Academic journal article Gender Forum

Transnational Maternal Genealogies in Contemporary Canadian Women's Historical Novels

Academic journal article Gender Forum

Transnational Maternal Genealogies in Contemporary Canadian Women's Historical Novels

Article excerpt

1Literary criticism on women's historical novels not only in Canada but also globally is not as prevalent as one might imagine. This is curious given the international profile of award-winning authors like Margaret Atwood, the sheer number of historical novels written by women, and the popularity of women's novels with critics and readers despite these facts, a sustained analysis of Canadian women's historical fiction does not exist.[1] In this article, I remedy this neglect by bringing attention to a specific trend in many contemporary Canadian women's historical novels written in English: the establishment of a transnational maternal genealogy. [2] The purpose of a transnational maternal genealogy, in the corpus of this distinct sub-genre of Canadian women's historical fiction, I argue, is to achieve three important goals. First, it asserts a critical contemporary feminist narrative style as an intervention against the two preceding dominant trends in the genre: masculinist mainstream historiography also known as master narratives, express universal truths and nationalist sentiments and postmodern "historiographic metafiction," as Linda Hutcheon calls it, (Poetics 5) approaches history as construction, undermines authenticity, and displaces identity. Second, transnational maternal genealogies suggest gender and a link to one's maternal past, not the national context, is more important in shaping the female protagonist's identity and in empowering her feminist challenges to patriarchal authority. Third, genealogies via "female characters subvert [...] the traditional boundaries of historical fiction" (Cabajsky and Grubisic paraphrasing van Herk, xvi). These forms of feminist subversion, furthermore, explain why many of these women's novels focus on immigration and being Canadian without having been born in Canada or being able to locate one's ancestral roots in Canadian history.

2The woman's historical novel is a neglected genre with the potential to address significant gaps in literary, social, and political history in Canada. Thus, this article forms part of a larger process of ongoing scholarship such as Carole Gerson's which is recovering Canada's history to reflect a social sphere that is domestic, personal, political, and historical. In order to understand this innovative writing better, I first define the woman's historical novel and a maternal genealogy and then briefly discuss the master narrative and the postmodern perspective. The majority of this article, however, takes up several women's novels, including those which do adhere to the genre of a transnational maternal genealogy and those which fail to do so. Discussing the novels relationally elucidates the challenges this writing poses, its complexity, and the unique features which make transnational maternal genealogies a distinct sub-genre of women's historical fiction.

3The woman's historical novel is written by women about women (thus, novels like Heather Robertson's The King Years trilogy which centers on the life of former Canadian Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King is not taken into consideration): gender specific experiences to women such as pregnancy, rape, childbearing, childrearing, breast cancer, and so on are prioritized. Diana Wallace contends that the historical novel is a most suitable medium for women writers because "women have been violently excluded both from 'history' (the events of the past) and from 'History' (written accounts of the past) ("Letters" 25). Traditionally, women's history has been considered an oxymoron, being characterized as romantic, unhistorical or ahistorical, misrepresentative, inaccurate, fantastical, anti-nationalist, even escapist (Wallace, Woman's 15). The feminocentric foci in this genre, however, counter such claims. By filing in silences in the historical record, highlighting gaps in masculinist genre studies, promoting "feminisms in the plural" (Hutcheon Canadian Postmodern, 107), and rewriting women, symbolic progenitors of past, present, and future genealogies inside and outside of the text become visible. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.