The Encyclopedia of the Novel - Peter Melville Logan 2014


Andrea Cabajsky

The novel in Canada has developed formally and thematically in relation to changing conceptions of the Canadian identity. From popular romances written in English and French, which dominated literary production in the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to subgenres of literary romance and realism that proliferated in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novel's changing structures and themes reflect the variously imperial, bicultural, regionalist, and pluralist conceptions of Canada that have comprised the nation's complex cultural and political life since the publication of the first Canadian novel, Frances Brooke's The History of Emily Montague (1769). Renowned Canadian novelists today include Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Antonine Maillet, and Anne Hébert. Their popularity in Canada and abroad has reflected widespread readerly interest in Canada's cultural, regional, and linguistic heterogeneity. Earlier novelists, such as John Richardson, Philippe Aubert de Gaspé, Susanna Moodie, Hugh MacLennan, and Gabrielle Roy, among others, garnered popular and critical attention for their works which variously negotiate the formative relationship between individuals and societies at key moments in Canada's sociopolitical development.

This entry begins by examining the Romantic origins of Canadian novels written in Canada's two official languages, English and French, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It then broadens its focus to include subgenres of romance and realism (namely historical romance, psychological realism, and literary regionalism) whose themes and forms from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first centuries have changed in conjunction with Canadians' evolving sense of themselves. This entry emphasizes meaningful connections between novelistic development and sociopolitical transformation at such key historical moments as the Union of Upper and Lower Canada (1841), Confederation (1867), the two world wars, Quebec's Quiet Revolution (1960—70), and the introduction of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988).

The Canadian novel's roots lie with popular and gothic romances, such as Brooke's Emily Montague, Julia Beckwith Hart's St. Ursula's Convent (1824), and Philippe Aubert de Gaspé, Jr.'s L'influence d'un livre (1837, The Influence of a Book). Its development in the early nineteenth century hinges on the influence of the Romantic-period Scottish and American historical novelists Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper. The first novels to adapt Scott and Cooper to the Canadian context include Richardson's Wacousta; Or, the Prophecy: A Tale of the Canadas (1832) and Aubert de Gaspé, Sr.'s Les Anciens Canadiens (1863, Canadians of Old), both of which deal with the psychological and cultural effects of the consolidation of the British Empire on Canada's foundational constituents: Anglo-colonials, French Canadians, and aboriginals. The historical novel remained popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, becoming what Maurice Lemire has described as the most important GENRE through which to study the emergence of literary nationalism (x; see NATIONAL). Historical novelists have revitalized the genre in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries by incorporating features from other forms, such as the graphic novel. Changes to the historical novel's themes and forms are emblematic of Canadians' ongoing desire to understand their complicated historical development from new perspectives.

The roots of literary realism in Canada lie with the psychological, proto-feminist novel Angéline de Montbrun (1884) by the French Canadian Laure Conan (pseud. of Félicité Angers), as well as with the pioneer novel Settlers of the Marsh (1925) by the German immigrant Frederick Philip Grove (pseud. of Félix Paul Greve). In the mid- to late twentieth century, a resurgence of cultural nationalism stemming from Canada's centenary (1967) and Quebec's “Quiet Revolution” rendered the realist novel an important vehicle for negotiating contemporary anxieties about urbanization, American cultural influence, gender relations, and legacies of empire. Atwood's Surfacing (1972), for example, represents a powerful rejection of American cultural influence (portrayed allegorically as aggressive and male) on Canadian national character (portrayed as introspective and female). Roch Carrier's La Guerre, Yes Sir! (1968) and Hubert Aquin's Prochain épisode (1965, Next Episode) bear witness to the divided attitudes of Quebecers toward their English Canadian neighbors. The advent of literary postmodernism in Canada saw novelists employ methods of linguistic and narrative innovation to investigate connections among cultures, genders, and geographical regions from new angles. Such linguistic and narrative innovation is exhibited in landmark works including Robert Kroetsch's The Studhorse Man (1969) and Badlands (1975), Rudy Wiebe's The Temptations of Big Bear (1973), Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion (1983), Régine Robin's La Québécoite (1983, The Wanderer), and Madeleine-Ouellette Michalska's La Maison Trestler (1984, The Trestler House), among others.

