CL History The Sherbrooke School of Comparative Canadian Literature

Joseph Pivato


Imagine, if you can, no Canadian literature on your campus. Imagine a new Comparative Literature program that is focused totally on Europe. That was the situation that I found when I arrived at the University of Alberta in September, 1970. It was the normal situation on campuses across Canada. The literary canon was determined by academies in Europe and the elite American universities. It is appropriate, therefore, that students in the Comparative Literature program in Edmonton are now, in 2010, concerned with national literatures, the countercanon and the contribution of Comparative Literature to cross-cultural study. How did changes take place in Comparative Literature on this campus and on other campuses? My paper traces this part of literary history in Canada.

In the 1970s, some academics and creative writers at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec developed a new approach to the study of Canadian literature in both English and French, which went on to have a profound influence on Canadian Literature programs and research across the country. They called for Canadian writing to be studied by comparing English and French works. They argued for comparative study that involved translation and bilingualism rather than the unilingual approach found in National Literature programs. These propositions were controversial at the time. I will trace some specific links from this small university in Quebec to post-secondary institutions in Alberta and examine their effects on programs and research to this day. I call this comparative approach the Sherbrooke School.

Some Thin History

Before we go to Sherbrooke, let us step back briefly into the modest history of the study of our national literature. Canadian literature as an academic area began in the 1960s against some opposition and criticism. One of the problems was the lack of significant texts and reputable authors to form the critical mass for a viable, identifiable body of literature. Any list of names was rather thin: Hugh MacLennan, Morley Callaghan, Margaret Laurence, Sinclair Ross and Frederick Philip Grove. Mordecai Richler was still in London. Margaret Atwood’s first slim novel, The Edible Woman, appeared in 1969. Michael Ondaatje’s first novel came out in 1976. The only Canadian author with an international reputation at that time was Gabrielle Roy. Many of the early courses in Canadian literature included The Tin Flute (1945) or one of Roy’s other seven novels in English translation and often treated as if it were an English work. In this rather barren context, the Sherbrooke approach of including many French texts in translation looked very promising to several aspiring young Canadianists. We must remember that English programs discouraged the use of translations from the 1960s to the 1980s.

What follows below is a very brief and simplified outline of the context in which the pioneers of Comparative Canadian Literature worked.

The Colonial Condition

There were many other problems along the way to developing credible courses in Canadian literature. English departments in Canadian universities were dominated by faculty from the UK and the USA, and many of the Canadian-born faculty were trained abroad and had therefore absorbed the ideas, theories and methodologies of other countries. The rapid expansion of Canadian universities in the 1960s resulted in the hiring of many foreign-trained academics. This was generally very positive for Canadian students who were exposed to a variety of different professors, but it did not help the development of new areas did not fit into the traditional canon of literary studies at that time, such as Canadian literature. As a result, there was often reluctance and lack of support for the new Canadian literature courses. There were exceptions to this; in one case a foreign professor at York University, D.E.S. Maxwell, actually encouraged Canadian courses as a result of his own experience with the new African literatures. And yes, there is an irony in this example. Maxwell saw post-colonial literature as an area of study long before it became fashionable on university campuses.

The dominant theory in English Literature programs in the world from the 1940s to the 1970s was the New Criticism, an Anglo-American invention. We, the next generation of Canadian professors, began to absorb it in high school English classes since our teachers were trained in this system. It was so prevalent in universities that we took it for granted as the major way of reading and interpreting literary texts. In the New Criticism the emphasis was on the text as an independent artifact with little reference to the life, society, history and culture of the author. This is the way we attempted to read Canadian works in those early years – as if they were removed from the very society we were living in and experiencing. Some teachers focused on myths and archetypes from older literatures. We were so conditioned to read in this way that there was no epistemological doubt about the way we were understanding our own writing.

The Sherbrooke School broke away from these Anglo-American colonial conditions and encouraged us to read these works as social, historical and cultural texts which reflected our society. This approach mirrored the bilingual society of Canada not the unilingual ones of the UK or the USA.

