ReCalling Early Canada: Reading the Political in Literary and Cultural Production

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J. Blair, D. Coleman, K. Higginson and L. York (eds), ReCalling Early Canada: Reading the Political in Literary and Cultural Production (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2005), xlvi + 448pp. Paper. $34.95. ISBN 0-88864-440-X.

"O strong hearts, guarding the birthright of our glory,/ Worth your best blood this heritage that ye guard!", wrote Charles G.D. Roberts in 1885. No doubt Roberts little imagined that future generations would rearticulate this inheritance as an ideological construction affirming imperial, bourgeois values and falsifying the alterity of the Canadian past. Yet that is the central thrust of this lively collection of essays by literary and cultural critics who probe the politics sustaining 'Canada's historical imaginary' (x) and concepts of nationhood. Adam Carter's crisp essay on Roberts's national odes is typical of the findings of the volume. He shows how the poet tropes 'a patriotic oneness amongst the citizenry' (118) that is simultaneously undermined by the contradictory personification of the energetic (collective) nation as an infantile (individual) subject. Such ideological tensions surface in most of the pieces in this collection, and Foucault and postcolonial theorists cast a long shadow over the critical approach. Nonetheless, the postmodern rejection of a grand master-narrative proves effective for the reassessment of early Canadian culture.

As the editors remind us, early Canadian materials played - and continue to play - an important part in shaping the Canadian past as a narrative of settlement rather than invasion, as the story of a colony rather than a colonising power. But they also contain alternative, secret histories of indigenous peoples, expatriates and other European settler cultures that destabilise a myth of Canadian harmony. The impressive range of this volume - it deals with visual art, journalism, literature, publishing history, and horse breeding inter alia - prompts many important questions about Canadian history, and the ways in which writers and readers have chosen to recover and re-present it. …