Canadian literature, English

Canadian literature, English,

literary works produced in Canada and written in the English language.

Early Canadian Writing

Although Canadian writing began as an imitative colonial literature, it has steadily developed its own national characteristics. Because of the huge immigrations, first of New England Puritans from 1760 on and later of American Loyalists during the Revolution, Canadian literature followed U.S. models almost until the confederation in 1867. Before 1800 the rigors of pioneering left little time for the writing or the appreciation of literature. The only notable works were journals, such as that of Jacob Bailey, and the recorded travels of explorers, such as Henry KelseyKelsey, Henry
, c.1670–1729, English fur trader and explorer in Canada. He entered the service of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1684. He was sent (1689) inland to secure trade with aboriginal peoples and later (1691–92) made his much disputed journey into W Canada;
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, Samuel HearneHearne, Samuel
, 1745–92, British fur trader, explorer in N Canada. He entered the British navy at the age of 11 and saw service in the naval battles of the Seven Years War.
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, and Sir Alexander MackenzieMackenzie, Alexander,
1822–92, Canadian political leader, b. Scotland. Emigrating (1842) to Canada, he worked first as a stonemason in Kingston, Ont., and then as a builder and contractor in Sarnia. In Lambton he became editor (1852) of a Liberal newspaper.
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The Canadian Novel

The first Canadian novelist of note was John RichardsonRichardson, John,
1796–1852, first Canadian novelist to write in English. He fought in the War of 1812 and later served with the British army in England, Spain, and Barbados.
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, whose Wacousta (1832) popularized the genre of the national historical novel. With The Clockmaker (1836) T. C. HaliburtonHaliburton, Thomas Chandler
, pseud. Sam Slick,
1796–1865, Canadian jurist and author. Haliburton was a judge of the court of common pleas in 1829 and a judge of the provincial supreme court in 1841; he retired in 1856.
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 began his humorous series on Sam Slick, the Yankee peddler. Historical novelists writing c.1900 included William KirbyKirby, William,
1817–1906, Canadian author, b. England. He was a journalist and civil servant. Besides volumes of verse and tales, he wrote The Golden Dog (1877), also published as Le Chien d'or (1884), a popular romance of 17th-century Quebec.
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, author of The Golden Dog (1877), and Sir Gilbert ParkerParker, Sir Gilbert,
1862–1932, Canadian novelist, b. Ontario. His novels and collections of tales usually deal either with the history of Canada or with England and the empire.
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, author of The Seats of the Mighty (1896). The novels of Sara Jeannette Duncan, such as A Social Departure (1890), were noted for their satire and humor. The Rev. C. W. Gordon (Ralph Connor) produced Black Rock (1898), a series of novels on pioneer life in W Canada. Animal stories became popular in the works of Ernest Thompson SetonSeton, Ernest Thompson,
1860–1946, American writer and artist, b. England. His name was originally Ernest Seton Thompson. His stories and paintings of wildlife, especially Wild Animals I Have Known (1898, new ed.
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, Sir C. G. D. RobertsRoberts, Sir Charles George Douglas,
1860–1943, Canadian author, b. New Brunswick. He was the first Canadian to be knighted for his work as a writer. He wrote over 67 works, of which the best-known are Orion (1880), Divers Tones (1886), Selected Poems
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, and Margaret Marshall Saunders.

Since 1900, Canadian novels have tended toward stricter realism, but have remained predominantly regional, and many writers have been women. Among the most prominent authors have been Lucy M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables (1908); Mazo de la Rochede la Roche, Mazo
, 1885–1961, Canadian novelist, b. Toronto. Her popular novel, Jalna (1927), was followed by a series depicting the history, through 150 years, of the vigorous Whiteoak family who lived at "Jalna.
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, well known for her series on the Whiteoaks family of Jalna; Frederick P. Grove, author of Settlers of the Marsh (1925), a novel of farm life; and Laura Salverson and Nellie McClung, novelists of immigrant and rural life in W Canada.