By calling the Sherbrooke program a school, I am implying that there were other emerging approaches to Canadian literature. The tradition of literary history is exemplified by Carl Klinck with his Literary History of Canada (1965). Eminent critic Northrop Frye at the University of Toronto promoted a mythopoeic approach as he explained in his retrospective collection of essays, The Bush Garden (1971). Poet and novelist Margaret Atwood tried to organize Canadian writing into dominant themes in her book, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972). The major problem with all of these approaches was that they focused almost exclusively on Canadian writing in English and on writers of British backgrounds. This problem of exclusion by class and ethnic origin was identified as early as 1963 by Robert McDougall in “The Dodo and the Cruising Auk: Class in Canadian Literature.”

The Debate About Cross-Cultural Dialogue?

The major part of the debate over the politics of language and culture in Canada was and is the issue about the nature of our national literature. Can Canadian literature be easily separated into English and French writing? Is there one national literature or two? What is the role of translation? Is there a place for ethnic minority writing? Where is the place for the writing by First Nations people in either one of the official languages or native languages? None of these questions have been resolved. In spite of the disputes over the languages in Canadian literature the small Université de Sherbrooke, south of Montreal, became a center of innovation in the 1970s and 1980s. It was fortuitous that there were a number of bilingual faculty members and students there.

In 1962, Ronald Sutherland, then Head of the English program at the new Université de Sherbrooke, proposed a new degree program leading to a Master of Arts in Comparative Canadian Literature. You can imagine the negative reactions. What is he thinking? There is no Canadian literature. Most universities in this country do not have any courses on this writing. How can there be a program in Comparative Canadian Literature? There was zero credibility for this program.

Against such opposition and controversy the program eventually began and thrived, and by the 1970s, it was influencing the study of Canadian writing in some other Canadian universities. In his 1971 book, Second Image: Comparative Studies in Quebec/Canadian Literature, Sutherland presented some of the results of his seminars with English and French graduate students at Sherbrooke. His essays dealt with such topics as race and ethnic identity, the Calvinist-Jansenist roots of Canadian morality, the depiction of children in English and French works, four kinds of separatism, and the translation of Canadian works. Sutherland followed a binary pattern of comparing an English with a French text: Frederick Philip Grove with Ringuet, Martha Ostenso with Anne Hebert and W.O. Mitchell with Gabrielle Roy.

In the 1970s, Sutherland gave many lectures across Canada, promoting his comparative approach to Canadian writing. In 1977, he brought out his second book, The New Hero: Essays in Comparative Quebec/Canadian Literature, which elaborated and defended the ideas he had presented in his first book. His basic argument was that through parallel analyses of major texts we find that anglophone and francophone literatures in Canada share many themes and structures. In this book Sutherland included essays on individualism and conformity in Canadian fiction, the heroic figure and war novels, nationalism and religion, and the canonization of Canadian literature. He also includes short essays on Frederick Philip Grove, André Langevin, Gerard Bessette, Yvon Deschamps and Robertson Davies.

Many of Sutherland’s topics are still discussed today in the critical analysis of Canadian works. I call this phenomenon The Sherbrooke School of Canadian Literature because of the widespread influence which this institution had and still has. Before I briefly trace some of the links between Sherbrooke and universities in Alberta, we need to review some of the literary history and list some of the early pioneers. Carl Klinck edited the first Literary History of Canada: Canadian Literature in English (1965), and with Reg Watters, he edited the Canadian Anthology (1966).

The study of Quebec literature included these pioneers: Gilles Marcotte with Une Littérature Qui se Fait (1962), Clément Moisan with L’Age de la Littérature Canadienne (1969), Jack Warwick with The Long Journey: Literary Themes in French Canada (1968),and Antoine Sirois with Montréal dans le Roman Canadien (1969). In his book, Butterfly on Rock (1970), D. G. Jones focused on English Canadian poetry and novels but made many references to Quebec authors, including Gabrielle Roy, Anne Hébert and Louis Frechette.

We must note that both Jones and Sirois were teaching at Sherbrooke and were part of the new M.A. program. One of their associates was Philip Stratford at the Université de Montréal who published articles promoting the parallels between Canada’s two literatures and the value of translation for Quebec works. His Ph.D. student, Larry Shouldice, taught at Sherbrooke and published Contemporary Quebec Criticism (1979).