Sherry Simon has observed that, in Quebec as elsewhere in Canada, generic change has intersected with sociodemographic changes, namely with the heterogenization of the national culture in the late twentieth century (9). As the latter part of this entry will demonstrate, the recent proliferation of such hybrid forms as the graphic historical novel and the “poet's novel” (which combines features from the lyrical long poem with those of the realist novel) points to important new directions for the Canadian novel at the turn of the twenty-first century. The hybrid structures of Chester Brown's graphic historical novel Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography (2003) and the “poem-novels” of Montrealer Anne Carson suggest that Canada's complex history, cultural plurality, and distinct regional identities continue to challenge writers to refresh the novel's forms and themes for new audiences.

The Emergence of the Novel in English and French Canada: 1769—1860

The previous section provided an overview of the development of the Canadian novel. The remainder focuses on key periods in English Canada's and Quebec's respective literary histories in order to illuminate the indispensable role the novel has played in shaping and reflecting Canada's cultural identity, beginning with the fall of New France and its repercussions in the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Canadian novel developed through a combination of imitation and innovation: inspired by novelistic conventions that had been standardized by European authors, colonial novelists pieced together generic features to suit their needs (see INTERTEXTUALITY). Brooke's Emily Montague, written by a respected English novelist and poet who had visited Quebec shortly following the fall of New France, transformed the unfamiliar territory of Quebec into a social landscape familiar to eighteenth-century English readers. It did so by combining a familiar form (the epistolary novel) and a familiar narrative style (the Richardsonian sentimental style) with what were then exotic features from the Quebec landscape in order to achieve two goals: to promote Canada as a model British colony and to intervene in contemporary debates about subjects such as colonial government and gender relations. By the early to mid-nineteenth century, the influence of Scott's and Cooper's Romantic historical novels could be felt in such proto-nationalistic works as Wacousta and Anciens Canadiens, both of which portray intercultural relations among Anglo-colonials, aboriginals, and French Canadians as allegories of Canada's exemplary status as a model British colony capable of resolving longstanding cultural antagonisms.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the themes of Canadian novels written in English reflect two predominant attitudes: English Canadians' affective attachment to Britain and their anxieties about America's growing cultural and economic influence. Novels that belong to the former category include the first two published in the Canadian colonies, St. Ursula's Convent and James Russell's Matilda; or, The Indian's Captive (1833), whose plots close when their main characters move to England and leave Canada behind with little regret. The Clockmaker; or The Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick, of Slickville (1836) by Thomas Chandler Haliburton, an influential figure in the development of social satire, introduces the anti-American theme to Canadian fiction. Clockmaker simultaneously satirizes and critiques the increasing coarseness of American materialism. Still other novels, such as Susanna Moodie's Roughing It in the Bush (1852), document colonial life in Canada while functioning as “emigrant guides” for potential British settlers. Unlike The Backwoods of Canada (1836) by Moodie's sister Catherine Parr Traill, which provides a factual, though generally favorable, account of settler life, Roughing It in the Bush focuses on the trying, even tragic, sets of experiences that befell the author after she moved from England to what is now eastern Ontario.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the novel in French developed largely in response to French Canadian anxieties about English Canadian cultural and political domination. A catalyst in the development of Romantic cultural nationalism in the French Canadian novel was a political document, Lord Durham's Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839), which advocated French Canada's assimilation to English Canada. As E. D. Blodgett observes, the Durham Report had an irrevocable impact on French Canada: “[w]hat had been a settler colony became an occupied colony, and the long process of self-definition that constitutes francophone writing began” (50). French Canadian novels published prior to the Durham Report, such as L'influence d'un livre and François-Réal Angers's Les Révélations du crime (1837, The Canadian Brigand), contain expressions of cultural self-consciousness but are not openly nationalistic. After the publication of the Durham Report, French Canadian novels became more recognizably nationalistic in theme and tone. Historical novels explicitly evoked local folklore, history, and topography to effectively portray French Canadians as “native” to the land. Rustic novels, which celebrate the virtue of settler or habitant life, such as Patrice Lacombe's La terre paternelle (1846, The Outlander), Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau's Charles Guérin (1853), and Antoine Gérin-Lajoie's Jean Rivard, le défricheur (1862, Jean Rivard), stand out from their English Canadian contemporaries in their refusal to import characters, settings, and resolutions from Europe. La terre paternelle is historically significant for inaugurating what would become a common scene in subsequent French Canadian novels: that of an exiled patriarch who, upon his return, finds his home occupied by an English stranger.

