Savages versus settlers, wildness versus wheatfields : an ecocritical approach to the (European) settlement story in early Canadian Prairie fiction
Ternier Daniels, Elizabeth Frances
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The experience of wilderness and of homesteading on the prairies provided the primary subject matter for Canadian prairie fiction in the final decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century. My thesis uses ecocriticism to make a connection between the cultural values embedded in this literature and the ecological consequences of European settlement. It uses the philosophical concepts of bioregionalism, deep ecology and ecofeminism as the ideological framework for a study of novels and short stories published prior to 1930. It uses the theoretical concepts of cultural materialism to analyze, from a socio-ecological perspective, the power relationships within this body of literature. More specifically, it looks at the way in which English-speaking writers privileged the values of civilization above wildness and the values of western European culture above the cultures of Metis and indigenous peoples. My thesis divides early prairie fiction into the categories of wilderness romance and homesteading romance. It looks at representative samples of these genres, and concludes by discussing two examples of early prairie realism. Throughout the entire thesis I view the fictional treatment of European settlement from the perspective of current ecological thinking and, in doing so, provide a critique of both past and present attitudes to the prairie environment. The introduction provides a philosophical and critical approach to my study of literature and of its historical context. It traces the anthropocentric values of "old world" immigrants to the dominant ideology that developed in post-Medieval Europe: the Western Judaeo-Christian worldview of dominion over Nature, the faith in science and technology, and the materialist ideals of capitalism and economic progress. It considers the role that prairie fiction played in creating the cultural values that led to the modification of the natural prairie landscape, and explores the potential of critical theory to provide oppositional interpretations of the European settlement story. It then discusses the philosophical and theoretical framework of the ecocriticism that I use in my study of the interface between immigrant settlers, aboriginal people and the land. Chapter One introduces the wilderness romance. It defines the terms which I use to describe immigrant, aboriginal and mixed-blood peoples. It points out that the transcendent nature of the romance makes it an ideal form for a body of literature that privileges civilization above wildness and culture above Nature. It shows how the quest structure of the wilderness romance endorses the values of Western civilization, and uses a legend from one of these romances in order to illustrate the way in which they empower the dominant culture. Chapter One concludes by showing how the English-language definitions of "wild" and "civilized" work to elevate the culture of "old world" immigrants above the traditions of a semi-nomadic wilderness people. Chapter Two looks at the ambivalence to wildness apparent in two examples of the wilderness romance: R. M. Ballantyne's The Young Fur Traders, or Snowflakes and Sunbeams: A Tale of the Far North (1856) and William F. Butler's Red Cloud: A Tale of the Great Prairie (1882). It discusses both authors' use of Edenic imagery in their descriptions of the great Northwest, their differing views of aboriginal people and their pragmatic conclusions to the heroes' wilderness quest. It examines the implications of the protagonists' return to a prosperous, mercantile civilization, and points out that Ballantyne and Butler failed to recognize the incompatibility of their simultaneous images of the West as pristine wilderness and future home of a flourishing industrial economy. Chapter Three looks at the civilizing impact of Victorian Christianity in two examples of missionary fiction: R. M. Ballantyne's The Prairie Chief: A Tale (1886) and Egerton Ryerson Young's Oowikapun or How the Gospel Reached the Nelson River Indians (1896). It suggests that both novels privilege civilization above wildness by equating Christianity with the order and domestic virtue of Victorian culture and by equating native spirituality with untamed Nature. Since Christianity was an unquestioned good in the Victorian hegemony, and native spirituality a threat to Christian dominance, the values of civilization basked in the reflected virtue of Anglo-Protestant ideology while wilderness and Nature were tarnished by their association with pagan superstition and evil. Chapter Three shows how the successful achievement of the heroes' wilderness quests involves bringing the light of Christian civilization