Amazing Space:
Writing Canadian Women Writing

Edited by Shirley Neuman and Smaro Kamboureli
Longspoon Press/Newest Press Edmonton, 1986 427pp., $19.95,

Review by Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr

"A Amazing Space began modestly,” say its editors, “as a collection of perhaps a dozen essays representative of feminist criticism and women's writing in Canada.” (Preface, p.ix)

The surface of such a broad and diverse topic, however, is barely scratched by the thirty-eight essays that comprise the finished product. The initial impression is one of awe at the magnitude of materials covered: the book is over 400 pages and examines the female side of CanLit - including French and English, native and immigrate - over a period of a century and a half. But the lasting impression is that the collection provides a rich tapestry of literature and language, a valuable reference, and a potential text book. The broad scope is an indication that the areas discussed by the individual contributors have hardly yet been touched by Canadian literary criticism, much less collected together in one volume. As soon as it became available the book was placed on University reading lists, both in feminist and in critical studies. It has been a long time coming.

It should also be noted that the layout of the book is lovely; the type is relatively large and footnotes appear in a wide inside margin which is very handy for reference. There are also two indexes (subject and name/title) as well as biographical notes on the contributors, who are almost all women and include such well-known names as Constance Rooke, Aritha van Herk and Fred Wah.

Amazing Space reflects at least two important trends in current feminist literary studies. First, it embraces new critical theories such as deconstruction and those of the French feminist schools. Second, it attempts to place - or replace - female authors into the "canon" of literature. Important in both of these trends is the idea of feminist "re-reading" or "re-evaluating" of material which may have been overlooked or discarded by previous critics.

The first trend is evident in many of the essays as the sort of play with language and terminology which produces sentences such as this: “Viewed in the context of Jameson's oeuvre, moreover, the letter can be seen to recreate, in a mise-en-abyme fashion, a paradigmatic Jamesonian narrative pattern, a femino-centric discursive universe...”(Bina Friewald, “Femininely Speaking”: Anna Jameson's Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada”, p.62) Although such language can be viewed as merely obscure and academic it should be seen, above all, as playful. It is a way for feminists to command the sort of power associated with naming things; the sort of power which God bestowed upon Adam (or “man”) when he was charged with naming all the Earth's creatures.

The second trend, regarding the “canon”, is apparent in many of the articles and this is partly due to an editorial decision not to concentrate on those Canadian women authors - namely Margaret Laurence and Margaret Atwood - whose works are already accepted as important. As a result such authors as Laure Goodman Salverson, Laure Conan, Sharon Pollock, Louky Bersianik and Nicole Brossard, among others, are considered instead. This approach makes for a work which is both groundbreaking and fresh.

Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr is a Master of Arts student in the Graduate English Program at York University. Her areas of concentration are Canadian Literature and Women in Literature

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