The Canadian Novel at Confederation and the Turn of the Twentieth Century: 1860—1914

This section examines changes to novelistic themes and forms that took place in the years bracketing Canadian Confederation (1867) and the turn of the twentieth century. Although the historical novel continued to be popular in the late nineteenth century, the turn of the twentieth witnessed the proliferation of fantasy (see SCIENCE FICTION), psychological realism, and social satire (see PARODY).

In the years leading up to and immediately following Confederation, overtly nationalistic novels gained increasing acceptance by literary nation-builders keen to create for Canada an identity distinguishable from that of the U.S. and Britain. For a time, the historical novel remained the preferred genre for expressing such nationalism. Many Confederation-era English Canadian novels featured the French-English theme, although different novelists employed it to different ends. Novelists interested in promoting a bicultural vision of Canada, including Rosanna Leprohon (1864, Antoinette de Mirecourt), William Kirby (1877, The Golden Dog), and the American-born John Talon Lesperance (1877, The Bastonnais), portrayed French Canada sympathetically to English Canadian readers who were still, by and large, unfamiliar with their Francophone neighbors. Other English Canadian novelists, namely those who published later in the century such as Gilbert Parker (1896, The Seats of the Mighty), employed the French-English theme to promote a Canadian version of Anglo-Saxon triumphalism. As John Robert Sorfleet observes, this triumphalist form of English Canadian nationalism preoccupied many novelists writing at the turn of the twentieth century, providing them with a “testing ground for certain... attitudes about Quebec in relation to the rest of Canada” (244).

Many French Canadian novels written in the Confederation period, such as Anciens Canadiens, Napoléon Bourassa's Jacques et Marie (1865), and Joseph Marmette's L'Intendant Bigot (1872, Intendant Bigot), focus on the French-English theme, although they do so differently from their English Canadian counterparts. This is so largely for two reasons: first, because French Canadians saw themselves as a “conquered” people, and so their representations of intercultural relations in fiction were often motivated ideologically by the need to rehabilitate the vanquished culture. And second, because the advent of a form of nationalism known as “messianic nationalism” had fundamentally influenced the themes and plots of French Canadian novels, which had come to advocate a proprietary relationship to the land and often rigid definitions of French Canadian nationality based on language and religion. As Yves Dostaler argues, “messianic nationalism” nourished itself with the idea that French Canadians had a “special vocation” in the development of North American civilization (47). In response to this form of nationalism, which dominated cultural expression in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the French Canadian clergy declared itself the safeguard of the people. It sought to tighten its hold over systems of education, publication, and the press in order to protect the integrity of the French Canadian culture (see PUBLISHING). Novels that the clergy deemed acceptable were those which, like Anciens Canadiens, Jacques et Marie, Intendant Bigot, Terre paternelle, Edmond Rousseau's Les Exploits d'Iberville (1888, Iberville's Achievements), and Conan's À l'oeuvre et à l'épreuve (1891, The Master Motive), compensated for French Canada's historical loss to the British by defending the merits of its traditionally patrilineal society, agrarian customs, and Catholic religion.

The quarter-century between 1890 and the beginning of WWI witnessed a shift in writers' perceptions of their societies and their perceptions of the social role of the novel. In the 1890s, English Canadian novels by Charles G. D. Roberts and Ralph Connor promoted a version of Canadian identity that championed a link between Anglo- Saxon imperialism and Christianity. Connor became a pivotal figure in the novelistic development of “muscular Christianity,” which celebrates the virility of Christian belief and resonated positively with many contemporary readers. Connor's first three novels published in book form—Black Rock (1898), The Sky Pilot: A Tale of the Foothills (1899), and The Man from Glengarry (1901)—were international bestsellers, with Man from Glengarry selling a quarter-million copies in its first edition alone. Not all novels published at this time, however, concerned themselves explicitly with empire. Others produced in the post-Confederation period reflected an increasing interest in representing the regions of Canada. Notable examples of literary regionalism include the phenomenal bestseller Anne of Green Gables (1908) by L. M. Montgomery, set in Prince Edward Island; Duncan Polite (1905) by Marian Keith, set in southern Ontario; and The Red Feathers (1907) and The Harbour Master (1913) by Theodore Goodridge Roberts, brother of Charles G. D. Roberts, set in Newfoundland and Labrador. Also noteworthy in this context is Margaret Marshall Saunders's Beautiful Joe (1894), a novel about an abused dog written for an American Humane Society competition and one of the first international bestsellers written by a Canadian.