Stratford was one of the comparatists who began to question the binary pattern of the Sherbrooke school as too limiting. In a 1979 essay, he wrote

Comparatists of Canadian subjects are themselves condemned to maintain a paradoxical duality. Blinded by proximity to their subject, swayed by politics and history, hamstrung by an inevitable, natural, linguistic and cultural affiliation to one of two camps, they must neither unify nor divide. (138)

In 1986, Stratford produced All the Polarities: Comparative Studies in Contemporary Canadian Novels in English and French, which argues for one national Canadian literature in two languages as one way to deal with the paradoxical duality.

Many of these people were involved with the literary journal Ellipse, devoted to francophone and anglophone poems published with their translation in the other language presented on parallel pages. Ellipse was founded in 1969 by D.G. Jones, Joseph Bonefant, Richard Giguère and Sheila Fishman and launched at the Univerity of Sherbrooke. This literary journal demonstrated the Sherbrooke School’s emphasis on a bilingual approach to the study of Canadian writing. At the core was the ideal that Canadian critics, academics and writers should be bilingual or at least have a reading knowledge of the other official language of Canada. One editor of Ellipse, Jacques Brault, openly declared, “Ni traducteur, ni comparatiste, j’avoue des l’abord mon incompétence a résoudre (et même a situer correctement) les problèmes nombreux et complexes, que pose la traduction de la poésie” ‘being neither translator nor comparatist, I am the first to acknowledge my inability to solve (or even correctly identify) the numerous problems and complexities inherent to the translation of poetry’ (10). Despite this humility, Ellipse had a profound influence on translation practice in Canadian literature.

The academics and writers from the Sherbrooke School created a zeitgeist for the comparative approach to Canadian writing. Their emphasis on bilingualism and translation made a significant impact. One indication of this was the founding of the Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures (ACQL) in 1974, at the height of the separatist crisis. This association has, from the beginning, included both anglophone and francophone academics and writers. At one of the ACQL meetings in 1976, Jones read his seminal paper, “Grounds for Translation,” in which he argued that English and French writers need each other in order to be understood because each informs and reflects the other.

I keep referring to the people at Sherbrooke as writers because some of the academics there were also published authors. Jones has published several collections of poetry and won a Governor General’s Award for Under the Thunder the Flowers Light up the Earth (1977). Sutherland’s novel Lark des Neige (Snow Lark in paperback, 1971) became a feature film, Suzanne. His other novels include Where Do the MacDonalds Bury Their Dead? (1976) and How Elvis Saved Quebec (2003). Sherbrooke also hosted a number of bilingual visiting writers: Roch Carrier, Brault, Gaston Miron and Jacques Godbout.

We must not forget to emphasize the role of translation and translators in promoting Comparative Canadian Literature. At this time Fishman began her career as a professional translator in Sherbrooke. She was instrumental in making a number of Quebec authors available in English, including Michel Tremblay, Anne Hébert, Jacques Poulin, Marie-Claire Blais, Roch Carrier, Francois Gravel, Yves Beauchemin and Hubert Aquin. Their books became popular texts in Canadian literature courses.

How do the Universities of Alberta and Athabasca Link to the Sherbrooke School?

From 1967-68, Mary Hamilton was teaching English at the University of Sherbrooke. In 1969, Hamilton and two graduate students, Francis Macri and Barbara Belyea, moved from Sherbrooke to the University of Alberta to pursue PhDs in Comparative Literature and brought their Sherbrooke ideas and approaches with them. Macri arrived in Edmonton with an M.A. in Comparative Canadian Literature, but the faculty did not know how to evaluate this new degree and so he was persuaded to do another M.A. in Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta. It became evident from this and other instances that these graduate students had to defend the value of the new program at Sherbrooke. They encouraged their Alberta professor, E.D. Blodgett, to go to Sherbrooke as a visiting professor for a term. In addition, many of the academics from Sherbrooke, including Sutherland, Jones and Sirois, were invited to give lectures in Alberta. I began my M.A. at the University of Alberta in 1970, attended many of these visiting lectures and seminars and came under their influence, an influence which lasts to this day.

