment rationalism. So does Ross’s speaker explain that ‘human reason . . . Is conscious of no zone ethereal’, and yet, ‘removed from faulty human sight’ there...

  9. 5 Playing fort-da with History: Settler Postcolonial Gothic
    (pp. 144-178)

    Many contemporary theories of postcolonialism and haunting consider the ways ghosts became internalized within a nationalist unconscious as emblems of historical and social memory (an argument made by Avery Gordon and Renée Bergland). Bergland speaks of this in terms of the ‘national uncanny’ of American literature, but, as I’ve been arguing thus far, the haunting effect in settler Canadian writing plays out somewhat differently. In a settler Canadian context — I will consider alternatives to this settler Gothic tradition in chapters 6 and 7 — the national uncanny is informed by a melancholic relation to history which leads to a conjuring of...

  10. 6 Strangers Within: Unsettling the Canadian Gothic
    (pp. 179-212)

    Up to now I have been discussing what I have termed a longstanding Canadian tradition of ‘settled unsettlement’, which has formed part of Canadian settler discourse from the foundations of Canadian literary history to the present. As we saw in chapter 5, many settler-postcolonial historical fictions turn to the Canadian colonial period as a way of reimagining, and indeed re-ghosting, the Canadian cultural-historical tradition. In many of these narratives, colonizers are depicted as ‘half-way men’, liminal people rendered ghostly (or seeking to be rendered ghostly) as a way of entrenching White settlers into the landscape or national community (or both)....

  11. 7 Indigenous Ghost-Dancing: At Home on Native Land
    (pp. 213-246)

    It is a striking fact that contemporary Indigenous writing in Canada, unlike the postcolonial settler Gothic that I discussed in chapter 5, rarely turns to the historical period of European settlement and colonization for its fictional setting. This is not because Indigenous authors are unaware of the impact of colonialism on contemporary Indigenous life. On the contrary. As Warren Cariou so pointedly puts it, ‘Native people already have plenty of evidence in their daily lives of how the legacies of colonialism have been passed down through the generations; they do not need to summon spectres to fulfill that function’ (‘Haunted...

  12. Conclusion: The Spectre of Self-Invention
    (pp. 247-254)

    As this study has shown, the Gothic has been mobilized in Canadian literary history for different forms of national self-invention, or, as we saw in chapters 6 and 7, national un-doing. The Gothic has also been used to effect different forms of postcolonial intervention — from expressions of colonial anxiety, to anti-colonial assertion, to postcolonial atonement, to meta-Gothic disruption, to interrogations of the containing aspects of national hauntings themselves — but there is something more deeply rooted in repeated appeals to Gothic spectres as a way of reaching towards the larger spectre of national self-invention. The amorphousness of Gothic effects enables authors...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 255-260)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 261-276)
  15. Index
    (pp. 277-291)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 292-292)