In French Canada around the turn of the twentieth century, novel-writing continued to be influenced by the strictures of the clerical elite. Novelistic subgenres, such as fantasy and psychological realism, reproduced the conservative ideology of Catholic ultramontanism that continued to dominate cultural production. Separatist novels, which rose to prominence in the early twentieth century in such works as Lionel Groulx's L'Appel de la race (1922, Iron Wedge) and Félix-Antoine Savard's Menaud Maître-Draveur (1937, Master of the River), have their origins in the 1890s, in the futuristic fantasy Pour la patrie (1895, For My Country) by Jules-Paul Tardivel, which imagines the founding of a French Canadian religious state in 1945—46. The roots of women's psychological realism, which rose to prominence in the mid- to late twentieth century in such works as Marie-Claire Blais's Une saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel (1965, A Season in the Life of Emmanuel) and Anne Hébert's Kamouraska (1970), lie with the novels of Conan. Largely a writer of historical fiction, Conan is best known for Angéline de Montbrun (1884), an unprecedented achievement in psychological realism privileging the underexplored perspectives of daughters (as opposed to their fathers) and young women.

In the years leading up to WWI, two novelists, Stephen Leacock and Sara Jeannette Duncan, published some of their best-known works. Both Leacock and Duncan are considered two of the best early realists. An advocate of the virtues of Anglo-Protestant civilization, Leacock was a spokesman for the Imperial Federation movement, a political scientist, and a satirist. His most popular novels remain Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912) and Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914), which celebrate Canada as part of the British Empire while ridiculing Canadian provincialism. Duncan's novels address issues of female independence and British social hierarchy. Like Leacock's satires, Duncan's ironies represent, as W. H. New observes, “ironies of protest, but not acts of rebellion” against the reproduction of British values in the colonies (105).

The Two World Wars and the Great Depression: The Canadian Novel, 1914—60

This section examines the proliferation of psychological realism, literary regionalism, and the resurgence of literary romance during a period of unprecedented social upheaval surrounding the two world wars and the Great Depression (1929—39). It pays particular attention to industrialization, urbanization, and the emergence of postwar nationalisms as formative forces behind the modernization of the Canadian novel.

The Canadian novel changed dramatically in the years following WWI (1914—18). Driven by an overarching desire to represent the effects of rapid social change on individual identities, novelists largely crafted their novels in one of two ways: either they revived the Romantic mode in order to defend the validity of traditional values in times of turbulence, or they rejected romance for realism in order to explore unprecedented concerns about the socioeconomic forces that had alienated individuals from their families, their communities, and the land. A prominent example of the revival of romance includes Mazo de la Roche's popular Jalna series, begun in 1927. The series comprises 16 bestselling novels that champion loyalist-imperialist sentiment. The phenomenal popularity of novels written during the Depression era by mock Indian writer and conservationist “Grey Owl” (pseudo. of Archibald Stansfield Belaney), such as Pilgrims of the Wild (1934) and The Adventures of Sajo and Her Beaver People (1935), demonstrate the lasting resonance of picturesque versions of wilderness life and aboriginality with a reading public keen to distract itself from the harsh realities of everyday life.

