Academic journal article ARIEL

Cynthia Sugars. Canadian Gothic: Literature, History and the Spectre of Self-Invention

Academic journal article ARIEL

Cynthia Sugars. Canadian Gothic: Literature, History and the Spectre of Self-Invention

Article excerpt

Cynthia Sugars. Canadian Gothic: Literature, History and the Spectre of Self-Invention. Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2014. Pp. x, 291. US$150.00.

Cynthia Sugars' Canadian Gothic explores the ghosts of settlers past and how recent diasporic and Indigenous writers are unsettling their inherited traditions. Sugars argues that the use of the Gothic is a long-standing strategy for connecting the Old World and New World through shared literary mythologies and for infusing the untamable Canadian landscape with a narrativized past. This Gothic tradition, however, is founded on an exclusionary nationalism that renders non-white Anglo-Canadians as other. Building on her earlier work on the postcolonial Gothic and the unhomely, Sugars makes another significant contribution to the field of Canadian Gothic scholarship by examining the longstanding mutually constitutive relationship between Canadian nationalism, the land, and ghosts in a variety of literary genres. Canadian Gothic spans from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries to trace the Gothic literary tradition in what is now called Canada; the book is divided into seven chapters that not only offer a historical survey and an analysis of multiple genres but also explore the distinctions between Anglo- and French-Canadian Gothic narratives. Canadian Gothic ultimately establishes the persistent presence of ghosts and the Gothic in Canadian literature.

Canadian Gothic begins by analyzing the often overlooked ghosts in two famous Canadian poems, Robert Services "The Cremation of Sam McGee" (1907) and John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" (1919). The Introduction then turns to a myriad of writers, such as Susanna Moodie, Duncan Campbell Scott, Robertson Davies, James Reaney, and Margaret Sweatman, among others, in order to argue that "from very early on the Gothic has held a precarious, even contradictory, position in Canadian literature" because Canada "had long been perceived as either a location of monstrous extremes or an empty terrain that was unhaunted by a historical tradition" (8). Ironically, as Sugars asserts, the absence of a Canadian past or mythology is conveyed through Gothic sensations of horrific newness.

Chapter One delves deeper into Gothic absence and the paradoxical phenomenon of being haunted by a lack of ghosts. Using white European explorers' encounters with the New World as case studies, the first chapter demonstrates how early explorers projected their psychic fears onto Indigenous peoples. The second chapter surveys the larger national investment in the Gothic tradition as a strategy for defining a Canadian identity. Sugars asserts that "settler Canadian literature has from its beginnings been haunted by its efforts to 'story' itself" (50); in short, "The absence of the Gothic is aligned with a failure of poetry and a failure of imagination--more specifically with a failure to write Canada into history" (67). Sugars suggests that the Gothic not only captures the speciality of a lacking Canadian national identity but also, as a form of artistic creation, offers a solution to this absence.

While Chapter Two equates Canadas lack of a national mythology with a lack of ghosts, Chapter Three develops an analysis of psychic projection by arguing that Anglo-Canadian writers started replacing the Indigenous other with a Francophone spectral threat. …

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