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date: 16 July 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Attempts to define Canadian literature as a distinct field of literary production have been in existence since the nineteenth century. In many of the early histories and anthologies of Canadian literature, critics were interested in addressing the following questions: What is distinctive about Canadian literature? Is there such a thing as a “Canadian” identity or mode of expression? What is the connection between literature and nation? Canadian literary criticism, from its beginnings, was embedded in politics. Since Canadian literature, as Canadian, was by definition politically motivated, it did not easily mesh with the supposedly apolitical greatness of “universal” (i.e., British) aesthetic standards in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The relativism of Arnoldian humanism could only be applied to Canadian literature as a fraught and deficient endeavour. Today, the capaciousness of the heading “Canadian literature” is what contributes to the immense variety and vitality of the field.

Keywords: Canadian literature, anthologies, literary criticism, Canadian identity

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