In the 1970s, Comparative Literature was the department for literary theory. The English department did neither theory nor literature in translation. When Canadian literature began to be taught, discussed in graduate seminars and explored in Masters theses, a large component of theory was introduced into the discourse. This expansion into theory was documented in 1979 by a special issue of the Canadian Review of Comparative Literature devoted to the practical and theoretical questions of the comparative study of Canadian and Quebec literatures. In his first essay on Canadian Literature, Milan Dimic wrote about the possible methodologies for Comparative Canadian Literature. Quebec comparatists, Moisan, Sirois and Giguère explored various problems. Blodgett, Stratford and David Hayne of the University of Toronto considered the possibilities of expanding Comparative Canadian Literature beyond the binary models introduced by Sutherland by including comparative study with works from other parts of the world. Cross-cultural dialogue was to expand beyond English and French and include other literatures in the world.

In 1982, Blodgett published Configuration: Essays on the Canadian Literatures, a collection of essays which promoted the comparative study of Canadian writing by examining several theoretical topics. The opening chapter, “The Canadian Literatures as a Literary Problem,” raises many  questions about the binary structures, the centrist point of view, the thematic approaches, and the role of translation, theory and practice. Blodgett modeled Canadian comparative studies with international literatures in his chapters on intertexuality, structures, ethnic fictions and the pastoral as a form shared by both English- and French-Canadian writers. In later publications, Blodgett continued to promote theory in Canadian literature. One example is his essay “How Do You Say Gabrielle Roy?” (1983) in which he carefully argues for an awareness of literary translation in Canadian writing. Blodgett became a well-known poet in Alberta and won a Governor General’s Award for Apostrophe: Woman at the Piano (1996).

From 1979-80, Sutherland was a visiting professor at the University of Calgary which later hired Barbara Belyea and Estelle Dansereau, Ph.D. graduates from the Comparative Literature Department at the University of Alberta. Thus, the comparative Canadian approach was also taken to Calgary and reflected in some literature courses there. In 1984, Belyea and Dansereau edited Driving Home: A Dialogue Between Writers and Readers and included essays by both English and French writers.

When I completed my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature in 1977 under the supervision of Blodgett, I was hired at the new Athabasca University.  Mary Hamilton had been hired there in 1975. We both brought the Sherbrooke perspective to the new course in Canadian Literature we developed. We included major texts from Quebec and featured novels by Roy in English translation and a collection of poems by Jones. In 1982, my new course in Comparative Canadian Literature included Sutherland’s text, Second Image (1971). Eventually, my Comparative Literature courses also included texts produced by other critics working in this tradition.

The Sherbrooke School of Canadian Literature has influenced all my critical work and literary studies. When I published the article, “Eight Approaches to Canadian Literary Criticism,” in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature in1979 and argued for a comparative approach and bilingual knowledge, I was directly influenced by Sutherland and Jones. My first article in the journal Canadian Literature (1973) was on Jacques Godbout’s separatist novel, Le Couteau sur la Table(1965), as a European nouveau roman.

Cross-Cultural Dialogue Explodes the Canon

Then something unexpected happened in 1978: Italian-Canadian writing was born. The writers literally came looking for me in Edmonton. When I began to work on Italian-Canadian literature, it was natural for me to take a comparative approach since these writers were working in English, French and Italian. We had to deal with similar questions of language and translation, and of the unity of this body of writing in three languages. Was it one literature or three? What was its relationship to English-Canadian writing, to Quebec literature and to Italian literature?

In 1984, I published Contrasts: Comparative Essays on Italian-Canadian Writing, which examined many of these questions from the ‘paradoxical duality.’ I was not aware of its significance at the time, but this book influenced the critical exploration of other ethnic minority writing in Canada. Along with ethnic anthologies, it encouraged critical studies of other ethnic minority literatures in Canada such as South Asian, Chinese and Latin American. The cross-cultural dialogue had begun, and Comparative Literature and the Sherbrooke School played significant roles.

In 1988, I was invited back to the University of Alberta to edit one volume in the history of the literary institution in Canada. This was volume four, Literatures of Lesser Diffusion (1990), which is a collection of twenty-one essays that consider the various theories that can be applied to the comparative study of ethnic minority writing. This volume has a number of individual essays on specific cultural groups in Canada: German, Ukrainian, Arab, Polish, Mennonite, Chinese, Haitian, South Asian, Native and others. One of the collaborators on this volume was Milan Dimic (after whom the Research Institute for Comparative Literature is named).

