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ENGL 677.01 - Historical Canadian Novels (Historical Explorations within the Contemporary Canadian Novel)

Instructor: Prof. A van Herk
Schedule: W 12:30-3:15

Course Description:

The Canadian “historical novel” has proceeded from a moment of narrative transparency to a position that questions its own reading of history’s wounds, denouncing the texture of received information and yet imagining a narrative order.  Can such referential restraints provide a space within which the assumptions of particular social, cultural, and historical moments be examined and critiqued?  Is this focus nostalgic or revisionist?  Canadian historiography appears to be interested in examining subversive or unheroic characters that nevertheless occupy a time and space emblematic of “national character.”  At the same time, historiographic representations of landscape, gender, class, region and religion encompass economic, social, and cultural contingencies, all relevant to the development of a literature within a nation diverse and dispersed in terms of cultural coherence. This course will apprehend these questions by reading a selection of contemporary Canadian novels that look to history or to a particular historical moment as their initiating impulse. 

As the reading for this course is heavy, students would be wise to prepare by reading material in advance. 

Eleven Texts will be chosen from this preliminary list: 

Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace

Joseph Boyden, Three Day Road or The Orenda

Timothy Findley, Famous Last Words

Elizabeth Hay, A Student of Weather

Lawrence Hill, Book of Negroes

Wayne Johnston, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams

Joy Kogawa, Obasan

Robert Kroetsch, Man from the Creeks

Sky Lee, Disappearing Moon Cafe

Daphne Marlatt, Ana Historic

Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of a Lion

Fred Stenson, The Trade

Joan Thomas, Curiosity

Jane Urquhart, The Whirlpool

Guy Vanderhaege, The Last Crossing

Thomas Wharton, Icefields

Course assignments will consist of

  1. In-class presentation + written paper (20%)
  2. a short research essay (conference length) early in the term (15%)
  3. a long research essay (at the end of the term) 55%
  4. Contributions to Critical Bibliography (10%)