Historical Fiction and Changing Ideas of Canada
Paper 276 pp.
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Fiction that reconsiders, challenges, reshapes, and/or upholds national narratives of history has long been an integral aspect of Canadian literature. Works by writers of historical fiction (from early practitioners such as John Richardson to contemporary figures such as Alice Munro and George Elliott Clarke) propose new views and understandings of Canadian history and individual relationships to it. Critical evaluation of these works sheds light on the complexity of these depictions.
The contributors in National Plots: Historical Fiction and Changing Ideas of Canada critically examine texts with subject matter ranging from George Vancouver’s west coast explorations to the eradication of the Beothuk in Newfoundland. Reflecting diverse methodologies and theoretical approaches, the essays seek to explicate depictions of “the historical” in individual texts and to explore larger questions relating to historical fiction as a genre with complex and divergent political motivations and goals. Although the topics of the essays vary widely, as a whole the collection raises (and answers) questions about the significance of the roles historical fiction has played within Canadian culture for nearly two centuries.
Andrea Cabajsky is an assistant professor at the Université de Moncton, where she teaches and does research in comparative literature, especially English- and French-Canadian Studies. She has published widely on the literary history of nationalism in romantic and Victorian Canadian and British literatures and is currently developing the curriculum for an approved new master’s program in comparative Canadian literature at the Université de Moncton.
Brett Josef Grubisic is a lecturer at the University of British Columbia and specializes in contemporary Canadian and UK fiction. His publications include Contra/diction (ed.), Carnal Nation (co-edited with Carellin Brooks), the City of Vancouver Book Award finalist The Age of Cities, and Understanding Beryl Bainbridge.
“Theoretically informed with great interpretative sensitivity, [the contributors to this volume] illustrate how Canadian historical fiction often reveals a tension between skepticism or even relativism on the one hand, and a yearning for continuity and an identification with place on the other.... The forms of Canadian historical fiction, and the ideological questions pursued by the genre are succinctly discussed in an introduction by the editors.... Due attention is paid to the meta-narrative element that is a hallmark of recent historical fiction in Canada (indeed, it seems appropriate that the term ‘historiographic metafiction’ was coined by a Canadian critic, Linda Hutcheon), and theoretical contexts of the genre are delineated with much critical acumen.... All of [the essays] are methodologically stringent and united by their endeavour to read texts against the grain of earlier interpretations, especially with regard to views on history and on how history and the past have proved functional within the national framework.... This is a carefully edited collection which succeeds in capturing the diversity of English-Canadian historical fiction as well as providing valuable categories for structuring this wide field, besides fresh and insightful close readings. National Plots will thus be indispensable reading for anyone interested in the ongoing and significant contributions of historical fiction to a Canadian sense of identity.”
— Martin Löschnigg, Anglistik: International Journal of English Studies
“National Plots is a vital contribution to the ongoing critical discussion about historical fiction in Canadian literature and broadens the dialogue by including both critics well established in the field and emergent voices.”
— Manina Jones, Department of English, University of Western Ontario, co-editor with Marta Dvořák of Carol Shields and the Extra-Ordinary (2007)
“Cabajsky...and...Grubisic provide an excellent introduction, a lengthy list of references, and a very full index...overall this is a fine addition to the literature. Summing up Highly recommended.”
— B. Almon, University of Alberta, Choice
“Andrea Cabajsky and Brett Josef Grubisic’s collection, National Plots: Historical Fiction and Changing Ideas of Canada, is a vital and welcome contribution to the ongoing critical consideration of historical fiction in Canada. The book...demonstrates how contemporary historical novels may ultimately reinforce the limitations of the received history that they ostensibly aim to interrogate, especially when their critiques appeal to ideas of geo-political ‘authenticity’ or conform to the most problematic conventions of a given genre.”
— Robert Zacharias, Canadian Literature
By the same editor
The Seats of the Mighty, Gilbert Parker; afterword by Andrea Cabajsky
Blast, Corrupt, Dismantle, Erase: Contemporary North American Dystopian Literature, Brett Josef Grubisic, Gisèle M. Baxter, and Tara Lee, editors