Literary realism developed in conjunction with the founding of two important literary magazines: the Canadian Bookman (1919) and The Canadian Forum (1920). Both magazines demanded a new realism capable of representing the modern and independent Canada that had emerged from WWI. As a result of these demands realist subgenres proliferated, such as prairie realism and urban realism, which recorded the psychological effects of societal change with documentary-like precision. Within a decade, such memorable realist works had appeared as Douglas Durkin's The Magpie (1923), Grove's Settlers of the Marsh, Martha Ostenso's Wild Geese (1925), Morley Callaghan's Strange Fugitive (1928), and Raymond Knister's White Narcissus (1929). These novels represent important precursors to noteworthy works published later in the period, such as Ernest Buckler's regional novel The Mountain and the Valley (1952), which portrays the stifling aspects of life in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley with a delicate lyricism. Sheila Watson's The Double Hook (1959), a landmark work of psychological realism, combines features from Christian MYTHOLOGY with aboriginal legend to tell the story of James Potter. Potter's murder of his mother in the opening scene permits the narrative to consider larger themes of alienation, community, and redemption.

By the end of WWI, French Canadian society had changed, and so had the themes of French Canadian novels. Traditionally rural and patriarchal, society had become more urban and industrial. Unemployment had become a problem and French Canadians had grown to resent the fact that they had been conscripted in WWI, forced to fight in an “English” war. Contemporary novelists reworked traditional motifs (the habitant, the land) in ways that registered French Canadians' growing sense of alienation. Louis Hémon's classic Maria Chapdelaine (1913) adapts the motif of habitant pastoralism to intervene in contemporary debates about mass migration to the U.S. and to reaffirm traditional values as effective means of ensuring familial and communal survival. Trente arpentes (1938, Thirty Acres) by Ringuet (pseud. of Philippe Panneton) powerfully records the impact of industrialization on French Canadian society. It breaks from traditional rustic novels by remodeling the French Canadian habitant into a tragic figure who lives in a world in which both society and nature are indifferent to his suffering.

Owing to the upheaval caused by the Second World War (1939—45), the themes of Canadian novels published from 1940 to 1960 were increasingly introspective. At the same time, the plots of novels by postwar immigrants reflected wider ranges of life experience. The failures and modest successes of immigrants to Canada preoccupied such novelists as the Jewish Austrian-born Henry Kreisel (1948, The Rich Man), the Irish-born Brian Moore (1960, The Luck of Ginger Coffey), and the Jewish Canadians Mordecai Richler (1955, Son of a Smaller Hero; 1959, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz), Adele Wiseman (1959, The Sacrifice) and A. M. Klein (1951, The Second Scroll). The theme of psychological alienation which characterizes the shift from an agrarian prewar society to an urban postwar one was also addressed in works by French Canadian novelists, such as Gabrielle Roy's Bonheur d'occasion (1945, The Tin Flute), Robert Charbonneau's Ils posséderont la terre (1941, They Shall Possess the Earth), André Giroux's Au-delà des visages (1948, Beyond the Faces), and André Langevin's Poussière sur la ville (1953, Dust Over the City).

The years leading up to Canada's centenary saw the Canadian novel enter the world stage. Bestselling novelists whose careers began in the 1940s and 1950s include Hugh MacLennan (1941, Barometer Rising; 1945, Two Solitudes), Robertson Davies (the novels comprising the Salterton trilogy: 1951, Tempest-Tost; 1954, Leaven of Malice; 1958, A Mixture of Frailties), Anne Hébert (1958, Les Chambres du bois; The Silent Rooms), and Marie-Claire Blais (1959, La Belle Bête; Mad Shadows). In 1948, a group of artists and activists known as the Automatistes published their political manifesto Le refus global (1986, Total Refusal), which challenges the authority of the Catholic Church and advocates the modernization and secularization of Quebec society. This manifesto not only reflects the spirit of these decades that witnessed unprecedented social and aesthetic transformation but also anticipates (and even helps to bring about) seismic cultural and ideological changes that culminated in Quebec's nationalist “Quiet Revolution” of 1960.

Postmodernism, Pluralism, and the Canadian Novel: 1960 to the Present

The popularity of postmodern techniques, together with the proliferation of novels by immigrants and ethnic minorities, transformed writers' and readers' perceptions of what constitute authentically “Canadian” novelistic forms, settings, and themes.

