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Volume 40, Number 2 (2015)

Unless: A Covert Post-Colonial and Transnational Gothic Novel, Or The Haunted House (of Fiction) Is Falling Apart

May 11, 2016


Cynthia Sugars and Gerry Turcotte have drawn attention to the rise of the Canadian post-colonial and transnational Gothic in recent years. This article argues that Carol Shields’s Unless is not only a covert post-colonial and transnational Gothic, alluding to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, but it also presents us with a writer of such a work as the protagonist. Shields thus highlights the role of the writer and (his or) her negotiation with ghosts in the revision of traumatic national history and the idea of the nation. In Unless, the British-French Canadian writer Reta Winters must realize the ongoing trauma of the “other” in multicultural Canada. The colonial Gothic discourse of the unified nation and alien ghosts from beyond the border perpetuates xenophobia. Reta’s interrogation of this discourse turns into a revisionist Gothic in which the ghosts protest the inauthenticity of the Canadian nation-state and its violence against diverse “others.” Reta utilizes the figure of the ghost, traditionally associated with the resurfacing of repressed memories and boundary dissolution, as a tool of discursive revision. Deconstruction of colonial Gothic discourse ultimately clears space for a vision of a transnational Canada in which the border becomes a cultural bridge. Yet Reta is both in pursuit of and in flight from the ghosts.