Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

"No Place for a Girl": Place and Gender-Identity in the Channel Shore

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

"No Place for a Girl": Place and Gender-Identity in the Channel Shore

Article excerpt

Using contemporary place theory, this essay traces the rules that best explain the movement of male and female characters in Charles Bruce's The Channel Shore. By highlighting the difference in these rules, and the logic of their application, it counters the popular view that this novel depicts an idealized community.

Charles Bruce's The Channel Shore has been classified as a regional text, and one that some feel has not received the attention it deserves (Keefer 19; Wainwright 238; Seaman, "Visions" 159). Of the five scholars whom I know to have contributed critical interpretations of The Channel Shore, four classify it as regional (Creelman 460; Keefer 5; Moss 8; Seaman, "Visions" 158). For the most part, moreover, these critics interpret Bruce's novel as one that elucidates the workings of a phenomenon commonly associated with "regional" works: community (Creelman 462; Keefer 55-61; Moss 179; Wainwright 239). Janice Kulyk Keefer, for instance, characterizes The Channel Shore as "an apotheosis of the communal vision in Maritime literature" (55).

Although Bruce's novel has not, to my knowledge, been examined by scholars outside the discipline of English, David Creelman engages productively with the work of historians and political economists to demonstrate that Bruce's "references to contemporary experience tend to be very selective" (470). My goal here is not to assess Bruce's mimetic accuracy but, rather, to analyze the social relations organizing his imagined geography. In doing so, I prefer to imagine the Shore as a place rather than a community. Scholars have long grappled with the meanings of both place and community and, as a result, we can differentiate between the concepts in a variety of ways (see Johnston et al. for useful bibliographies). As I utilize the terms, territoriality and idealism distinguish place from community most substantively. Though community can be, and often is, imagined as territorial, it need not be: a community of like interests need not be locatable within a discrete portion of geographic space. By contrast, places are, generally, theorized as territorial: The Dictionary of Human Geography offers "a portion of geographic space" as the most basic definition of place (Duncan 582). The second factor, idealism, captures my sense that the concept of community is more than a description of a place's social relations; it is an assessment of them as conforming to an ideal. As political philosopher Iris Marion Young explains, community is "an ideal of shared public life, of mutual recognition and identification" (12). To describe a place as a community, then, is to suggest that it conforms to such an ideal.

While a communal configuration of social relations sounds idyllic, Young explains that "the impulse to community often coincides with a desire to preserve identity and in practice excludes others who threaten that sense of identity" (12). It is not the fact of exclusion that explains my opposition to the concept of community; identities, being based on difference, are constituted through exclusionary practices. Rather, I avoid the term community because it tends to efface the existence of these practices, practices that, to my mind, provide crucial information about the often implicit rules that govern both social relations and identity-production.

Keefer's reading of The Channel Shore in Under Eastern Eyes: A Critical Reading of Maritime Fiction, though insightful and sensitive, demonstrates how the assessment of a place as a community can blind us to both social exclusions and dissent. This point is most evident in her treatment of the character Vangie Murphy. Keefer suggests that place and community coincide in Bruce's text when she argues that "place defines one's right to recognition within the community; even the town's 'loose woman,' Vangie Murphy," she argues, "may not be excluded" (57). Although Vangie lives in this place, Bruce's narrator is frank about her exclusion from its community: despite her bids for social inclusion, this voice explains, for one such as Vangie, "recognition was something you didn't get" (226). …

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