chapter  13
10 Pages

CANADIAN GOTHIC

ByCoral Ann Howells

Alice Munro is a key figure in contemporary English-Canadian Gothic writing, and her comment on her own early fiction offers an intriguing introduction to this chapter.1 For Munro, location is crucial: she sets most of her stories in her home place of small-town rural south-western Ontario, though what she emphasises is not its familiarity but its strangeness. This is a place so full of mysteries and secrets that even the most meticulous fictional documentation may fail to ‘get it all down’. The key word here is ‘Gothic’ with its promise of the uncanny, scandalous secrets about sex and violence, forgotten histories and buried lives – all part of a fantastic subtext of repression, fear and desire. Munro acknowledged her debt to women writers of the American South, especially Eudora Welty, for they both shared a similar vision of place, where people’s lives were like ‘deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum’ (Munro 1982: 249). So, are there distinctive qualities of Canadian Gothic fiction which mark its difference from American Gothic or European Gothic? And is Munro’s domestic Gothic the only kind written in Canada? The answer to the first question is yes, and to the second no, as this chapter will illustrate. It begins with a brief historical overview of Canadian Gothic fiction by male and female writers, followed by critical analyses of four significant contemporary women’s Gothic texts, for it is in these women’s fictions that traditional Gothic anxieties over questions of identity and power are best articulated. There are noticeably fewer contemporary Gothic texts by male writers. Instead, men have made their distinctive contribution in film, where Mort Ransen’s ghoulish Margaret’s Museum (1995) and David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988), Crash (1996) and Spider (2002) with their dismembered and monstrous bodies mark a mutation in Canadian Gothic towards ‘the grotesque and the fantastic’ (Edwards 2005: 162).2