Between the avant-garde and kitsch: Experimental prose in American and Canadian literary periodicals of the 1930s

Irr, Caren

During the 1930s, in both Canada and the United States, the pressures of mass culture and of an increasingly isolated literary avant-garde constrained the options available to leftist writers. The essay argues that socialist writers in both countries offered similar critiques of that situation. The body of the essay compares the different solutions American and Canadian writers proposed — in the organization of literary periodicals and in literary form. I argue that because the US left centred on the Communist Party during the thirties, its literary wing pursued a vanguardist model of organizing and emphasized literary objectivism. By contrast, the presence of an increasingly strong social-democratic party in Canada meant the literary left chose to emphasize coalition-building and literary realism. The essay concludes by arguing that these differences amount to two distinct intellectual patterns which are still recognizable today.

Que ce soit au Canada ou aux Etats-Unis, le poids d’une culture de masse et d’un mouvement litteraire avant-guarde de plus en plus marginalise limiterent les options possibles des ecrivains de gauche pendant les annees trente. Dans cet article, nous analyserons tout d’abord l’hypothese que les ecrivains socialistes canadiens et americains critiquerent de facon similaire cette situation. Nous comparerons ensuite les differentes solutions proposees par ces 2 groupes d’auteurs en analysant l’organisation des revues litteraires et la forme litteraire elle-meme. Nous pensons que puisque la gauche americaine se regroupa autour du parti communiste pendant les annees trente les groupes litteraires en son sein adopterent un modele vanguardiste d’organisation et favoriserent un objectivisme litteraire. Au contraire, la presence au Canada d’un parti socialiste de plus en plus important poussa la gauche litteraire vers un realisme litteraire et une organisation reposant sur le principe des alliances. Nous terminerons cet article par une discussion sur l’idee que ces differences aboutirent a 2 schemas intellectuels bien distincts et que nous reconnaissons toujours aujourd’hui.

Although students of North American culture have often characterized the 1930s as a contest between admirable aesthetic modernisms and an embarassing socialist realism, today descriptions are less polarized.(f.1) Recently, historians, literary critics, musicologists and art historians have stressed how social realist and modernist projects complement each other. They identify the 1930s as an invigorating decade both politically and aesthetically, suggesting that a new cultural formation developed during the thirties — a North American socialist culture with distinct and intelligent artistic and social practices.

The relationship between art and social practices is, of course, a complex one. On the one hand, artistic practices articulated and supported the politics of the 1930s left — politics that were as visionary in their anti-racism, anti-imperialism, multiculturalism and relative freedom from sexism as they were confused in their blanket support of Stalinism. In turn, a sense of commitment to counter-cultural politics provided the basis for a network of leftist clubs, summer camps, neighbourhoods, parties and cultural events; in a sense, artistic practices enabled a unique form of social life to develop. On the other hand, memoirs of the 1930s often suggest the reverse — that the distinctively socialist forms of cultural production (proletarian novels, documentaries, exposes, mass chants, agit-prop drama, spirituals on political themes, and so-called collective writing, to name only a few) were inspired by the vigorous social life on the left. Wherever one attributes cause and effect, it is clear that both artistic and social practices contributed to the formation of a distinctive leftist culture.

Now that a picture of 1930s culture is coming into better focus in scholarly work, it is worth considering the relationship of that culture to other cultural formations — in particular, to national and mass cultures. In the thirties, left-wing critics in the United States often claimed that their culture represented the pinnacle of a national culture or the climax of a “great tradition,” while Canadian leftists made similarly grandiose claims about launching the first truly Canadian literature.(f.2) Summed up in the slogan “Communism is Twentieth-Century Americanism,” the hyperbole of such claims indicates socialists’ considerable anxiety about their relation to national culture. Wishing to transform their national traditions by identifying them with their own work, they were more successful with identification than transformation, although this did not always take the hoped-for form. The slogan “Twentieth-Century Americanism,” for example, might easily be taken as a demonstration of the United States left’s comfortable assimilation into national culture, since by claiming “Americanism” for the United States, the slogan displays a form of cultural imperialism characteristic of the political mainstream in United States culture during this period. It demonstrates the inflection of socialist culture by forms of American exceptionalism that were politically unacceptable on the left at the time.(f.3)

