Canadian Fiction

Have you enjoyed reading books like The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and Life of Pi (2001)? These are just a couple of excellent novels that Canadian fiction has produced. Award-winning authors such as Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro have helped shape English-language literature and influenced and inspired readers and writers worldwide.

Canadian Fiction Canadian Fiction

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Table of contents

    The Origin of Canadian Fiction

    Before the colonization of the Americans, the indigenous people that inhabited present-day Canada had a rich oral literary tradition of myths and folklore. Each indigenous group, including the Mi’kmaq, Mohawk, and Anishinaabe people, had its unique language and literature, making for a culturally diverse region.

    However, French and English colonists restricted traditional indigenous cultural practices, including oral storytelling, particularly through the residential school system, a system of bonding schools for indigenous children. The residential schools aimed to erase traditional culture and assimilate children into Christianity and Western culture.

    With colonization and the decline of indigenous literary traditions, English- and French-language Canadian literature began to develop. Similar to other colonial literature, early Canadian literature consisted mainly of diaries, journals, and letters recording the writer’s impressions of and experiences in the new country.

    In the late 15th century, British and French settlers colonized present-day Canada. The French established the first permanent settlement of New France in 1608, which would become the city of Quebec. On the other hand, the British settled in the province of Newfoundland. For years, the French and British waged various battles to control the territories in present-day Canada. Finally, following the Seven Years’ War, the two countries signed the Treaty of Paris in 1763, which gave the British control of New France.

    Canadian Literature in English

    English-language Canadian literature began with Jacobean poetry in Newfoundland in the 17th century. Early Canadian literature generally followed literary trends in Britain and gradually began to come into its own as the new country gained independence.

    Canadian fiction, Canadian flag, StudySmarterCanadian fiction became well-known worldwide after the country gained independence.

    By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Canadian literature had begun to receive international acclaim. In the wake of the 1867 Confederation, a group of poets called the Confederation group helped to articulate Canada’s budding national identity with poetry that emphasized romantic portraits of the country’s landscape. In 1908, Lucy Maud Montgomery published Anne of Green Gables, a children’s novel that would become a classic of English literature.

    Canadian Literature in French

    Although the first French colonist settled in Canada in the early 17th century, the first printing press did not arrive in French Canada until the British took control in the 18th century. Previously, all the literature produced in French Canada was printed in France and marketed to European readers.

    Following the British conquest, the primary literary form in French Canada was journalism. By the mid-19th century, however, French Canadians had begun producing poetry, novels, and plays that helped to develop French Canadian literature as distinct from their English-speaking counterparts.

    Canadian Fiction Books

    Canadian literature includes a wide variety of books in many different fiction genres.

    Roughing it in the Bush (1852) by Susanna Moodie

    Roughing it in the Bush is an account of settler life in Canada that was published first in London and later, in 1871, in Canada. The novel is a fictionalized account of Moodie’s experiences trying to make a life in the rugged Canadian wilderness and is regarded as a canonical work of Canadian literature. Moodie helped to popularize key themes, such as nature and survival, which are still represented in Canadian literature today.

    Roughing it in the Bush was the middle book in a trilogy by Moodie. The first, Flora Lyndsay, was published in 1854, and the third, Life in the Clearings, in 1853.

    Anne of Green Gables (1908) by L. M. Montgomery

    L. M. Montgomery’s classic young adult novel is one of the best-selling novels in history and is well known worldwide. It tells the story of Anne, a young orphan living in a fictional Canadian town. Anne is mistakenly sent to two siblings who hoped to adopt a boy that would help work on their farm. They adopt Anne instead, and the novel recounts her experiences on the farm of Green Gables and the surrounding town. Anne of Green Gables has sold more than 50 million copies since its publication and has been adapted numerous times for film and theatre.

    The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood

    Although Margaret Atwood’s now classic novel was published nearly forty years ago, the television show of the same name produced in recent years has renewed the novel’s popularity. The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian work of speculative fiction set in the eastern United States. The country, however, has become a totalitarian state known as the Republic of Gilead, and women called handmaids are forced to bear children for the ruling class. The novel won several prizes, including the 1985 Governor General’s Award and the 1987 Arthur C. Clarke Award, and was nominated for others, including the 1986 Booker Prize.

    Canada is sometimes left in the shadow of its more powerful and populous southern neighbor, and although Margaret Atwood is a Canadian author, she chose to set the Handmaid's Tale in a post-apocalyptic United States. What does this say about the relationship between the United States and Canada? What might happen to Canada if the United States were controlled by a totalitarian government?

    Life of Pi (2001) by Yann Martel

    Life of Pi (2001) is a novel by Canadian author Yann Martel. It tells the story of an Indian boy named Pi who survives a shipwreck while crossing the Pacific Ocean. The shipwreck also has another survivor, a Bengal tiger that shares Pi’s lifeboat for 227 days. Life of Pi is considered a psychological novel that explores the nature of truth and reality. It won the 2002 Booker Prize and was made into a feature film in 2012.

    Canadian fiction, tiger swimming, StudySmarterIn The Life of Pi, a boy and a tiger live together in a lifeboat for 227 days.