In response to the wave of cultural nationalism that accompanied Canada's centenary (1967), together with the burgeoning influence of literary postmodernism, which defined literary texts by their ability to construct—rather than to reflect—the world around them, many English Canadian novelists from 1960 onward embraced formal and linguistic experimentation (see FORMALISM). They did so in their efforts to challenge traditional definitions of Canadian identity while breaking free from the confines of conventional realism. The introduction of official bilingualism (1969) and multiculturalism (1988) by the federal government confirmed Canada's position as both a bilingual and a multicultural state. At the same time, other aspects of Canada's unique cultural and regional makeup were emphasized by such novelists as Kroetsch, Wiebe, Timothy Findley (1977, The Wars), Daphne Marlatt (1977, Ana Historic), and George Bowering (1980, Burning Water). These novelists and their contemporaries variously adapted elements from aboriginal oral culture, regional history, journalism, photography, collage, and other media, to champion underrepresented cultural, regional, and gendered perspectives while defending the epistemological integrity of their fiction. Antonine Maillet's Pélagie-la-Charrette (1970, Pelagie), for example, combines Rabelaisian carnivalesque with Acadian folklore to transform the tragic story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians in the eighteenth century into a celebration of orality, the imagination, and Acadian resilience. In response to the proliferation of these innovative works, many of which are historical novels, the Canadian literary critic Linda Hutcheon coined the term “historiographic metafiction” (61) to describe the unprecedented attention they paid to processes of novel-writing and the development of historical identities (see METAFICTION).

In Quebec, the 1960s saw the rise of the “Quiet Revolution,” a period of intense cultural transformation influenced by MARXIST-Leninism, Sartrean existentialism, and Third-World decolonization movements. This period witnessed the rise of the Parti pris movement whose foundational members, including novelists André Major and André Brochu, were committed to the idea that Quebec become an independent, socialist, and secular state. This period also witnessed the birth of the neologism “Québecois,” which imparts ethnic designation to French Canadians living in the province of Quebec. The 1970s saw the Government of Quebec commission a report by the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard (1924—98) on the influence of technology on definitions of knowledge. This resulted in the publication of Lyotard's phenomenally influential The Postmodern Condition (1979). In the spirit of the emergent nationalism, and under the influence of a burgeoning postmodernism, novelists published linguistically innovative works that promoted the use of joual, a popular, working-class DIALECT. These include Jacques Godbout's Salut Galarneau! (1967, Hail Galarneau!) and La Nuit de Malcomm Hudd (1969, The night of Malcolmm Hudd). Narratologically innovative works, such as Réjean Ducharme's L'Avalée des avalés (1966, The Swallower Swallowed) and Aquin's Prochain Épisode (1965, Next Episode) and Trou de mémoire (1968, Blackout), captured the contemporary attitudes of a subculture seduced by nihilism and terrorism. Carrier's La Guerre, Yes Sir! and Jacques Ferron's Le Ciel de Québec (1969, The Penniless Redeemer)parodied obsolete, traditional values, while Godbout's D'Amour P.Q. (1972) rejected themes of existential impotence that had governed such predecessors as Ringuet's Thirty Acres and Roy's Tin Flute. Landmark feminist novels were also published, including Nicole Brossard's Le désert mauve (1980, The Mauve Desert), Madeleine Ouellette-Michalska's Maison Trestler, and Jovette Marchessault's trilogy Le crachat solaire (1975, Like a Child of the Earth), La Mère des herbes (1980, Mother of the Grass), and Des cailloux blancs pour les forêts obscures (1987, White Pebbles for the Dark Forests).