Similar inflections can be heard throughout socialist culture in Canada and the United States, and left-wing literary criticism is no exception. For instance, when the Canadian modernist poet A.J.M. Smith wrote his preface to the 1936 anthology New Provinces, he used terms and oppositions characteristic of the Canadian literary scene. Seeking a “useful” poetry that “will facilitate the creation of a more practical social system,” he criticizes “pure poetry” that is “unconcerned with anything save its own existence,” and goes on to heap scorn on the “sentimental … idealized, sanctified … inflated … definite, mechanically correct … obvious … [and] commonplace” verses of popular poets. His objection to “sentimental” poetry is typical of Canadian left-wing writers of the period and, oddly enough, so are certain aspects of his more contentious views on nationalism: “Poetry today is written for the most part by people whose emotional and intellectual heritage is not a national one; it is either cosmopolitan or provincial, and, for good or evil, the forces of civilization are rapidly making the latter scarce.”(f.4) As in the introduction to his later anthology, the Book of Canadian Poetry (1943), Smith here divides Canada’s poets into a native or “provincial” tradition and a modernist or “cosmopolitan” school.(f.5) In the controversial 1943 volume Smith attacks provincialism, but in the thirties context he hedges his misgivings with a reference to the “forces of civilization.”

In an influential essay, cultural historian Warren Susman has argued that in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, critics often opposed “culture” to “civilization,” in order to indicate a preference for an authentic local culture over mass-produced, mechanized civilization.(f.6) In his 1936 preface, Smith makes use of this critical manoeuvre in order to distance himself from the provincial. Yet in his typically Canadian analysis, mass culture is an invading “force” that must be resisted and, by implication, provincial culture is an opposing force that might serve as a wellspring for the “useful poetry” presented in New Provinces.

This critical manoeuvre was not entirely successful: the editors of the New Provinces anthology rejected Smith’s preface, partly on the grounds of its excessively “nose-tweaking” tone, and the volume was finally published with a briefer and more politic preface by F.R. Scott, one that associated “useful” poetry with the provincial tradition in a much more direct manner.(f.7) I am highlighting Smith’s version here precisely because it was unacceptable: the category of the “provincial” was one of the definitive elements of the cultural debate in Canada during the 1930s, as Smith’s preface makes abundantly clear. Despite his dismissive evaluation of provincial writing, Smith puts forth a particularly Canadian view of culture in pitting “cosmopolitan” versus “provincial” culture and local “culture” versus an invasive “civilization.”

The markedly Canadian elements of this formulation become clearer when Smith’s essay is compared to American critic Clement Greenberg’s famous contemporaneous essay on “Avant-garde and Kitsch,” which concludes with the grim statement that “we no longer look towards socialism for a new culture…. Today we look to socialism simply for the preservation of whatever living culture we have right now.”(f.8) Greenberg views socialism not as the facilitator or creator of culture, but as a museum, as a reservoir in a cultural drought. Though the geopolitical situation of 1939, the date when Greenberg’s essay was first published, may account for some of his pessimism (it was a year of important disappointments for leftists, such as the Hitler-Stalin pact and the defeat of the Spanish Loyalists), the overall structure of his analysis suggests other, less topical contexts as well. Where Smith identified a divide between modernism and sentimental culture, Greenberg sees, on the one hand, a decadent avant-garde with severely etiolated ties to the cultural elite it onced served and, on the other, an inescapably prolific kitsch — an ersatz culture produced for the masses. Into this latter category Greenberg condenses mass culture, sentimental culture and socialist realism, resulting in an unholy conglomeration with totalitarian tendencies. This proto-fascist kitsch is, he fears, so pervasive that it may eradicate all other cultural production, and only the critic’s or curator’s preservation can inhibit the process.

From this brief summary of two complex essays I provisionally conclude that their distinguishing feature is their different position vis-a-vis mass culture. Although both Smith and Greenberg sought a socialist culture that would lie between the avant-garde and kitsch, or between “pure” modernism and sentimental commonplaces, they do not share terms for describing mass culture or a socialist resistance to it. While Greenberg views mass culture as pervasive, Smith sees it as invasive; while Greenberg’s hope for socialism stresses the development of critical consciousness, Smith gestures (albeit, weakly) towards a provincialism enhanced by cosmopolitanism; while Greenberg wants to preserve, Smith wants to create.

