Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines how critics have constructed literary regionalism in Canada, with particular attention to the treatment of writings from the prairie provinces. Nationalist critics have generated and controlled a critical discourse which either defines regionalism pejoratively and in ways that make it inherently regressive, or that universalizes regionalism to such an extent; that it has only metaphorical value. Critics have thus constructed a non-political regionalism; works from the regions which do not fit this description are excluded from "regional" categorization. This narrow definition is particularly evident in the construction of writings from the Canadian prairies, as the belief in a deterministic regional genius loci is translated into an insistence on an essential relationship between landscape and literature. The imagined sterility of the prairie is related to an imagined dearth of creative material: Laurie Ricou's statement in Vertical Man/Horizontal World (1973) that the prairie writer must discover "how ... to interpret a landscape that is without sounds and devoid of anything to catch the eye or stimulate the imagination" (137) is still representative of much critical and popular thought. The critical privileging of what is perceived as a hostile and alien landscape contributes to the naturalization of regional bankruptcy and reinforces the centre-region hierarchy established in nationalist discourse. But attempts to construct a distinctly Canadian prairie writing centred on landscape ignore the fact that the prairie is also part of a larger North American Great Plains region. My thesis concludes with an analysis of how writers and critics from within the prairie provinces have responded to such constructions. I suggest that while writers from the prairies actively participate in their own definition, their arguments tend to be heard only within the region and have little national effect. Definitions that rely on an essential prairie ethos to confer imaginative citizenship replicate the hegemonic constructions they seek to escape. I argue that viewing region as a cultural construct, rather than as an entity singularly dependent on place, allows a more inclusive definition of the regional which admits intersectionality and hybridity and which can be politically present and meaningful.



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