    Canadian Fiction Authors

    There have been important fiction authors working in Canada for many years.

    Famous Authors of Classic Canadian Fiction

    Some authors of classic Canadian fiction include Charles G. D. Roberts, Susanna Moodie, and Lucy Maud Montgomery.

    Susanna Moodie (1803-1885)

    Susanna Moodie is best known for her book Roughing It in the Bush, a fictionalized account of her life as a settler in the British colony that would become Canada. In 1832, Moodie immigrated to Canada from Britain with her husband, and the couple took up residence in the province of Ontario, which was still largely wilderness. Moodie struggled with the transition from her middle-class British lifestyle to the rugged way of life she encountered in Canada. She tried to be realistic about these experiences in Roughing It in the Bush rather than romanticize life in the settlement.

    Canadian fiction, Canadian wilderness, StudySmarterSusanna Moodie immigrated from Britain to live in the Canadian wilderness.

    Charles G. D. Roberts (1860-1943)

    Charles G. D. Roberts was a member of the group known as the Confederate Poets. Roberts, along with fellow Confederate Poets Bliss Carman (1861-1929), Archibald Lampman (1861-1899), and Duncan Campbell Scott (1862-1947), was one of the first Canadian writers to become well-known internationally. He published novels, non-fiction, and travel writings, but he is best known for his poetry and is known for influencing and inspiring the other poets of his generation.

    Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942)

    Working under the name L. M. Montgomery, this Canadian author published a number of novels, short stories, poems, and essays throughout her career. Montgomery was born on Prince Edward Island, and many of her novels and other works of fiction would be set in the same province. She began submitting short stories to newspapers and magazines in 1897 while working as a teacher and soon published hundreds of stories in various outlets. Without a doubt, Montgomery’s best-known work is her 1908 novel, Anne of Green Gables, which has since sold more than 50 million copies. The author’s diaries and letters have also been published and are widely read and studied.

    Famous Authors of Contemporary Canadian Fiction

    Contemporary Canadian fiction is popular worldwide. Today, some of Canada’s key authors include Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, and Yann Martel.

    Alice Munro (1931-present)

    Alice Munro is a short story writer from southwestern Ontario. Most of her stories are set in rural Canadian towns, and the tension is usually driven by the exploration of interpersonal relationships and the difficulties that ordinary people face in everyday life. She was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature and has received other prestigious literary awards for her work, including the 2009 Booker International Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award in 1968, 1978, and 1986.

    Alice Munro was the first Canadian writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    Margaret Atwood (1939-present)

    Margaret Atwood is one of Canada’s most widely read authors. She has written over a dozen novels as well as poetry collections, short stories, essays, and children’s books. She is best known for her works of dystopian and speculative fiction, including The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and its sequel, The Testaments (2019), and the MaddAddam trilogy, including Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013). Atwood has won numerous literary awards, including two Booker Prizes. She is also well known for her literary criticism and social critiques.

    Margaret Atwood is known for writing one of the first comprehensive analyses of Canadian literature, the 1972 Survival: a Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. In the book, Atwood proposes that the central theme in Canadian literature is the theme of survival. She argues that the vast and often impenetrable wilderness is one of the country’s defining features and strongly influences Canada’s literature and sense of identity. Canadian literature, Atwood suggests, typically explores the victim’s position, an individual who must survive various situations that might be manmade or natural. Oftentimes, the victim must survive nature itself which, in Canadian literature, is often illustrated as hostile and unwelcoming.

    Yann Martel (1963-present)

    Yann Martel was born in Spain to French Canadian parents and frequently moved throughout his childhood, including stints in Portugal, Alaska, Costa Rica, and more. He has published several novels and short stories, but his best-known work is his 2001 novel, The Life of Pi. The Life of Pi won the Booker Prize and has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.

    Canadian Fiction - Key Takeaways

    • Before the arrival of French and British settlers, the indigenous people of Canada had a rich oral literary tradition.
    • Canadian literature began to receive international acclaim in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
    • Canadian literature has produced some key works of English-language literature, including Anne of Green Gables, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Life of Pi.
    • Some authors of classic Canadian fiction include Charles G. D. Roberts, Susanna Moodie, and Lucy Maud Montgomery.
    • Some authors of contemporary Canadian fiction include Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, and Yann Martel.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Canadian Fiction

    Who is the most famous Canadian author?

    Some of the most famous Canadian authors include Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and Lucy Maud Montgomery.

    What is the first Canadian fiction?

    The first examples of Canadian fiction include the oral storytelling traditions of various indigenous groups, including the Mi’kmaq, Mohawk, and Anishinaabe people.

    What is Canadian literature in English?

    Canadian Literature in English comes from the English-speaking provinces of Canada. Some examples of Canadian literature in English include Anne of Green Gables, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Life of Pi.

    What is the theme of Canadian fiction?

    Some themes in Canadian fiction include nature and survival.

    Who is the father of Canadian fiction?

    Some of the first Canadian authors to be known internationally were the Confederate Poets, which included Charles G. D. Roberts, Bliss Carman, Archibald Lampman, and Duncan Campbell Scott.

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