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The Farm Novel in North America

The Farm Novel in North America: Genre and Nation in the United States, English Canada, and French Canada, 1845-1945

Florian Freitag
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 372
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  • Book Info
    The Farm Novel in North America
    Book Description:

    From John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Martha Ostenso's Wild Geese to Louis Hémon's Maria Chapdelaine, some of the most famous works of American, English Canadian, and French Canadian literature belong to the genre of the farm novel. In this volume, Florian Freitag provides the first history of the genre in North America from its beginnings in the middle of the nineteenth century to its apogee in French Canada around the middle of the twentieth. Through surveys and selected detailed analyses of a large number of farm novels written in French and English, Freitag examines how North American farm novels draw on the history of farming in nineteenth-century North America as well as on the national self-conceptions of the United States, English Canada, and French Canada, portraying farmers as national icons and the farm as a symbolic space of the American, English Canadian, and French Canadian nations. Turning away from traditional readings of farm novels within the frameworks of regionalism and pastoralism, Freitag takes a comparative look at a genre that helped to spatialize North American national dreams. Florian Freitag is Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Mainz, Germany.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-877-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    During the 1920s and 1930s, in an interesting case of creative synchronicity, North America saw a proliferation of novels dealing with farm life. The increase in such novels, journalist Nelson Antrim Crawford wrote in 1925 in the context of the United States, “is a remarkable development” (quoted in Casey 2009, 87), but the same could have been said about English Canada and French Canada.¹ In North America, the farm novel emerged around the middle of the nineteenth century, with the publication in 1846 of French Canadian author Patrice Lacombe’sLa terre paternelle(The paternal soil; translated as “The Ancestral Farm”...

  5. 1: Surveying the Fields
    (pp. 22-64)

    The sheer variety of what happens on North American farms and of how these events are told in North American farm novels is truly astounding. Amid this variety of thematic issues, ethnicity of the cast of characters, and formal narrative aspects, however, there are also conspicuous constants or trends, which run along the lines of national literatures and cultures. Most importantly, American, English Canadian, and French Canadian farm novels, respectively, tend to portray specific types of farmers and to project particular national myths or ideologies onto the farm space. In the United States farm novels regularly focus on settlers who...

  6. 2: Early Sowings: St. John de Crèvecoeur’s “History of Andrew, the Hebridean,” Patrice Lacombe’s La terre paternelle, and Susanna Moodie’s Roughing It in the Bush
    (pp. 65-105)

    During the first half of the nineteenth century North American prose fiction and life writing increasingly focused on the farm. Starting in the 1820s, a growing number of novels, collections of sketches, travelogues, settlers’ accounts, and journals from the United States, English Canada, and French Canada dealt with farm life. Among the authors of these texts were professional writers such as James Fenimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne; the domestic fictionists of the middle of the nineteenth century; practitioners of the liberal professions and politicians who wrote in their spare time, such as Patrice Lacombe, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chaveau, and Antoine Gérin-Lajoie; travelers...

  7. 3: Laws of Nature: Frank Norris’s The Octopus, Albert Laberge’s La Scouine, and Frederick Philip Grove’s Settlers of the Marsh
    (pp. 106-146)

    Naturalism is commonly said to have found its way to North America, and more specifically to the United States, around the turn of the twentieth century, when in their works writers such as Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, and Jack London started to portray the influence of heredity and natural drives, social milieu and environment, and the pressures of the moment upon the behavior of the protagonists.

    As a genre, however, the farm novel presents something like a conceptual impasse for such definitions of naturalism as a distinct era of North American literary history and as the literary expression...

  8. 4: New World Demeters: Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!, Louis Hémon’s Maria Chapdelaine, and Martha Ostenso’s Wild Geese
    (pp. 147-185)

    Spurred by debates and new ideas about women, their work, and their role within society, North American farm novels at the beginning of the twentieth century started to investigate more closely the role of women on the farm. Starting in the early 1900s and especially during the 1910s and 1920s, the genre increasingly focused on female protagonists and created new fictional types and plot formulas especially around unmarried women characters who dedicate their lives to the soil.

    In the United States, single women farmers already appeared in Eleanor Gates’sThe Plow-Woman(1906) and Hamlin Garland’sThe Moccasin Ranch: A Story...

  9. 5: Rich Harvests: Joseph Kirkland’s Zury: The Meanest Man in Spring County, Claude-Henri Grignon’s Un homme et son péché, and Frederick Philip Grove’s Fruits of the Earth
    (pp. 186-223)

    In his 1941 preface toUn homme et son péché([1933] 1986), Claude-Henri Grignon writes that materialism is an integral part of the universal “âme paysanne”: “Des usuriers, des grippe-sous, des passionnés de l’argent tel que mon Séraphin, ils ne sont pas rares en terre canadienne. . . . Non pas seulement ici, mais en France; non pas seulement en France, mais dans tous les pays où la paysannerie s’accroche au sol” (219–20).¹ Especially during the 1920s and the 1930s, many North American farm novels portrayed rural misers or materialistic farmers. The topic became so prominent that in 1942...

  10. 6: Fields of Crisis: John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Félix-Antoine Savard’s Menaud, maître-draveur, and Robert J. C. Stead’s Grain
    (pp. 224-267)

    When the Great Depression hit North America in the 1930s, there were many who considered the farm a refuge from urban misery and poverty, a place where living on and off their own land, people would enjoy a certain measure of self-sufficiency and dignity in spite of the economic crisis. North American farm novels from the Depression era responded to this agrarianist idealization of the rural space with a “revolt from the farm,”¹ by depicting the farm as a place that was troubled by crises of its own. These included “natural” crises, such as droughts, floods, fires, crop diseases, soil...

  11. 7: The Cycle of Seasons: Louis Bromfield’s The Farm, Ringuet’s Trente arpents, and Grace Campbell’s The Higher Hill
    (pp. 268-308)

    In the late 1930s and early 1940s, what David B. Danbom has termed the “familio-centrism” of (American) farm life (1979, 10) became the organizing principle of many North American farm fictions. Chronicling the destinies of farm families or farm dynasties over several generations (most frequently two or three, but occasionally up to seven), these “family portraits” display characteristics of the epic genre not only with respect to their narrative scope and structure (a huge number of characters, an episodic structure rather than a fixed plot), but also with respect to their use of an “epic distance” (Bakhtin [1975] 2000, 17)....

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 309-316)

    For roughly a century, novels set on farms, dealing with farming, and featuring farmers as their main characters simultaneously played an important part in the novelistic production of the United States, English Canada, and French Canada, constituting a veritable tradition in North American literatures. Given the length of this time span, perhaps the most striking feature about the North American farm novel is how little the genre changed in the course of time:The Farm(Bromfield [1933] 1961);Trente arpents([1938] 1991);The Higher Hill(Campbell 1944); and the other farm epics of the 1930s and 1940s still portrayed the...

  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 317-354)
  14. Index
    (pp. 355-364)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 365-365)