Land Sliding: Imagining Space, Presence, and Power in Canadian Writing


278 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7962-8
DDC C810.9





Reviewed by Peter Babiak

Peter Babiak teaches English at the University of British Columbia.


In this survey of land metaphors in Canadian literature, William New
explains how the words we use to describe Canada work to both confirm
and question cultural power.

The book begins with an examination of the language Europeans used to
describe first contact with a new world, passes through investigations
of how Canada was linguistically claimed as “property” and how this
property was shaped into a map of “regions,” and ends with a
speculation on how language offers a metaphorical space for resistance
and opposition.

Though it hovers around recent academic fascination with how language
embodies rather than reflects social attitudes, New’s book does not
sacrifice close reading to theoretical detours. In the tradition of
postcolonial criticism, he claims that the act of naming the “new
world” has shaped our understanding of it; but unlike more impulsive
critics, he does not revel in this insight. He accepts it as a fact and
then shows how it works.

Thus he explains how a 1556 map of New France by Gastaldi is steeped in
fantastic imagery—monsters representing unknown land, demons marking
unmapped oceans—even as it aspires to represent empirical evidence.
Similarly, Frances Brooke’s 1769 novel The History of Emily Montague
dramatizes a first visit to Montmorency Falls not through empirical
details but rather by representing the land as the design of an almighty
architect—an approach reflected in her use of subordinated sentence
structures and balanced syntax.

The most intriguing chapter examines how images of the wilderness in
exploration literature graduated into maps of power grounded in
metaphors of “surveying” and “clearing.” Catharine Parr
Traill’s The Canadian Settler’s Guide (1855) signals this paradigm
shift in its use of proprietary diction—“only” and
“own”—when referring to land. The economic narrative might be
further elaborated here, but it underpins the assumed historical change
from perceiving the land as “wildnerness” to viewing it as a good
that can be owned and therefore sold.

Land Sliding offers a vigilant rethinking of land-based metaphors in
Canadian literature. The punctilious syntax, understated rhetoric, and
numerous references to texts and illustrations make it a clearly
Canadian example of classical scholarship.


New, W.H., “Land Sliding: Imagining Space, Presence, and Power in Canadian Writing,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 22, 2024,