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Volume 11, Number 2 (1986)

Dulce vs. Utile: The Kevin O'Brien Syndrome in New Brunswick Literature

  • Barrie Davies
May 22, 2008


An important and recurrent theme in Maritime literature is what might be called the Kevin O'Brien syndrome, or dulce versus utile -- beauty versus usefulness. The lack of audacity, the puritanism, the contempt for educational and aesthetic development, the frontier high-jinks and frost-bitten imagination identified by writers and critics such as Archibald Lampman, A.J.M. Smith, E.K. Brown, Douglas Bush, Northrop Frye, and Margaret Atwood as typical of Canadian society and culture can be documented in Maritime literature from colonial times to the present. In fact, the mentality described, like the literature encoding it, finds some of its earliest and some of its most anguished articulations here -- not only in measured, academic reflections, but in a range of sardonic, despairing, or tragic dramatizations.