NEARLY Two hundred years (1760-1930) of East Coast literature are surveyed in Gwendolyn Davies's accomplished Studies in Maritime Literary History (Acadiensis, 206 pages, $16.95 paper). Davies spent 15 years researching and compiling the essays gathered in this volume, and one might reasonably ask whether regionality is a strong enough thread to pull them together.
The answer is a resounding "Yes!" The Maritime region was the first to be populated by European settlers - both Frenchand English-Canadian literature sank some of their strongest roots here although Davies confines her study to English-Canadian works. With due credit to Northrop Frye, Davies deconstructs the idea of the garrison mentality and the notion of Canada the great whale swallowing up immigrant Jonahs. She demonstrates that Maritime writers were not overawed by the inconceivable vastness of an alien continent, and were more concerned with maintaining and developing an already established society. Davies retrieves and discusses many early publications, including journals, newspapers, chronicles, and novels, that have been largely forgotten over time. She documents literary legal battles, libel suits, and trials, and elaborates on the early satire of McCulloch and Haliburton. The collection also includes "Dearer Than His Dog," an important essay in which Davies examines the careers of women who overcame sexual, educational, and economic hurdles to conduct successful literary careers. The concluding essay places recent Maritime writers within the historical context of the region, and cross-references them to their colleagues elsewhere in Canada.
In her introduction, Davies explains that this is an attempt at "Steering to our sources" in an effort to better define the "home place." Studies in Maritime Literary History is a masterly work that will be essential reading for anyone interested in this important aspect of our literary heritage.