Sub/Version: Canadian Fiction by Women


193 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-920763-03-0





Marguerite Andersen is a professor of French studies at the University
of Guelph.


Sub/Version examines writings by Audrey Thomas, Margaret Atwood, Jane Rule, Alice Munro, Marian Engel, Sylvia Fraser and Mavis Gallant. Looking for the sub-version of each text, she uncovers women writers’ strategies for survival in the patriarchal world of letters and the subversive stories underlying the evident story.

Irvine places her feminist analysis of the literary text firmly at the junction between theory and praxis. Her twenty page introduction introduces the reader to feminist theories and feminist criticism. She uses these to address the question of introverted reflections of the female body and psyche within the texts. She also analyzes images and themes, expressions of gender hegemony; seeks characteristics of a female language; reflects on the ways in which women use mythology, and, of course, discusses the issue of female creativity.

Sub/Version should be of much use to readers and students of English-Canadian literature. It is a book meant to re-educate our imaginations in order to include the female, a necessity pointed out by Wayne Booth, whom Irvine quotes. Actually this is where I find fault with her. She quotes many critics and unfortunately, in my opinion, too many male critics. Nicole Brossard, for instance, also addresses the issue of the re-education of the imagination, so why quote Booth? Why not rely on female critics, at least predominantly so, in an analysis of the female text?

Irvine sees writing by women as hieroglyphic, as having hidden meanings which we must learn to see. Her chapter on Audrey Thomas concentrates on this issue. Using Atwood as an example, she speaks, like Marguerite Duras, of women writers as translators of the darkness in which women have lived for centuries. Women writers speak of the diseases of the flesh and the disease which women experience in the male-dominated world. Again, Thomas is used to emphasize this aspect of the female text. A woman writer converses with her sister/reader, in a conversation which in real life is not always possible (e.g., Gallant); women have a moral conception different from that of men (e.g., Munro); female development may seem to follow social conventions but includes rebellion (e.g., Sylvia Fraser). Maternal vitality is evidenced through a reading of texts by Mavis Gallant. Women struggle with the political, cultural and economic structures of their country, as for instance in Tile Honeyman Festival by Marian Engel.

Yet Lorna Irvine’s essays on the various writers are not separate readings. Each chapter of her book is related to the others; she sees women’s texts as permanently intertextual.

Sub/Version is a dense book of great interest. ECW Press must be commended for having published it, for feminist analyses of women’s writings are badly needed in Canada. I wished ECW Press had had more money to publish this book, had been able to give it more space, a more elegant typographical aspect. As it is, the 193 pages of Sub/Version, which are crowded with important material, testify to the modest space allotted to women in the official world of literature.


Irvine, Lorna., “Sub/Version: Canadian Fiction by Women,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 22, 2024,