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From Within Fur and Feathers: Animals in Canadian Literature

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
  • F1001 Canada (General)


Writing in the Literary History of Canada almost thirty-five years ago, Alec Lucas noted that "nature writing, particularly the animal story, had its hay-day in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It has long past. Perhaps the literary vein has been worked out" (1965:404). In retrospect, Lucas's epitaph for animal presences in Canadian literature may be premature; writing in the same volume, no less a lumi- nary than Northrop Frye noted, with no predictions for the genre's demise, "the prev- alence in Canada of animal stories, in which animals are closely assimilated to human behaviour and emotions" (343). Indeed, according to Gaile McGregor, any survey of the foundational works of Ernest Thompson Seton and Sir Charles G.D. Roberts and the many animal imaginings offered by recent and contemporary authors reveals that "Canadians are fascinated by animals" (1985: 192). Poets as diverse as Layton, Atwood, Ondaatje, Page, Lane, Acorn, and Nowlan (among others) have written of animals; novelists such as Fred Bodsworth, Sheila Watson, Marian Engel, and Thomas King have all created animal characters of one form or another. The proliferation of an increasingly urbane literature in the Canadian imaginative landscape may bear out Lucas's prediction for the demise of the animal genre at some future date, but for now the important position of non-human actors in the recent history of the Canadian imagination remains intact, a fact that has been further emphasized by the recent crit- ical and commercial success of Barbara Gowdy's elephant novel, The White Bone.

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