Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Catching the Torch: Contemporary Canadian Literary Responses to World War I

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Catching the Torch: Contemporary Canadian Literary Responses to World War I

Article excerpt

Neta Gordon, Catching the Torch: Contemporary Canadian Literary Responses to World War I (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2014), 222 pp. Cased. £51.50. ISBN 978-1-55458-980-7.

Catching the Torch examines contemporary Canadian literar y responses to the First World War, although it excludes verse 'because the lyric poetr y generally associated with that war does not meet my basic concern with how the war is plotted' (p. 174). The title will be misleading to at least some readers because the novels and plays the book examines are not contemporar y with the war but modern, and it seems to me, as an historian of Canada's involvement in the First World War, that the relationship between the war and literature published almost a centur y later is somewhat remote.

Gordon's concern is with 'historical memor y', by which she means, citing Maurice Halbwachs, 'what a social group wishes to repeat', namely 'aspects of its past that it finds useful or fulfilling or necessary in the present' (p. 3). Setting aside the fact that people cannot 'remember' an event they did not experience, she explores 'how contemporary writers have made use of the compelling myth that the Canadian nation was born in the First World War trenches' (p. 4).

There is a serious problem here because the idea that the Canadian nation was born in the First World War trenches is not a myth. One has only to read the letters and memoirs of Canadian soldiers, especially after all four Divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together for the first time at Vimy Ridge, to realise that Canada's participation in the war did establish it as an autonomous nation in the minds of the soldiers and many civilians as well. …

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