Margaret AtwoodAtwood, Margaret Eleanor,
1939–, Canadian novelist and poet. Atwood is a skilled and powerful storyteller whose novels, set mainly in the near future, sometimes make use of such popular genres as historical, detective, and science fiction.
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 is probably the best-known modern Canadian novelist and Alice MunroMunro, Alice,
1931–, Canadian writer, b. Wingham, Ont., as Alice Ann Laidlaw. Much acclaimed as one of the finest contemporary short-story writers, Munro is known for quiet, insightfully realistic, and irony-tinged works that deal with daily life and are written in
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 the most famous writer of short stories. Other important fiction writers during and since World War II include Morley CallaghanCallaghan, Morley
(Morley Edward Callaghan) , 1903–90, Canadian novelist. During the 1920s he spent time in Paris, where he became friends with Ernest Hemingway, whose influence can be detected in Callaghan's spare literary style; he recalls these years in
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, Gwethalyn Graham, John Buell, Hugh MacLennanMacLennan, Hugh
, 1907–90, Canadian writer, b. Glace Bay, N. S. From his vantage at McGill Univ. in Montreal where he taught from 1951 to 1981, MacLennan wrote novels and essays that helped define Canadian literature.
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, Mordecai RichlerRichler, Mordecai,
1931–2001, Canadian novelist, b. Montreal. He fled his native city in the early 1950s and lived mainly in London, returning to Canada in 1972 and from then on spending part of his year in London and part in Montreal.
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, Malcolm LowryLowry, Malcolm
(Clarence Malcolm Lowry) , 1909–57, English novelist, b. New Brighton, Wirral. Lowry is widely recognized as an important writer who effectively articulated the spiritual desolation of the individual in the 20th cent.
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, Ethel Wilson, Robertson DaviesDavies, Robertson
(William Robertson Davies) , 1913–95, Canadian writer and editor. After receiving a B.Litt. from Oxford (1938), he joined the Old Vic Theatre Company before returning to Canada (1940) as an editor.
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, Brian MooreMoore, Brian,
1921–99, Canadian-American novelist, b. Belfast, Northern Ireland. He emigrated to Canada in 1948, where he was a reporter for the Montreal Gazette. He later moved to the United States and was a longtime resident of Malibu, Calif.
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, Margaret LaurenceLaurence, Margaret
(Jean Margaret Laurence), 1926–87, Canadian novelist, b. Manitoba. She lived in Somaliland, Ghana, and England and many of her early works had an African setting.
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, Alistair MacLeodMacLeod, Alistair
, 1936–2014, Canadian fiction writer, b. John Alexander Joseph MacLeod, Ph.D. Notre Dame, 1968. He taught at the Univ. of Windsor from the late 1960s until his retirement in 1999.
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, Mavis GallantGallant, Mavis
(Mavis Leslie Young Gallant) , 1922–2014, Canadian writer, b. Montreal. After graduating from high school, she was a newspaper feature writer in Montreal (1944–50), moved (1950) to Europe, and ultimately settled in Paris, where she lived until her
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, Timothy Findlay, Neil Bissoondath, and M. G. Vassanji. Many of their novels and stories have focused attention on Canadian city life, social problems, and cultural divisions.

Essays and Poetry

The essayist Northrop FryeFrye, Northrop
, 1912–91, Canadian literary critic, b. Quebec. In 1936 he was ordained as a minister in the United Church of Canada. In 1948 he was appointed professor of English at Victoria College, of which he was later principal (1959–66).
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 is noted for his systematic classification of literature, presented in his Anatomy of Criticism (1957). Stephen LeacockLeacock, Stephen Butler,
1869–1944, Canadian economist and humorist, b. England, grad. Univ. of Toronto (B.A., 1891), Univ. of Chicago (Ph.D., 1903). Head of the department of political science and economics (1908–36) at McGill Univ.
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 is well known for his humorous essays as well as for his scholarship. Other notable essayists include Sir Andrew Macphail, Archibald MacMechan, and Lorne Pierce.

