The Child Hero in the Canadian Novel

by Theresia M. Quigley,
192 pages,
ISBN: 1550210696

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Brief Reviews - Non-Fiction
by Karl Jirgens

IN HER STUDY The Child Hero in the Canadian Novel (NC Press, 183 pages, $17.95 paper), Theresia Quigley does not pretend to include all major novels that feature child protagonists. Instead, she chooses what she calls "representative works" -acknowledging that she has excluded writers of other than French or English ethnic origin. One can appreciate the need to limit the subject area with a topic as broad as this, but the non-ethnic posture does mean that novels such as joy Kogawa's Obasan are omitted. Quigley's study ranges from the 1940s to the 1980s and includes such authors as Gabrielle Roy, Anne Hebert, Marie-Claire Blais, Timothy Findley, Margaret Laurence, and Alden Nowlan; it is refreshing to see a critic include French and English writing in the same study. Quigley also covers two novels each by W. 0. Mitchell, Robertson Davies, and Margaret Atwood, but at the expense of other authors who might have served her readers better. It would have been interesting to see what Quigley had to say about Buckler, Richler, or Munro, for example. However, her comparisons of earlier and later novels by Mitchell, Davies, and Atwood are illuminating.

Quigley's thematic analysis focuses on guilt, alienation, imprisonment, and prejudice, often in the context of Frye's notion of the "garrison mentality." Garrison mentalities aside, Quigley does successfully contextualize the child in fiction within a puritan ethic that can be traced back to the social theories of John Locke. She also argues that the behaviour of the adult can sometimes be explained by traumatic experiences during childhood. She discusses imagery extensively, with occasional references to Jung, and identifies several historical views of the notion of "childhood." Over all, I found Quigley's style weighted a bit too heavily toward paraphrase, but perhaps that is a matter of personal preference. She is to be admired for tackling this significant topic, and The Child Hero in the Canadian Novel should provide a useful synopsis for secondary school or undergraduate college students.


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