Canadian Commentary: Media and Culture: Notes

Culture Notes

Occasional short notes about Canadian and international culture, books, media, etc.
Oct. 6, 1997

Philip Marchand claims that there are no "great" Canadian novelists who will stand the test of time [see Lit Critic Goes Postal]. Of course, there is no way of knowing which, if any, Canadian novelists will stand the test of time before that test actually happens.

Personally, I would vote for Margaret Atwood as a likely candidate, not only because her novels are praised and enjoyed both in Canada and elsewhere, but also because they keep getting better as she gets older. Marchand dismisses her in a facile manner, as "fashionable", someone who will be considered minor once people are no longer interested in "her thoughts on social issues". Which to me suggests he hasn't really understood much Atwood, since the social issues are no more than a minor part of her most recent works, and her recent heroines are in no way "fictional embodiments of a trail-blazing feminist consciousness" (maybe he's only read the dust-jackets). What really seems to upset him is that her men are mere ciphers, and are sometimes one of the butts of her dry wit. But the women in her novels also suffer from her dry wit, so there's really no reason for him to sulk. And since the fact that the women in most classic novels are also mere ciphers hasn't prevented them from becoming classics, I doubt this will have much impact on her posthumous reputation.

A more telling bit of evidence is the fact that, after The Robber Bride came out but was not nominated for the Booker Prize, all of the book critics for the Times newspaper in London got together to award her a prize of their own, simply because they all loved her writing so much. Such admiration goes beyond English Canadian fashion.

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