"You Can't Get There From Here": Small-Town Ontario, Nostalgia, and Urban Memory in Works of Selected Ontario Writers
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This dissertation examines the role of memory in the construction of small-town Ontario in the work of a number of Ontario writers. After an initial overview of the vexed position the small town holds in Canadian and Ontarian cultural discourse, this dissertation then examines the role of distance - temporal, spatial, and cultural - in memorial reconstructions of small-town pasts, and claims that this distance is essential to nostalgic visions of the small town. This dissertation does not discuss the small town as merely an idyll or anti-idyll, but analyzes the effect of something Leo Marx calls the “pastoral design,” defined as the “larger structure of thought and feeling of which the ideal is a part” (24). The effect of this structure is most apparent in Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, and this dissertation argues that Leacock’s Mariposa is the product of melancholics daydreaming of a better small-town past in order to soothe their contemporary urban anomie; however, Leacock also reveals the decidedly ambivalent effect the urban sphere has on its own nostalgic image. Chapter Three examines Sunshine Sketches’ influence on Deptford in Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business; Deptford is at once an acknowledgement of, and departure from, Leacock’s Mariposa. The unstable portrayal of the town suggests that Deptford is no complement to an urban sphere, but is shaped by the same processes of modernity affecting the city. In Chapter Four the dissertation discusses Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women, specifically how narrator Del Jordan collapses the distance between her present and past, and how Munro’s text undermines the values attendant to rural and urban space. Finally, Chapter Five identifies the presence of a rural-urban binary in two texts by Jane Urquhart. For Urquhart’s characters, the small-town past is a solemn object of loss, but is ultimately a construct that can only be a reflection of the mourning or remembering self. This dissertation reads these small-town narratives as sophisticated statements on the role of urbanization in memories of a personal and social past, and on the vexed position of the rural in an increasingly cosmopolitan world.