Persistent and Challenging Enigmas
- Elizabeth Waterston (Editor), L. M. Montgomery (Author), and Mary Rubio (Editor)
Anne of Green Gables. Norton (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Susanna Moodie (Author) and Michael Peterman (Editor)
Roughing It in the Bush. Norton (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Jennifer Scott
Norton’s new critical editions of Susanna Moodie’s Roughing It in the Bush and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables serve as a timely reminder of the endurance of these “classic” texts in Canadian literature. The question of “classic” is the focus of the L.M. Montgomery Institute’s 2008 conference, and it seems fitting to revisit these two Canadian classics on the occasion of the centennial anniversary of Anne of Green Gables. Like Anne, Moodie’s Roughing It has permeated academic as well as literary reading communities since its publication in 1852. Moodie, who accompanied her husband John (a sporadic contributor to Roughing It) to Upper Canada in 1832, outlines the “real” experience of Upper Canada for potential emigrants looking to make a fortune in the newly settled colony. For Moodie, the reality of Upper Canada is one of hardship and toil. Although she lives the rest of her life in Upper Canada, she always considers England as “home.”
The question of home is a central one for Moodie as well as for Montgomery’s protagonist, Anne. Both texts take up the question of belonging—whether within a new nation, as is the case for Moodie, or within a new province and new family, as is the case for Anne. Importantly, these texts have had difficulty finding a permanent “home” among scholarly critics. It is their ability to move between genres and critical frameworks that has allowed them to remain salient through generations of scholarship, and it comes as no surprise that the field will welcome new critical editions of these Canadian “classics.”
The question of feeling “at home” is never fully answered for Moodie. Editor Michael Peterman categorizes Moodie’s text as a “persistent and challenging enigma,” a designation supported by the ongoing critical curiosity surrounding Roughing It. Moodie doesn’t fit into a neat category, and Peterman’s extensive historical and geographical research emphasizes Moodie’s enigmatic qualities as an author and an emigrant settler. Peterman provides a wealth of supplementary information to Moodie’s text, which can be overwhelming at times, but will be most useful for any critic looking for historical, geographic, literary, and cultural contexts of the text. The “Backgrounds” section includes contemporaneous reviews, advertisements, chapters that arrived too late at the publisher’s for inclusion in the first edition, and other paratextual elements. This secondary criticism highlights Moodie’s ongoing literary success through generations of Canadian scholarship. Margaret Atwood, David Stouck, D.M.R. Bentley and John Thurston provide an early critical context. The possibilities for the feminist, the cultural materialist, and the postcolonialist, are all made visible though the later critical material. Moodie’s prowess as a storyteller is never far from the reader’s mind; this prowess persistently troubles the fluid generic boundaries between autobiography, settler’s guide, and fiction, and it is the impossibility of categorizing Moodie that allows her text to remain enigmatic and intriguing 155 years after its publication.
Whereas Moodie’s text is difficult to categorize generically, Montgomery’s “classic” Anne of Green Gables embodies the quintessential bildungsroman for the young Canadian girl while remaining critically enigmatic: readers know what to do with Anne, but this categorization has been more difficult for scholarly critics. As editors Mary Henley Waterston and Elizabeth Rubio suggest, “surprise has always been a keynote with Anne of Green Gables.” Surprise acts then as a thematic within Anne but also as a reaction to the overwhelming and unwavering popularity and success of Montgomery’s most famous novel. As Rubio and Waterston explain in their Preface, writers like Joyce and Faulkner critically overshadowed Anne in the pre-War period. Nevertheless, Anne remained a favourite among readers. Following the publication and release of Montgomery’s journals in 1985, Anne was revisited by scholars with “new seriousness.”
Rubio and Waterston provide literary, cultural, contemporaneous, and modern critical contexts for Anne, allowing for new attention to be paid to the complex nature of this seemingly simple text. Rubio and Waterston use the first edition as copy-text, and include reproductions of M.A. and W.A.J. Claus’ illustrations, as did Cecily Devereux in her 2004 Broadview critical edition. The appendices are well-chosen, and provide a holistic critical landscape of Anne, drawing attention to the novel’s immediate popularity through the inclusion of contemporaneous reviews and to its ongoing critical salience for feminist, genre, and postcolonial scholars alike. The extensive literary and cultural contexts included in the “Backgrounds” section locate Anne within a larger framework; in this positioning, Rubio and Waterston offer the suggestion that Anne has always been part of a critical literary landscape outside of juvenilia. The secondary criticism is heavily excerpted: on the one hand, the use of excerpts rather than full articles allows Rubio and Waterston to offer a more thorough representation of the body of work surrounding Anne, which the reader can then supplement by making use of the extensive bibliography included in the edition. On the other hand, the attempt to distill each article ultimately reduces and excludes much of the textual analysis provided in each full-length article. The in-text annotation is overwhelming and seems unnecessary much of the time. However, given the international popularity of Anne, the extensive footnotes will be most helpful for the avid fan who is unfamiliar with Canadian geography, historical context, and colloquialisms.
These Norton critical editions provide historical and cultural contexts that remind us why these two Canadian texts are considered “classics”: both texts continue to prompt questions regarding Canadian identity, personal agency, female independence, and the relationship between the individual and the larger community, whether regional, provincial, national, or colonial.
- Pictures of Other Worlds by Elizabeth Quan
Books reviewed: Once Upon a Full Moon by Elizabeth Quan, Mee-An and the Magic Serpent by Baba Wagué Diakité, and Sky Blue Accident/Accidente celeste by Elisa Amado, Piet Grobler, and Jorge Lujàn
- Like Life Itself by Judy Brown
Books reviewed: The Crack in the Teacup: The Life of an Old Woman Steeped in Stories by Joan Bodger, The Forest Family by Joan Bodger, A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North by Peter Sis, and Out of the Everywhere: New Tales for Canada by Jan Andrews
- Useful Keys by Adrienne Kertzer
Books reviewed: Hamlet for Kids by Lois Burdett, The Great Poochini by Gary Clement, Understanding Children's Literature: Key Essays from the International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature by Peter Hunt, Wild Cameron Women by Maureen Hull and Judith Christine Mills, Wolf and Seven Little Kids: Based on a Tale from the Brothers Grimm by Anne Blades, and The Tempest for Kids by Lois Burdett
- Un dragon qui fait tomber la pluie by Jacqueline Viswanathan
Books reviewed: Fuego by Stephan Cloutier
- Pleasure: Plot or Plow? by Jodi Lundgren
Books reviewed: Bambina by Francesca Piredda and Gravity by Leanne Lieberman
MLA: Scott, Jennifer. Persistent and Challenging Enigmas. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #197 (Summer 2008), Predators and Gardens. (pg. 167 - 169)
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