to the darkness of the heathen wilderness. Chapter Four examines the process of cultural genocide in two fur trade novels. It looks at the way in which Agnes Laut uses the captivity narrative in Lords of the North (1900) to illustrate the savage behavior of the uncivilized Indian, and the way in which Hulbert Footner uses the adventure story in The Fur Bringers: A Story of the Canadian Northwest (1920) to portray native and mixed-blood people as either wicked and cunning or naive, childlike and dependent. It shows how the authors attempt to invalidate the traditional culture of a wilderness people by comparing its apparent weaknesses with the stronger, morally superior culture of their white protagonists. Both novels thus validate the obliteration of aboriginal traditions and their replacement by the values and institutions of Western civilization.Chapter Five uses three novels to explore the way in which romance writers used stories of native "rebellion" to justify the suppression of political resistance. Joseph Collins, an ardent Canadian nationalist, wrote Louis Riel The Rebel Chief (1885) to inflame Eastern opinion against the Metis "rebels" who threatened to destroy his vision of a strong and united nation; this chapter looks at his use of historical misrepresentation, inflammatory language and tragic melodrama to discredit the "barbarian" forces that threatened imperial law and order. Ralph Connor's later account of an abortive 1885 Indian uprising, in Corporal Cameron (1912) and The Patrol of the Sun Dance Trail (1914), is more sympathetic towards native people but it, too, privileges white civilization by equating the interests of immigrant ' settlers with the public good. By further associating the Indian and Metis "rebels" with the disorder and chaos of wild Nature, Collins and Connor helped to invalidate native resistance and to ensure Anglo-Canadian victory over the degraded "savages." Chapter Six looks at the connection between patriarchal power and the "old world" social order in Harwood Steele's Mounted Police romance, Spirit-of-Iron (1923). It shows how Steele privileges civilization above wildness by glorifying a para-military hierarchy based upon "masculine" strength and adherence to the values of Empire. Power accrues in Steele's novel to men whose fists and nerve and endurance enable them to enforce their will on women and Nature and weaker men. Chapter Six looks at the way in which this power hierarchy helped to convert an unproductive wilderness into a prosperous British colony, and reveals the enormous costs that women unwittingly pay for the privilege of supporting key (masculine) players in the drive towards "progress." Chapter Seven explores the connection between patriarchal man's dominance of woman and Nature in Douglas Durkin's The Heart of Cherry McBain (1919) and The Lob stick Trail (1921). It illustrates the symbiotic relationship between male dominance and economic progress in the building of two important patriarchal institutions--the railway and the mining industry. Durkin's novels cast a romantic glow over the men who risked life and capital to build roadbeds and to develop the mineral resources of the Northwest; Chapter Seven, however, shows how the rules which govern this development empower men at the expense of women and Nature, and reveals the high human and ecological costs of denying integrity to both the feminine and the natural world. Chapter Eight introduces the homesteading romance. It notes the conflicting impulses behind popular images of the West as pastoral utopia: the settler wants to create both an arcadian garden in the wilderness and a prosperous outpost of a mercantile civilization. It discusses the philosophical origins of the industrial market economy, and looks at the social, economic and ecological costs of commercial, export-oriented agriculture on the Canadian prairies. Chapter Eight notes the absence of indigenous and mixed-blood people in the homesteading romance, and discusses the unrealized potential of traditional Metis culture to provide immigrants with an ecologically appropriate response to the "new world". It discusses one French-Canadian novel, Georges Bugnet's Nipsya (1924; trans. 