Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Confederation Group of Canadian Poets

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Confederation Group of Canadian Poets

Article excerpt

D.M.R. Bentley, The Confederation Group of Canadian Poets (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), xiv + 411pp. Cloth. $65. £32. ISBN 0-8020-8739-6.

'Their songs are racy of the soil, charted with the very life-blood of the people' (p. 28), enthused an 1895 essayist about the young poets of Canada. D.M.R. Bentley's monograph is an exemplary deconstruction of this romantic approach to the Confederation group (Charles G.D. Roberts, Bliss Carman, Archibald Lampman, William Wilfred Campbell, Duncan Campbell Scott and Frederick George Scott). Bentley argues persuasively that, led by Roberts, the group fashioned a self-image that savoured of the soil at the same time as it fought for recognition on an international stage. Though they claimed innovation in their portrayal of a distinctive, thrilling wilderness and the freedom of spirit it engendered, these poets were part of a complex network of influences that Bentley painstakingly unpicks.

This book shows the advantages of an intertextual and contextualising approach to literary analysis. Comprehensive attention to the philosophical, political and aesthetic cultures with which the Confederation group interacted yields readings of particular poems that are especially illuminating. Bentley's method shows the ways in which individual Confederation poets were inspired by and reacted against each other's work. More significantly it demonstrates how their poetic voices were moulded by Victorian British writers (such as the Pre-Raphaelites and Arnold) and American Transcendentalists. For example, the political poetics of the Young Ireland and Young England movements shaped their commitment to literature that would both reveal and shape Young Canada. American theories of 'environmental determinism' (p. 79) and the influence of Longfellow can be tracked in the group's use of Canadian history and the materials of the indigenous population. …

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