These distinctions in critical terminology and project definition will help to distinguish American and Canadian left-wing cultures of the 1930s generally, especially when we turn from the theoretical writings of the decade to its literature. While the distinctions were relative rather than absolute, left-wing writers in the two countries developed different aesthetics especially notable in the short prose they wrote for literary periodicals. Although the effect of the Depression on the book publishing industry was much worse in Canada than in the United States, both countries experienced a boom in magazine publication during this period, and left-wing magazines were especially numerous.(f.9) When writing for magazines, many writers self-consciously experimented with their medium, paying special attention to the issues of culture that interest us here. In Canada, these issues were further politicized by debates over cultural imperialism and tariffs on magazines imported from the United States.(f.10) It was in this vigorous, politically charged literary marketplace, then, that American and Canadian left-wing writers established their own distinct literary culture marked by its proximity to the mass media and inflected by national traditions.

The American Left: In Pursuit of Objectivism

During the 1930s, large numbers of intellectuals became politicized and thereby influenced the shape of left-wing culture.(f.11) Although many of the writers and artists who leaned left during the Depression had only a superficial knowledge of politics and only committed themselves politically for a few years, they lent socialist culture in this period some of its distinguishing features. First, the intellectuals’ Manichean sense of duty contributed to the Communist Party’s prominent position; many artists considered joining other left parties akin to drinking “near-beer,” as John Dos Passos once remarked.(f.12) According to this pattern, intellectuals not inclined to join the Party usually became fellow travellers. They either committed themselves entirely or circulated around those who did; few other centres of left-wing activity earned their respect. This political centralism was also evident in the geographical and demographic focus of the left; the Communists’ traditional association with immigrant groups combined with the artistic prestige of Greenwich Village in the inter-war years to concentrate leftist culture on the east coast. Literary intellectuals often found difficulties inhabiting those cities, such as Chicago, that did not boast a bohemian population.(f.13)

Leftist periodicals published in the thirties reflect these political and geographical tendencies. The major publications on the literary scene were the Communist-sponsored New Masses, some relatively friendly liberal journals of opinion such as the Nation and New Republic, and, in the second half of the decade, the more theoretical Partisan Review. While early in the 1930s publications affiliated with other parties or regions, such as the Trotskyist Modern Quarterly or Chicago’s Anvil were available, these either folded or merged with larger publications as the decade progressed. The periodicals that survived occasionally reflected the particular obsessions of their editors, though this tendency was not as pronounced as some historians of the period have suggested.(f.14) In practice, each of these magazines published work from a variety of viewpoints and, since individual writers were rarely tied to journals through editorial responsibilities, they often contributed to several supposedly hostile publications.(f.15) Writers were able to publish widely because the actual function of leftist periodicals, and especially those with a literary focus, was not the propagation of a particular political line; instead, these magazines served a cultural purpose. They introduced new writers, reviewed new works by established writers, dramatized significant recent events, and produced theories of contemporary culture. In short, leftist periodicals tried to encourage socialist culture through wider dissemination more often than they tried to direct the production of that culture. Creating culture remained the task of individual agents working simultaneously but separately.

Of course, none of the leftist or liberal periodicals in the United States ever circulated as widely as the mass market magazines, though they did have an influence on public discourse out of proportion to their subscription rates.(f.16) For example, even conservative trade magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post reported on left-wing writers’ groups, reviewed leftist novels sympathetically, and occasionally invited radical critics to contribute columns.(f.17) None the less, the major site of interaction between mass and socialist cultures was within the socialist magazines themselves. Here, the American left articulated four prose strategies for transforming their medium — each of which imagined mass culture as the objective condition of its project.

