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The Romantic Child in Selected Canadian Fiction

Margaret Jean Steffler

Abstract

Studies of children in Canadian fiction have tended to be very general, and often label the individual characters as certain "types" of literary children, already familiar to the reader. By far the most popular and common type of child in twentieth-century Canadian fiction is the pastoral child, who plays an integral role in the literature's nostalgic focus on memory, the past and a Romantic communion with nature. The treatment of the use and effect of this pastoral child, however, has been superficial and tentative. Numerous articles on the individual characters exist, but an attempt to tie together these pastoral children in an extended and detailed study is lacking.

The Romantic child, as established by Wordsworth, provides a logical and effective source and focus for a study of this group of pastoral children in Canadian fiction. The pastoral or Romantic child in Canadian fiction is a descendant of the Wordsworthian child, and enjoys an active and participatory relationship with nature. The relationship epitomizes the imagination and vision which are lacking in the child's society. This child is not merely "pastoral" in a nostalgic sense, but plays a role as society's critic, opponent and mitigator. The large gulf between the sublime nature and the insular society of twentieth-century Canada is bridged to some extent and in some fashion by this Romantic child. The onus on the Canadian Romantic child is to invest society with the imagination and vision he or she derives from nature.

The development of the Romantic child in Canadian fiction stresses the Wordsworthian concept of the imagination transforming the common and concrete object. Such an approach refutes accusations of sentimentality and false nostalgia which often surround the pastoral child. A close examination of the actual process involved in the child's Wordsworthian communion with the natural world reveals and accentuates the importance of the child's vision and imagination in a society which seldom values such qualities. Such an examination also ties together these various characters, providing a means by which to define and study the uniquely Canadian Romantic child.