Australian academic and critic Sneja Gunew was following a similar pattern in Australia in promoting the academic recognition of ethnic minority literatures. She published several comparative studies of multicultural literature in Canada and Australia. In 1991, I was in Sydney as Canadian Research Fellow at Macquarie University and met Sneja Gunew. I was working on a book entitled Echo: Essays on Other Literatures (1994) in which I continued to promote a comparative approach for these new ethnic minority literatures. I invited Sneja Gunew to contribute the critical introduction. Professor Gunew later accepted a position at the University of British Columbia.

We did not see it at the time, but these new literatures in Canada caused a wholesale revision of the Canadian canon which had been built around Margaret Laurence, Robertson Davies, Hugh MacLennan, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and other mainstream authors.

In 1978, I witnessed an exercise in canon formation. The University of Calgary hosted a national conference on the Canadian novel called “Taking Stock.” Organizers had drawn up a list of the 100 most important novels which were to be taught in Canadian colleges and universities. The irony is that 1978 is the same year that Italian-Canadian writing emerged and began to explode the canon which had just been institutionalized. I was witness to both events with a sense of duality, confusion and ambivalence about what was happening. Ethnic minority writers were generally seen as a passing phenomenon in the politics of identity. As we now know, that was not the case.

In the twenty-first century, any new list of Canadian authors would include names such as Joy Kogawa, Kristjana Gunnars, M.G. Vassanji, Tomson Highway, Rohinton Mistry, Nino Ricci, George Elliott Clarke, Hiromi Goto, F.G. Paci and others. These new ethnic minority writers speak for that 33% of the Canadian population who are of neither Anglo-Celtic nor French background.

Multiculturalism has informed English- and French-Canadian literature, but this is not always recognized in the academy. Multiculturalism, the term and the concepts, are much disputed in both North America and Europe. As Gunew points out in her book Haunted Nations (2004):

While post-colonial as a concept has a certain cachet in academic circles, multiculturalism is viewed with some suspicion as tarnished with a history of coming into being as a state apparatus invariably designed to manage varied demographies. (65)

This is not my experience in Canada. While federal and some provincial governments have policies to promote multiculturalism, they have not manipulated the creation of ethnic minority literatures. In the case of Italian-Canadian writers, the individual works of literature grew almost spontaneously from the first generation of young people who went to university, who wanted to articulate the problems of dual identity, who were trying to speak for their voiceless parents. For many, the catalyst was a first return trip to Italy where they rediscovered their lost identities. Thus it was not the product of multiculturalism policies, but rather a reaction against the forces of assimilation from the majority culture. They met these forces on our Canadian campuses in the 1960s and 1970s.

My training in Comparative Literature with its attention to theory, translation and different literary traditions prepared me to deal with this new literature. And the Sherbrooke school helped me to focus on the English-French discourses and conflicts in the Canadian context which I then logically extended to my study of ethnic minority writing.

Comparative Literature and Influences

The classical studies in Comparative Literature used to be those that focused on influence, rapports de fait. In the case of the Sherbrooke School, we have traced actual physical exchanges among the many professors and students who moved across Canada. I have pointed out specific books and articles which helped to spread this approach to Canadian writing. Let me continue this narraive as I conclude my paper.

Over the years Athabasca University has hired a number of doctoral graduates from the Comparative Literature program at the University of Alberta. Both Jolene Armstrong and Manijeh Mananni have studied with Blodgett and are now carrying on with our Comparative Literature courses in the Centre for Language and Literature as well as developing new courses.

The other doctorates from the Comparative Literature program at Athabasca include Evelyn Ellerman and Patricia Hughes Fuller. The past president of Athabasca University, Dominique Abrioux, earned his doctorate in Comparative Literature and was instrumental in establishing the language programs there. Monique Tschofen, another graduate from the Comparative Literature program at the University of Alberta, taught at Athabasca for a year and developed two Comparative Literature courses. She is now at Ryerson University in Toronto.

