Northern Ontario Gothic
You may be wondering what is Northern Ontario Gothic . It is best if we start with the term Southern Ontario Gothic. The term first arose in 1973 when it was used in Graeme Gibson‘s Eleven Canadian Novelists (1973) to recognize an existing tendency to apply aspects of the Gothic novel to writing based in and around Southern Ontario. In an interview with Timothy Findley, Gibson commented that Findley’s novel The Last of the Crazy People shared similarities with the American Southern Gothic genre, to which Findley replied, “…sure, it’s Southern Gothic: Southern Ontario Gothic.”
Southern Ontario Gothic is sometimes simply seen as Canadian Gothic Literature, since the largest body of work appears to be produced by a group of core writers whose narratives are set in Southern Ontario.
Notable writers of this sub-genre include Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Jane Urquhart, and Marian Engel. Like the Southern Gothic of American writers such as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty, Southern Ontario Gothic analyzes and critiques social conditions such as race, gender, religion and politics, but in a Southern Ontario context. Southern Ontario Gothic is generally characterized by a stern realism set against the dour small-town Protestant morality stereotypical of the region, and often has underlying themes of moral hypocrisy. Actions and people that act against humanity, logic, and morality all are portrayed unfavourably, and one or more characters may be suffering from some form of mental illness.
The Gothic novel has traditionally examined the role of evil in the human soul, and has incorporated dark or horrific imagery to create the desired setting. Some (but not all) writers of Southern Ontario Gothic use supernatural or magic realist elements; a few deviate from realism entirely, in the manner of the fantastical gothic novel. Virtually all dwell to a certain extent upon the grotesque.
I am of the opinion that the distinctive nature of Northern Ontario, even in larger urban setting, creates a distinctive character that influences the Canadian Gothic outlook. The key elements of Southern Ontario Gothic, supernatural, magic realist, and the grotesque combine with a spiritual/mystical view of the natural environment. While reading the posts about Anne Boleyn’s ghost ( see blog: Splatter ) , I noted that here in Canada our supernatural/ghost narratives are closely tied to forces of nature and places of strong physicality. Our most well known spectre is Sasquatch ( native culture never viewed this entity as simply a creature of the woods, it was a spirit of the woods).
When you consider the raw power of the Group of Seven you will note how the Northern Ontario landscape has both a physical and mystical reality. It is this force in conflict or in balance with human construction and society that is most strongly identifies Northern Ontario Gothic. The works of Charles de Lint exemplifies this character.
In both de Lint’s novels and short stories can be found a wide range of urban fantasy and magic realism narrative elements. They are all interwoven with a view of society and nature that can be attributed to the Northern Ontario experience and world view/attitude.
The visuals in this post are an attempt to explore some aspects of this Northern Ontario Gothic view.