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Volume 34, Number 2 (2009)

Generic Experiment and Confusion in Early Canadian Novels of the Great War

February 23, 2010


The years following the First World War witnessed a dramatic change in the Canadian novel, from nineteenth-century romanticism to modern, cosmopolitan, and multi-generic literary realism. The resulting experimentation and confusion are pronounced in several of Canada’s most unjustly neglected war novels: Gertrude Arnold’s Sister Anne! Sister Anne! (1919), L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside (1920), Peregrine Acland’s All Else is Folly: A Tale of War and Passion (1927), and Charles Yale Harrison’s Generals Die in Bed (1930). Some critics, such as Eric Thompson, Donna Coates, and Dagmar Novak, have worked toward identifying a Canadian war-novel genre, but no one has adequately theorized its central role in the formation of multi-generic modern realism in Canadian writing. Because Canada’s early Great War novelists were forced to negotiate contradictory demands that their work both document and celebrate a brutal war, the resulting novels are exceptionally revealing of the aesthetic and narratological challenges met by Canada’s canonical modern realists.