European Critics on Canadian Literature


303 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-920316-79-4





Edited by Robert Kroetsch and Reingard M. Nischik
Reviewed by Renate Usmiani

Renate Usmiani was Professor of English at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax.


This book covers three distinct and separate areas: critical studies of Canadian literature by European scholars; a country-by-country survey of the state of the art of Canlit in Europe; and an extensive bibliography of publications by European scholars in the area of Canadian literature. It will thus serve different readers for different purposes.

Robert Kroetsch’s Preface traces the genesis of the work, which came out of informal meetings with co-editor Reingard M. Nischik on the occasion of the 1983 OKanada Festival in West Berlin. Potential contributors were asked to submit their essays in English; remarkably, all the writing is flawless, a particularly impressive feat where more than two languages are involved, as in the case of a German professor discussing a French novel in English. On this level alone, the book should make Canadian scholars sit up and take notice.

The 17 critical essays originate with 15 scholars in Canadian studies programs in Europe (France, West Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland) and two European-trained scholars from Canadian universities (University of Vancouver and College St. Boniface). The inclusion of the latter perhaps points to a slight Western bias in the case of the editor and publishers of the volume. Of the authors studied, fifteen are English Canadian, two French. A variety of approaches is used. The most interesting essays are the ones concerning themselves with postmodernism: Walter Pache’s “The Fiction Makes Us Real: Aspects of Postmodernism in Canada” and Rosmarin Heidenreich’s “Aspects of Indeterminacy in Hubert Aquin’s Trou de mémoire.”

The choice of authors raises some questions; Rudy Wiebe, for example, appears three times; Margaret Atwood twice; the two francophone authors best known in Europe (Michel Tremblay and Goncourt Prize winner Antonine Maillet) are not included. The editors offer no rationale for the choice of essays, leaving the reader to wonder whether their selection indeed reflects interest patterns of European scholars, or perhaps only a certain editorial bias?

The essays arc followed by an excellent, up-to-date survey of Canadian Studies Programmes and Associations for Canadian Studies across Europe. France, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Italy seem to have emerged as the most important centres; but Canadian literature has arrived also in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Eastern Europe, England, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland.

Finally, the editors provide an impressive bibliography of European studies in Canadian literature — some 17 pages of small print.

Nischik concludes the book on an upbeat note: “Canadian literature has come of age if its works are read and studied… because some of the work originating in Canada is too good to be ignored and invites critical analysis and study.” Amen. Personal experience, however, would indicate a caveat is in order here. In Europe as on this continent, young scholars are desperately in search of new frontiers to enable them to fulfill the expectation of producing “original work”; we have been discovered as a fertile field of original research. Amen to that, too!


Gaining Ground, “European Critics on Canadian Literature,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,