The Sherbrooke School in Other Universities

In 1970, Kathy Mezei (one of my York classmates) graduated from York University in English and became a research assistant for Jones. She did her Ph.D. at Queen’s University on a comparative topic demonstrating the influence of Jones and Stratford. Mezei taught for many years at Simon Fraser University where she focused on Quebecois literature in translation and courses in Comparative Canadian Literature. In 1972, another Sherbrooke M.A. student, John Lennox, went to York University to teach Canadian literature and later published articles on Quebec authors. He worked closely with Clara Thomas, one of the first researchers to study Canadian women writers. One of the colleagues that Lennox met at York was Barbara Godard, a bilingual feminist scholar who shared many ideas with the Sherbrooke School. Godard earned her M.A. at the Université de Montreal under Professor Stratford.

One of the most important and influential groups of writers in Quebec is the women, including Gabrielle Roy, Anne Hébert, Marie-Claire Bais and Nicole Brossard. Through dialogue with Quebec feminist writers, feminist theory and l’écriture feminine was introduced to English-Canadian women writers. This distinguishes it from feminist writing in the USA. The bilingual feminist journal Tessera,which Godard co-founded with Kathy Mezei, Daphne Marlatt, and Gail Scott, played a key role in facilitating dialogue between experimental women writers and artists in Quebec and English-speaking Canada. Tessera was edited from Vancouver by Mezei and Marlatt and later by Godard from Toronto.

At York, Godard later translated books by Brossard, Antonine Maillet and other women writers. Her works on comparative criticism include Gynocritics (1988) and many seminal articles. She edited Collaboration in the Feminine (1994), a collection of selected essays from Tessera.

At the University of Toronto, Linda Hutcheon’s early career involved translating Quebec novelists Felix Leclerc’s Allegro (1974) and Madeline Gagnon’s Lueur (1980) into English. Hutcheon’s knowledge of French informs several of her books, especially The Canadian Postmodern (1989) and Splitting Images: Contemporary Canadian Ironies (1991), which study Quebecois texts and English-Canadian texts comparatively. Her multilingual facility is also behind her recent books on opera and literature.

My bilingual friend Christl Verduyn did her Ph.D. at the University of Ottawa in a Comparative Canadian Literature project focusing on feminist writers. The external examiner was Sutherland. She taught Comparative Canadian Literature at Trent University for many years and developed programs in Canadian Studies and Women’s Studies. She is now at Mount Allison University. In 2006, she and Blodgett were the external reviewers for the graduate program in Comparative Canadian Literature at Sherbrooke. For many years, I have used her comparative essay collection Literary Pluralities (1998) in my graduate course in Comparative Canadian Literature.

The Sherbrooke School has influenced a younger generation of scholars, academics and writers, as well. I have a few examples. Jo-Anne Elder completed her Ph.D. in Comparative Canadian Literature at Sherbrooke and is now the editor of Ellipse at the University of New Brunswick. In 1993, Lianne Moyes completed her Ph.D. (a bilingual project) under Godard at York University and now teaches at the Université de Montreal. In 1995, Marino Tuzi completed his Ph.D. on Italian-Canadian fiction under the supervision of John Lennox at York University. In 1998, Licia Canton completed her Ph.D. on identity questions in the Canadian novel at the Université de Montréal. Canton later edited Dynamics of Cultural Exchange (2002), a collection on Canadian ethnic writing, and in 2004 she co-edited, with Domenic Beneventi and Lianne Moyes, Adjacencies: Minority Writing in Canada. This approach is also exemplified in the publications of Beneventi, who has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the Université de Montréal. He taught for three years at Université de Sherbrooke and is now at the Université de Québec àMontréal (UQAM). He pointed out the recent publication Littérature amérindienne du Québec : ecrits du langue française, edited by Maurizio Gatti in 2004.

The Comparative Literature program at Sherbrooke now offers a Ph.D. degree and continues with younger faculty: Patricia Godbout, Roxanne Rimstead and Gilbert Reid. It has initiated an important database on Comparative Canadian Literature at

This is a brief outline of the cultural, academic and political context for the development of the Sherbrooke School of Comparative Canadian Literature. Many academics have been influenced by it. The debate about the nature of Canadian literature carries on and the Sherbrooke School continues to contribute to the discourse.

