The Bucolic, the Backwoods, and the In-Between: Navigating Desire in Atlantic Canadian Literature

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Marr, Gemma




Representations of Atlantic Canada in media, popular culture, and literature often depict the region as a space of rural simplicity or stagnancy. To contest these assumptions, this dissertation considers Atlantic Canadian literature from 1908 to 2019, with attention to what I see as a complex sense of identity emerging in the region which intersects with broader ideas about sexuality. For much of this period, discourses of normative sexuality spread across the country at the same time aspects of Atlantic Canadian experience were commodified and canonized. This dissertation identifies a limited archetypal spectrum of representations running from bucolic nostalgia to backwoods ignorance. Despite the persistence of images which privilege understandings of the region as a heterosexual monolith, I suggest that within Atlantic Canadian literature there are texts that, in differing ways, trouble this view. To make this point, I explore a range of representations and their reception, from Anne of Green Gables (1908) and the Netflix adaptation Anne with an E (2017), to writing by Alistair MacLeod, David Adams Richards, and Wayne Johnston. To differing degrees, these texts remain popular in the nation's cultural imaginary, and I outline how their recognition influences which bodies, relations, and values become accepted as part of the social fabric of Atlantic Canada. I also explore the work of R.M. Vaughan, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Jaime Burnet, and others who complicate narratives of heteronormative space which are privileged in the national imagination. This push-pull of representation embodies, I assert, a regional desiring, a concept which troubles binaries of insider/outsider, here/there, and rural/urban. Over time, this regional desiring impacts what is understood as an 'authentic' narrative of Atlantic Canadian experience. Ultimately, I argue that a complex desire for normative narratives of Atlantic Canada from arbiters of culture, funding bodies, and the reading public come into tension with the diverse reality of sexualities that exist in the region. Despite perceptions of Atlantic Canada as inherently conservative and traditional, an attitude that the region's literature is assumed to reinforce, the texts I explore raise questions about the intersections of space, time, and sexuality in an Atlantic Canadian context.


Literature - Canadian (English)




Carleton University

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