Sunday, April 04, 2010

A Continental Literary Culture

An interesting snippet from one of my current reads, Nick Mount's When Canadian Literature Moved to New York, a book that traces the roots of what ultimately became a canonical Canadian literature to "the cafés, publishing offices, and boarding houses of late-nineteenth-century New York":

The problems confronting domestic literary production were real, but the domestic market was not the only option for Canadian writers of this generation: they also had access by mail or in person to the much larger American market, a market that by this time included Canada. Canadians had few home-grown literary models, but the flood of American magazines and American books into Canada provided models for them, models that had become features of a North American literary landscape. At a professional level, the decision by so many Canadian writers of these years to move to American cities wasn't about giving up one national literary culture for another; it was about moving from the margins to the centres of a continental literary culture.

My primary interest in this literary period is in L.M. Montgomery, one of the few Canadian writers who stayed at home. But the expatriates whose late 19th century exodus to the United States preoccupies Mount were Montgomery's precursors and contemporaries, her role models and her colleagues. Their markets were her markets. She may have stayed home physically, resisting the lure of New York as did her writer-character Emily Byrd Starr, but she built her career on the publication of stories in U.S. magazines and of novels by U.S. publishing houses. So Mount's book provides a context that I think will prove very helpful in developing a fuller understanding of Montgomery's career, even though she herself receives only a few passing mentions in it. As you can imagine from the passage quoted above though, the book also offers much food for thought in considering Canadian literature more broadly, now as then evolving in a global context. So far, a most intriguing read.


Hannah Stoneham said...

Sounds very interesting. I think that home landscapes can remain extremely important to writers even when they move away.

thanks for sharing and have a happy Monday!

CLM said...

Did LMM have the opportunity to go to NYC as Emily did? Or was she observing the Canadian literati? Was she considered part of that group?

shruti said...

hi. this is my first blog i really enjoy this blog

Anonymous said...

I find myself thinking about this issue quite a lot, particularly in terms of my own writing career. My experience of Canadian literature is often disappointing. I would say the same of a lot of the professors of literature that I meet in Canada; this is especially true of the creative writing professors I have met in Canada. I have ties to the US, having studied there. I also feel pulled to other places that are dear to my family and that are yet far, far away ... I think people go to New York, even today, because things are moving there. Our own life here will only be interesting to the masses in fifty years, when the critiques are distant enough to be popular. (Is that too cynical?) I really like that you think about these things and that you are reading! Put more beautiful words on pages for us. That would be great!