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.

Notable works of the genre include Davies’ Deptford Trilogy, Findley’s Headhunter, Atwood’s Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin, and Munro’s Selected Stories.
North Ontario Gothic_Door in Winter TW

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.

14 thoughts on “Northern Ontario Gothic

    1. elmediat

      Thank you Ashley. Your Critical Eye and unbounded enthusiasm makes for a decisive observations which I greatly appreciate. 🙂

  1. My knowledge of literature is sadly lacking, but that was fascinating, elmediat!
    Beautiful visual imagery, too, of course! I don’t think I could pick a favorite… all so nice. It seems like a n entire volume could be written on / about each!

    1. elmediat

      Glad you enjoyed the images and background information. I may return to some images to develop their individual narrative.

  2. This may sound naive but you have given such insight of gothic to this reader your modern day portrayal actually makes gothic easier to undersatand. Thank you!

    1. elmediat

      Glad you enjoyed. Gothic and steampunk have had similar problems. Gothic at least has a longer literary tradition. The way I see the difficulty is that original Gothic Literature, which includes Bronte & Poe, inspired a Gothic aesthetic. In relatively recent times, that aesthetic inspired Goth life-style & aesthetic, everything from music to tattoos . This Goth(ic) culture then inspires new pieces of literature. The Twilight book & movie series can be seen as part of this Goth(ic) cultural wave. While this wave has its own thing going, it has become all mixed up and confused in the minds of the media & general public with other strands of Gothic Literature. Steampunk literature is more recent, but it has already generated an aesthetic/lifestyle. In some cases, it is being blended with the Goth(ic) cultural wave.

  3. Pingback: Winter: North Ontario Gothic | Dark Pines Photo

  4. Pingback: Northern Ontario Gothic: Street Scenes | Dark Pines Photo

  5. This is an extremely provocative piece. For some reason I kept thinking about the books I have read on “The Black Donnellys”. Although their story is non-fiction, it is still quite Gothic in nature. I think I will have to read your post again.

  6. elmediat

    The Donley history and paranormal folklore tales surrounding them easily fits into a Gothic tradition.Probably, James Crerar Reaney’s trilogy The Donnellys, epitomizes Southern Ontario Gothic.

    From Wikipedia: Of his poetry, The Canadian Encyclopedia says: “Reaney’s poetry, collected in Poems (1972), has earned him a reputation as an erudite poet at once deriving structures from metaphor, mythology, and a cosmopolitan literary tradition while deeply rooted in a regional sense of place.”[8]

    Reaney’s fiction of the 1940s and 1950s (collected in the 1994 book The Box Social and Other Stories, was “influential in establishing the style of writing that has since become known as ‘Southern Ontario Gothic’. Margaret Atwood has remarked that ‘without “The Bully”, my fiction would have followed other paths’…. Playing sophisticated games by switching voice, he achieves a kind of ‘magic realism’, often through the distorted perspective and sense of disproportion of his child narrators.”

  7. ~meredith

    Just finished Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale… brrrrr! Great post, aligning writing with environmental, and social conditions into a Gothic pictoral.

    1. elmediat

      Thanks for commenting . For a lengthy time , Canadian literature and art has been tied to the landscape and a sense of isolation. Some believe the Canadian experience created a sense of community that grew into a desire for a strong supportive social net. American culture idealizes the rugged individualist, while the Canadian culture seems to idealize teamwork. Our greatest obstacles come when the temp falls below zero – darkness, the cold, reduced mobility are threats to both body & mind.

      1. ~meredith

        This was my experience living in northern Minnesota, as well. It’s a very introspective dynamic–isolating, too–especially in sparsely populated areas. I have to say I did felt like a rugged individualist, for a time, living in an old, old (log) lodge and stirring myself to life every day. The solitude was generative and beautiful to me… the group dynamic of gathering around religion to create social order was not, however… but people decided me an artist, and the habit of exchanging fresh fish for hot coffee with folks who liked to ice fish out on the lake seemed to make my little life acceptable. It really was about community and teamwork… and darkness, superstition, and the wildness of nature. 😉

        Thanks for the note!

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