The type of prose most often taken to be typical of the 1930s left is, of course, the proletarian short story. Essentially shorter versions of the notorious proletarian novel, these stories typically portray a working-class character’s struggle to substitute a radical activism for the passivity inspired by mass culture. Leane Zugsmith’s “Room in the World,” for instance, describes a desperate unemployed man who makes sandwich boards for his family to wear while picketing his former workplace. The story’s crisis involves his daughter crying because a classmate she admired, a girl who “looked like Shirley Temple,” saw her picketing.(f.18) The conflict between popular images of passive femininity and the public display of poverty required by radical culture humiliates the daughter, a fact that only the sensitive mother and narrator understands.

Such separation of characters with incorrect political and cultural allegiances from the wise narrator is often sharp in this type of story, and too often it leads to the uneasy synthesis seen in Zugsmith’s piece. In the final paragraphs the wise mother — afraid to anger her husband — “found the tone she had lately learned to use … a casual conversational voice.” That is, she becomes the locus of rationality and draws the family together by explaining the motivation of the hot-headed father to the wrong-headed daughter and vice versa. With this conclusion, Zugsmith employs the basic tropes of sentimental fiction for a nostalgic critique of mass culture. The moral authority of the mother, the family as an image of solidarity, the home as a site for renewing one’s faith — these gestures associate the proletarian radicalism with the formulae of sentimental fiction.(f.19) Although this strategy produced a number of promising experiments — especially by women writers — the conflation of narrator and parent often reduces the narrative to a didactic message. The narrator’s role, as in Zugsmith’s story, is to replace mass culture’s vulgarity with a more proper political etiquette, yet the reader never knows exactly how that writing/narrating subject managed to escape mass culture’s pernicious influence.

Many writers in the thirties commented on the exaggerated distance between mass culture and socialist culture assumed in proletarian stories, and a second type of prose developed around this theme. Writers such as Barney Conal attempted to make meta-commentary on socialist culture a part of that culture; his “Notes on a Character,” for example, more self-consciously refers to its protagonist as a “character” in charting shifts in his cultural allegiances.(f.20) The story begins with the narrator recounting that Tommy appreciates his new wife because “he thought she had ‘class'”; that is, he liked the fact that she read books. As the story progresses, his wife’s desire to establish a family life appropriate to her “class” comes into conflict with Tommy’s “sport’s-world culture”: “She only believed in the desirable things she couldn’t reach. He, it turned out, believed only in what was, no matter what” (47). His wife’s desire for upward mobility contrasts with Tommy’s fatalism, an attitude, the narrator points out, that is bolstered by his reading of the Daily Sun and The Saturday Evening Post, and his playing of baseball and basketball. With these details, Conal points out that Tommy is aware of cultural differences, and that his knowledge is not created by mass culture so much as enhanced by it.

In the second half of the story, the “character” confronts Communist culture: “I looked at some of their stuff,” he tells the narrator, “but it don’t get me … it’s too deep” (49). Initially, he continues to read the Daily Sun, since he finds that the writers in the left magazines “talk too much” and use obscure language to mock people he respects, such as the police. By the last paragraph, however, Tommy is jailed for punching a policeman at a demonstration; “he had switched his allegiance” from his wife’s “class” to “these baffling, battling groups who would not sell out.” The key factors in this switch are Tommy’s admiration for the Communists’ “action” and his need for “a crowd, as he used to know when he was a kid” (51). In other words, it is in the sociological rather than the literary sense that radical culture attracts Tommy. He feels comfortable when its practices overlap with the pragmatism and camaraderie of his “sport’s-world culture,” and only then does he begin to voice new opinions. In the last sentence of the story he rescinds his earlier objection to socialist culture with the statement that “Some cops are damn fools.” This conclusion, then, rejects an implicit premise of proletarian writing — the theory that socialist culture is an alternative to or replacement for mass culture. Instead, Conal describes a radicalism that originates in and transforms mass culture. Finally, he implies that socialist writers should take advantage of the radical potential in mass culture.

