100 Years of Critical Solitudes: Canadian and Québécois Criticism from the 1880s to the 1980s


356 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55022-117-5
DDC 801'.95'0971





Edited by Caroline Bayard
Reviewed by Ronald Conrad

Ronald Conrad is a professor of English at Ryerson University in


In her preface, Caroline Bayard explains the range of this anthology,
implied in the title’s allusions to Gabriel Garcнa Mбrquez and Hugh
MacLennan: the “solitudes” of English- and French-Canadian literary
criticism are at least as pronounced as those of the Buendнa family or
the confounded characters of MacLennan’s novel. As for the 100 years,
1880 begins it because by then “both critical discourses defined their
own territory,” and 1980 closes it “because by that time all of the
current trends had become clear.”

This framework of solitudes is extended linguistically, with some
critical articles in French and others in English, though Bayard’s
introductory overview is given in both languages (a gesture to include
monolingual readers). It is also extended temporally and laterally to
survey the main currents of literary criticism Canada has undergone in
these 100 years, but especially the last three decades.

There are six chapters: “Biographical Criticism,” “Historical
Criticism,” “Thematic and Sociological Criticism,”
“Psychoanalysis and Literature,” “From Formalism to Semiotics,”
and “Postmodern Critical Tracks.” Each contains from two to three
critical essays, at least one in the language of each “solitude,”
and critics run the gamut from the genial humanist and generalist
writing the clearest of prose; to the implacable opponent of institution
and status; to the critic as lab technician who cannot write a sentence
without sounding, as Northrop Frye once put it, like a horse drinking
water from a trough.

The two most important voices in this collection, though missing from
the list of contributors, are the backdrop for much of what is
discussed: Northrop Frye, whose mythic framework is the Bastille to be
pulled down; and Frank Davey, whose polemic Surviving the Paraphrase was
the starting point for much of that effort.

For those already well versed in recent literary criticism, and
particularly for those also at home in French, this collection will be
lively and even entertaining polemic, a juxtaposition of authors who,
critically speaking, hate each other’s guts. George Woodcock, for
example, notes that “even among academic critics there are many who
have shaken off the gauche pedantry and the scholarly jargon of the
graduate schools and can produce splendidly written essays full of fresh
insights as well as pertinent facts.” Throughout the book many employ
the very language Woodcock, the disciple of Orwell, deplores, though in
a task that should be congenial to every anarchist, chopping away at
literary and social oppression.

For many readers, though, the “two” solitudes of this volume are
really three. The third is that of the ordinary person, whose
sociopolitical interests may be defended by contemporary critics of
literature, but who could never begin to penetrate the language of those


“100 Years of Critical Solitudes: Canadian and Québécois Criticism from the 1880s to the 1980s,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/13416.