Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Monograph

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

English

Supervisor

Bentley, D. M. R.

Abstract

This dissertation seeks to modify the widely held view that the Great War (1914-18) was the defining military event in Canadian identity by turning to Canadian literary responses to the nation’s participation in early post-Confederation overseas combats: Garibaldi’s expedition against Rome, to which a regiment of French-Canadian Papal Zouaves went in support of Pope Pius IX (1868-70); the Nile Expedition (1884-85); and the Boer or South African War (1899-1902). In exploring these literary responses, the dissertation demonstrates that the construction of a national identity was articulated through overseas military engagement long before Canada’s collective reflections on Vimy, Passchendaele, and the Somme.

The dissertation begins by placing its primary focus—the South African War—in the context of the literature responding to the first two post-Confederation overseas engagements. Chapter Two explores Canadian poetic responses to the South African War to demonstrate the shift away from connecting Canadian identity to British imperial history towards viewing Canada as a nation and, in some cases, an empire in its own right. In considering poems by William Wilfred Campbell, Frederick G. Scott, Robert W. Service, and others, Chapter Two argues that Canadian poets seized on the South African War to demonstrate that Canadian identity is ontologically militaristic. Chapter Three extends the argument from the previous chapter that Canadian South African War literature foreshadows Canadian literary responses to the First World War in its themes, subjects, and tone by comparing the discursive construction of the battles of Paardeberg and Vimy Ridge as moments of national formation.

Finally, the dissertation explores contemporary Canadian historical fiction on the South African War by novelists such as Sidney Allinson, Fred Stenson, and Trilby Kent in order to compare the novelists’ uses of historical realism and revisionism. In doing so, the chapter analyzes the depiction of Canadian soldiers as morally superior to their British counterparts, and argues that the War serves not only as a site for the exploration of issues of race, gender, or class, but also as a distant mirror for the reflection of Canada’s continuing racial politics.

Summary for Lay Audience

In order to modify the widely held view that the Great War (1914-18) was the defining military event in Canadian identity, this dissertation turns to Canadian literary responses to the nation’s participation in early post-Confederation overseas combats: Garibaldi’s expedition against Rome, to which a regiment of French-Canadian Papal Zouaves went in support of Pope Pius IX (1868-70); the Nile Expedition (1884-85); and the Boer or South African War (1899-1902). In exploring these literary responses, the dissertation demonstrates that Canadian identity was associated with overseas military participation long before Canadians attached national identity to events such as Vimy, Passchendaele, and the Somme.

The dissertation begins by placing its main focus—the South African War—in the context of the literature responding to the first two post-Confederation overseas engagements. Chapter Two explores Canadian poetic responses to the South African War to demonstrate the shift away from connecting Canadian identity to British imperial history towards viewing Canada as a nation and, in some cases, an empire in its own right. In considering poems by William Wilfred Campbell, Frederick G. Scott, Robert W. Service, and others, Chapter Two argues that Canadian poets seized on the South African War to demonstrate that Canadian identity is essentially militant. Chapter Three extends the argument from the previous chapter that Canadian South African War literature anticipates Canadian literary responses to the First World War in its themes, subjects, and tone by comparing the way that the battles of Paardeberg and Vimy Ridge are viewed as moments of national formation. Finally, the dissertation explores contemporary Canadian historical fiction on the South African War to argue that the War serves not only as an opportunity to explore issues of race, gender, or class, but also as a distant mirror for the reflection of Canada’s continuing racial politics.

Available for download on Sunday, April 30, 2023

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