Genuinely Canadian poetry was late in developing. In the 18th cent. Puritan hymnists, such as Henry Alline, and refugee Tory satirists, such as Jonathan Odell, took their models from American colonial or English neoclassical literature. Before the confederation of 1867 the only poets of note were Charles SangsterSangster, Charles,
1822–93, Canadian poet, b. Ontario. At first an imitator of Byron, he became, with the publication of Hesperus and Other Poems and Lyrics (1860), the first notable Canadian poet to make use of native themes and settings.
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, the first to make use of native material, and Charles Heavysege, whose long poetic drama Saul brought him widespread acclaim.

Starting c.1880, the "confederation school"—C. G. D. Roberts, Archibald LampmanLampman, Archibald,
1861–99, Canadian poet, b. Ontario. A post office employee all his life, he was a noted nature poet. His work appeared in Among the Millet (1888), Lyrics of Earth (1893), and Alcyone (1899).
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, Bliss CarmanCarman, Bliss
, 1861–1929, Canadian poet, b. Fredericton, N.B. He studied at the universities of New Brunswick and Edinburgh and at Harvard. While at Harvard (1886–88) he began a friendship with Richard Hovey that later resulted in their joint publication of the
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, and Duncan Campbell ScottScott, Duncan Campbell,
1862–1947, Canadian poet, b. Ottawa. He was a civil servant in the Dept. of Indian Affairs from 1879 to 1932, becoming its head in 1913. Scott began publication with The Magic House and Other Poems in 1893.
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—began producing a large body of romantic poetry, describing nature and Canadian rural life. In 1905, long after her death in 1887, Isabella V. Crawford was recognized as an important poet; she was followed by Emily Pauline Johnson and Marjorie PickthallPickthall, Marjorie Lowry Christie
, 1883–1922, Canadian poet, b. England. Her poetry is notable for the freshness and intensity with which she treats nature. Among her volumes of poetry are The Drift of Pinions (1914) and The Woodcarver's Wife and Other Poems
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. Other poets of the early part of the century included Wilfred Campbell, W. H. DrummondDrummond, William Henry,
1854–1907, Canadian poet, b. Ireland. For several years he worked and practiced medicine in frontier Canadian communities. There he came to know the French Canadians, whom he celebrated in his best poems, using their dialect of English.
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, Francis Sherman, John McCraeMcCrae, John
, 1872–1918, Canadian physician and poet. His famous poem "In Flanders Fields," written under fire during World War I, was published anonymously in Punch in 1915 and under his name in a posthumous volume, In Flanders Fields (1919).
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, and the greatly popular Robert W. ServiceService, Robert William,
1874–1958, Canadian poet and novelist, b. England, educated at the Univ. of Glasgow. He went to Canada in 1897 and held odd jobs in British Columbia and at Whitehorse in the Yukon.
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In 1926 the prolific E. J. PrattPratt, Edwin John,
1883–1964, Canadian poet, b. Newfoundland. He broke away from the old romantic tradition of Canadian poetry to write imaginative narratives of epic events.
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 broke away from the romantic tradition with The Titans; his highly original and powerful epics place him among the foremost Canadian poets. Notable contemporary poets in the Pratt tradition include Kenneth Leslie, Earle Birney, W. W. E. Ross, Dorothy Livesay, and Anne Marriott. Other poets sharing the modern cosmopolitan tradition of the United States and W Europe are F. R. Scott, L. A. Mackay, A. M. Klein, P. K. Page, Irving Layton, Raymond Souster, James Reaney, Margaret Avison, Phyllis Webb, Leonard Cohen, and Margaret Atwood.


See bibliography by R. E. Watters (2d ed. 1972); R. P. Baker, A History of English Canadian Literature to the Confederation (1920, repr. 1968); C. F. Klinck, ed., A Literary History of Canada (1965); A. J. M. Smith, ed., Modern Canadian Verse in English and French (1967); M. Atwood, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972); G. Woodcock, The World of Canadian Writing (1980); W. Toye, ed., The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature (1983); D. Bennett, Canadian Literary Criticism (1989).

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