Since the development of Canada's multicultural policy (1971) by former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1919—2000), as well as the introduction of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988), novels written by immigrants and ethnic minorities have become increasingly prominent on Canadian bestseller lists, at the same time as they have come to play an important role in altering the themes, forms, and reception of the Canadian novel. A new type of “regional” novel has emerged since the late 1990s, written by immigrants who have chosen to set their works in the countries from which they have emigrated: Sri Lanka (Ondaatje, 1982, Running in the Family; Shyam Selvadurai, 1994, Funny Boy); Tanzania (M. G. Vassanji, 1989, The Gunny Sack); India (Rohinton Mistry, 1991, Such a Long Journey; 1995, A Fine Balance); Lebanon (Rawi Hage, 2006, De Niro's Game); and elsewhere. Ethnic minority writers have helped to broaden the novel's thematic scope by fusing Canadian themes with motifs and images from non-Canadian milieus, such as China (Larissa Lai, 1995, When Fox is a Thousand), Japan (Hiromi Goto, 1995, A Chorus of Mushrooms), and India (Anita Rau Badami, 1997, Tamarind Mem), among others. Important novelists not to be overlooked include “pioneers” of the African Canadian novel (Austin Clarke, 1967, The Meeting Point), the Japanese Canadian novel (Joy Kogawa, 1981, Obasan), the Chinese Canadian novel (Sky Lee, 1990, Disappearing Moon Café; Denise Chong, 1994, The Concubine's Children; Wayson Choy, 1995, The Jade Peony), and the aboriginal novel (Jeannette Armstrong, 1985, Slash; Thomas King, 1990, Medicine River). Since the 1970s, a growing number of works by immigrants have also helped to broaden the cultural and geographic scope of the Quebec novel. Foundational figures in this context include the Iraqi-born Jewish writer and intellectual Naïm Kattan (1975, Adieu, Babylone; Farewell, Babylon); the French-born writer of Jewish Polish extraction, Régine Robin; Haitian Canadians such as Gérard Étienne (1974, Le Nègre crucifié; The Crucified Negro; 2004, Au Bord de la falaise; By the Cliff's Edge), Émile Ollivier (1983, Mère Solitude; Mother Solitude), and Dany Laferrière (1985, Comment faire l'amour avec une nègre sans se fatiguer; How to Make Love to a Negro); the Brazilian- born Sergio Kokis (1994, Le Pavillon des Miroirs; Funhouse); and the Chinese-born Ying Chen (1995, L'ingratitude; Ingratitude).

In the face of landmark cultural and constitutional changes, regional and psychological novels have continued to explore traditional concerns about the value of social stability, tradition, and individual security in times of change. Writers of traditional regional realism from the 1960s to the present who have tackled themes of community and custom include Margaret Laurence, whose celebrated “Manawaka” novels—so called because they center on the province of Manitoba (1961, The Stone Angel; 1966, A Jest of God; 1969, The Fire Dwellers)—explore the palpability of individual and communal histories; David Adams Richards, whose Nights Below Station Street (1988) and The Lost Highway (2008), among others, investigate the power of human kindness to bind members of even the bleakest communities in New Brunswick's Miramichi region; and Alistair MacLeod, whose No Great Mischief (1999) examines the sublime effects of landscape and tradition on inhabitants of Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island. The postmodern novel has achieved unique depths of psychological introspection in works by Carol Shields, whose Swann (1987), The Stone Diaries (1993), and Unless (2002) embed women's lives, voices, and perspectives in larger explorations of the purpose of life.

From the 1980s to the present, important trendsetting novels have narrowed the gap between “high” and “popular” culture. These include “coming-of-age” technology novels by Douglas Coupland (1991, Generation X), science fiction novels in the “cyberpunk” tradition by William Gibson (1984, Neuromancer; 1986, Count Zero; 1988, Mona Lisa Overdrive), and graphic historical novels by Chester Brown and Bernice Eisenstein (2006, I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors). The “poet's novel” represents a thriving, hybrid form of the novel which, according to Ian Rae, adapts features from lyric poetry to broaden the boundaries of conventional, plot-driven realist novels (3). Notable “poet's novels” include Carson's celebrated Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse (1998), and such precursors as Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers (1970) and Anne Michaels's Fugitive Pieces (1998). The proliferation of these inventive, hybrid forms suggests that the Canadian novel is enjoying sustained vibrancy after three and a half centuries of literary history.

SEE ALSO: Comparativism, Psychoanalytic Theory.


1. Blodgett, E.D. (2004), “Francophone Writing,” in Cambridge Companion to Canadian Literature, ed. E.-M. Kröller.

2. Dostaler, Y. (1977), Infortunes du roman dans le Québec du XIXe siècle.

3. Hutcheon, L. (1988), Canadian Postmodern.

4. Lemire, M. (1970), Grands thèmes nationalistes du roman historique canadien-français.

5. New, W.H. (2003), History of Canadian Literature, 2nd ed.

6. Rae, I. (2008), From Cohen to Carson.

7. Simon, S. (1994), “Présentation,” in Fictions de l'identitaire au Québec.

8. Sorfleet, J.R. (1976), “French Canada in Nineteenth-Century English-Canadian Historical Fiction,” diss., University of New Brunswick.