National and Female Identity in Canadian Literature, 1965-1980: The Fiction of Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood, and Marian Engel

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This book accounts for the varying popularity of Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood, and Marian Engel according to their treatments of Canadian and female identities during the 1906's and 70's. She demonstrates how their portrayals of female and national characters were understood at the time according to identity issues championed by the Canadian national and second-wave women's movements. As these movements created particular expectations of gender and nationality, critics responded with a commitment to romance rather than realism in their reading practices. Consideration of these novels through historical lens allows her to show how, as political conditions changed, so, too, did understandings of gendered and national identity in the same texts.


“Gault, through an examination of the work of specific, highly eminent, Canadian women writers, and the critical reception given those works during the fifteen year span of 1965-1980, offers some valuable insights into the ways both writers and critics were responding to the pressures of their social context and their disciplines.”

–Prof. Phebe Davidson,
University of South Carolina Aiken

“Gault’s close, retrospective readings would exceed earlier critiques by resolving tensions between realism and romance, and liberate the authors from reductive ideologies of the time. In graceful, colloquial prose, Gault synthesizes widely diverse scholarship with the larger issues raised to produce an eminently readable account of this fascinating subject made more so by her comprehensive and judicious approach.”

-Prof. Dan Dervin,
University of Mary Washington

Table of Contents

Author’s Preface
Introduction: Grooving the Nation

Critical Context: romance and realism
Historical Context: 1965-1980 as an era
Defining National Identity
Defining Female Identity
Critical Choices
Chapter 1 “Its different with you, but it’s the same”: Margaret Laurence and the Slipperiness of Inclusion
Contradictions of female identity: Stone Angel and the Fire-Dwellers
Hagar’s conflicted independence
Stacey’s conflicted community
Contradictions of National Identity: A Jest of God and The Diviners
A Jest of God:ethnicity versus gender
Chapter 2 “Good Christ, What Is It?”: Margaret Atwood on the defensive
Critical commitments to romance
Contradictions of female identity:The Edible Woman
Contradictions of national identity:Survival and Surfacing
Contradictions between female and national identities
Lady Oracle
Life Before Man
Bodily Harm

Chapter 3 “Thinking themselves halved when they are atomized”: Marian Engel and resistance
Contradictions of female identity:No Clouds of Glory
Contradictions of national identity:The Honeyman Festival
Contradictions between female and national identities
as romance
Bear as realism
The Glassy Sea
Primary Texts
Works Consulted

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