1929), which provides the only significant study of Metis culture in early prairie fiction. Chapter Nine looks at two novels which served as homesteading manuals for would-be immigrants. Both Alexander Begg's "Dot It Down;" A Story of Life in the North-West (1871) and W. H. P. Jarvis's The Letters of a Remittance Man to His Mother (1908) provide advice on farming for profit. Chapter Nine looks at the development of export agriculture on the prairies, and considers the role that Begg's and Jarvis's novels played in promoting high production and prosperity as the goals of farming. It points out that neither novel considers the economic climate created by a national policy which privileged business interests above the interests of farming, and concludes that they are therefore not only flawed guides to the development of sustainable agriculture but also unrealistic proponents of a materialist utopia. Chapter Ten looks at the contribution of two English novelists to the anthropocentric ideal of mastering wild Nature. Harold Bindloss's and Mrs. Humphrey Ward's prairie fiction portray strong, virile man who carve farms from the wilderness and transform "wasteland" into wheatfields. Guided by a dream of dominion over the natural world, they are rewarded both by wealth and by marriage to well-born English maidens. Bindloss and Ward celebrate the heroism of the stalwart men whose agricultural victories provide prosperity for the Canadian North West and bread for the people of England; Chapter Ten, however, traces the cultural roots of current environmental problems to anthropocentric values such as those embedded in their novels. Chapter Eleven examines the part that literature played in integrating "foreign" immigrants into an essentially British society. It looks at the process of assimilation in four prairie novels: Ralph Connor's The Foreigner: A Tale of Saskatchewan (1909), Flos Jewell Williams's New Furrows: A Story of the Alberta Foothills (1926), Eric Gill's Love in Manitoba (1911) and Laura Goodman Salverson's The Viking Heart (1923). These novels equate becoming a good Canadian with adoption of the mercantile ideals of economic progress and with rejection of the peasant ideals of self-sufficiency. As Chapter Eleven points out, they helped to obliterate the values of an "old world" peasantry which viewed land as sacred and simultaneously strengthened the Western imperative of human dominion over Nature. Chapter Twelve discusses the industrialization of agriculture in Robert Stead's Grain (1926). It points out that although Stead was critical of the greed and materialism that accompanied Western settlement, his novels reflect the anthropocentrism endemic to early prairie fiction. It looks at Stead's treatment of the homesteader's "sacred" mission to subdue the earth. It examines the historical context in which Grain is situated, and it discusses Stead's ambivalent--although ultimately favourable--response to the phenomenon of farm mechanization. Chapter Thirteen contrasts Western man's quest for wealth and power with woman's oppositional quest for healing community. Using Martha Ostenso's Wild Geese (1925), Arthur Stringer's Prairie trilogy (1915-22) and representative fiction of Nellie McClung (1908-25) as texts, it explores the way in which these writers privilege nurturing relationships above the exploitative relationships that characterize prairie agriculture. Stringer's heroine condemns her husband's obsession with money and power, and proposes an alternative ideology based upon love of family and home. Ostenso's Judith Gare rebels against patriarchal tyranny. McClung's protagonists serve as compassionate caregivers who view the land as a resource that provides sustenance--not wealth--for its human inhabitants. In their common opposition to an androcentric culture based on power over women and the land, these novels portray the feminine quest for healing community and for harmony between humans and their prairie home. Chapter Fourteen looks at two examples of early prairie realism--Frederick Philip Grove's Settlers of the Marsh (1925) and Our Daily Bread (1928). It discusses Grove's love for the prairie landscape, his admiration for the self-sufficient man of the soil, his distaste for economic ambition and his tragic view of life. It contrasts the tragic realism of Our Daily Bread with the comic spirit of reconciliation in Settlers of the Marsh, and suggests that the latter proves better adapted than tragedy as a form in which to cast the heroes' quest for nurturing community. The Conclusion examines the role of the critic as social prophet and revisionary historian. It discusses the role of myth in influencing the course of history, summarizes the cultural impact of the myth of progress created by the wilderness and homesteading romance, notes the existence--and importance--of an oppositional quest for a harmonious relationship with the land, and reviews the role of bioregionalism, deep ecology and ecofeminism in providing the philosophical basis for a sustainable culture appropriate to the prairie bioregion. It considers the responsibility of both homesteaders and turn-of-the-century business entrepreneurs for current environmental degradation, and concludes that the dominant interests of urban politicians, consumers and business people have always been the impetus to agricultural expansion and the continuing depletion of prairie soils.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
SupervisorKerr, Donald C.
CommitteeWaiser, William A.; Harrison, Dick; Denham, W. Paul
mythology -- Canadian west