Coda: Antonio D’Alfonso

One year ago, I was asked to write the critical article to a collection of essays on the works of Antonio D’Alfonso, a bilingual poet and novelist from Montreal who has lived in Toronto for the last 15 years. As I was reading his novels in English and then their versions in French, I was reminded that D’Alfonso epitomizes the Canadian writer as idealized by the Sherbrooke School. He has heroically tried to deal with English language and culture, and French language and culture throughout his long writing career. And therefore, in writing about D’Alfonso, I had to explore the Sherbrooke School so that I could understand its influence on my work and our Literature programs at Athabasca. D’Alfonso is also an example of how ethnic minority writers have entered the debate about languages and culture in Canadian writing. Who is a typical Canadian author now when M.G. Vassanji and Rohinton Mistry win major literary awards?

When my colleagues Veronica Thompson came to revise the original Canadian Literature course which Mary Hamilton and I put together in 1979, she had a much broader selection of authors and works. In her syllabus for the new course she was able to reflect the ethnic diversity of Canadian literature and developments in post-colonial theory. I was surprised by the differences from the 1970s.

When I look at this piece of literary history in Canada, I am struck by the fact that a few creative people at a small and relatively insignificant rural university went on to have such a profound influence on the study of Canadian writing across Canada.


Works Cited


Blodgett, E.D. Configuration: Essays on the Canadian Literatures. Toronto: ECW Press, 1982. Print.

---. “How Do You Say Gabrielle Roy?” Translation in Canadian Literature. Ed. Camille R. La Bossière. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1983. n.pag. Print.

Brault, Jacques. “Remarques sur la Traduction de la Poesie.” Ellipse 21 (1977) : 10-35. Print.

D’Alfonso, Antonio. The Other Shore. Montreal: Guernica, 1986. Print.

Elder, Jo-Anne. “Putting Sherbrooke on the Map.” Intercultural Journeys Parcours Interculturels.  Eds. Natasha Dagenais and Joanne Daxell. Baldwin Mills, Quebec: Editions Topeda Hill, 2003. n.pag. Print.

Gunew, Sneja Marina. Haunted Nations: The colonial dimensions of multiculturalisms. New York; London: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. Splitting Images: Contemporary Canadian Ironies. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1991. Print.

Jones, D.G. Butterfly on Rock: A Study of Themes and Images in Canadian Literature. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970. Print.

---. “Grounds for Translation.” Ellipse 21 (1977): 58-91. Print.

McDougall, Robert L. “The Dodo and the Cruising Auk: Class in Canadian Literature.” Canadian Literature18 (Autumn 1963): n.pag.  Print.

Pivato, Joseph. “Nouveau Roman Canadien.” Canadian Literature 58 (1973): 51-60. Print.

---. “Eight Approached to Canadian Literary Criticism.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 13.3 (1979): 43-53. Print.

---, Ed. Contrasts: Comparative Essays on Italian-Canadian Writing. Montreal: Guernica, 1985. Print.

---. Echo: Essays on Other Literatures. Toronto: Guernica, 1994. Print.

---, Ed. Literatures of Lesser Diffusion/Les Littératures de Moindre Diffusion. Edmonton: Research Institute for Comparative Literature, 1990.  Print.

Stratford, Philip. All the Polarities: Comparative Studies in Contemporary Canadian Novels in English and French. Toronto: ECW Press,1986. Print.

---, Ed. Special IssueComparative Canadian LiteratureCanadian Review of Comparative Literature 1.2 (1979). Print.

Sutherland, Ronald. Second Image: Comparative Studies in Quebec/Canadian Literature. Toronto: New Press, 1971. Print.

---. The New Hero: Essays in Comparative Quebec/Canadian Literature. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1977. Print.

Verduyn, Christl, Ed. Literary Pluralities. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1998. Print.




Joseph Pivato (PhD Comparative Literature, University of Alberta) is Professor of Literary Studies at Athabasca University. He has published six books, including Contrasts: Comparative Essays on Italian-Canadian Writing (1985 & 1991) and Echo: Essays on Other Literatures (1994), and edited The Anthology of Italian-Canadian Writing (1998), F.G. Paci: Essays on His Works (2003), Caterina Edwards: Essays on Her Works (2000) and Mary di Michele:Essays on Her Works (2007).



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