Of course, “Notes on a Character” is not itself an example of the kind of writing that Conal might call for, since it, too, appears in a periodical that preaches to the converted — and to the intellectuals among the converted, no less. Furthermore, the story shares a basic technique with proletarian writing: it separates the narrator almost completely from the dynamics described. The narrator of “Notes on a Character” translates the experiences of the inarticulate character and generalizes freely from the particular: “it was as though all the capitalist-trained and ignorant, honest masses had spoken,” the narrator concludes after Tommy makes an unusually blunt statement about his dilemma (49). One is never in any doubt that the narrator is a socialist who cheers Tommy’s progressive radicalization. This split between the righteous narrator and the erring characters is not quite as troubling here as in Zugsmith’s story — perhaps because Conal exhorts the radical audience to listen to his character and learn from him; he is not quite as interested in disciplining the character into rationality. None the less, phrases such as “the capitalist-trained and ignorant, honest masses” rankle, since they imply that the narrator is somehow free from the influence of capitalist (read, mass) culture.

A third attempt by 1930s writers to soften the moral and to lessen the opposition between the subject and object of narration is evident in documentary stories such as James T. Farrell’s “Jazz-Age Clerk.” Farrell tried to eliminate the narrator altogether — or at least to relegate that function to the extreme margins of the narrative.(f.21) His primary innovation in this regard is the use of interior monologue to describe the highs and lows experienced by a jaunty young clerk on his lunch hour. This approach interweaves the young clerk’s consciousness with the language of popular songs and films, suggesting that the clerk assesses the world (and the women) around him according to the standards provided by mass culture:

He saw an athletically built blonde, and she was just bow wows, the kind to look at and weep. He jerked his shoulders to the jazz rhythm of another song:

I’m running wild, I’m runnin’ wild

I lost control …

Now if there would only be some mama like that in the restaurant, and if he could only get next to her.(f.22)

The clerk desires the woman who corresponds to an image provided by mass culture (“an athletically built blonde”), and this image in turn recalls a jazz song. Thus, both the desire and the language in which the clerk expresses his desire derive from mass culture. This does not imply, however, that Farrell views the clerk’s thoughts as by-products of mass culture; in fact, Farrell explicitly states that the clerk uses mass culture as a way of “expressing his feelings.” His expert selection of mass culture fragments speaks to the world, and he shapes that world by offering it new slang and linguistic experimentation. To highlight this aspect of mass culture, Farrell makes continuous and humourous use of such “jazz-age” expressions as “bow wows,” “mama,” and “get next to,” with the result that mass culture appears in the story in two modes: as a constraining and as a creative feature of the clerk’s consciousness.

This dual legacy of mass culture contrasts with the other, more limited cultural options presented in the story. A “slatternly peroxide-blonde waitress” lets out a dull “What’ll you have?” that suggests the kind of working-class fatalism described by Conal. The clerk refuses to sympathize with her, instead insisting rather defensively that he lives a high life in the dancehalls. Later, he encounters a living version of the high life he desires: walking into the lobby of a fancy hotel, “he felt as if he were in a moving picture world” and he begins to imagine “a movie with him the hero.” As at the lunch counter, a moment of shabbiness intrudes when he fears the bell boy will eject him from the lobby. Quickly inventing an excuse for his presence, he is shocked to find that the bell boy passes him by without a glance; he discovers that he is not visible to the inhabitants of this movie palace — not to the bell boy or to the beautiful women of his fantasies. This dream world is disrupted, in any case, by his awareness of time. The story ends with him anxiously rushing back to the office, and the reader concludes that here is a third and perhaps most “real” alternative to mass culture: the world of work and the clerk’s perilous position in it.

Although an alternative culture based on knowledge of the working world is at least suggested here, and while Farrell offers a complex view of how mass culture works, the clerk’s consciousness is still isolated in a fantasy realm; in other words, Farrell implies a theory of false consciousness. Self-awareness remains an unpleasant disruption of the clerk’s fantasy world, and the author does not portray the clerk receiving and approving images that correspond more closely to his situation, but as always desiring something far beyond his reach. In short, the documentary form has difficulty exploring the object of the story, the clerk, without reintroducing the subject or the evaluative narrator. Since its form does attempt to eliminate the latter, it is open to the charges of insincerity, manipulation, and propagandistic intent that have been levelled against it.(f.23) The presence of a subject or a reality positioned outside the pervasive jazz-age culture that the story describes reads as a betrayal of the form, if not also of the object.

The fourth type of leftist prose from the United States — reportage — also encounters the problem of faithfully representing the object. In this form, writers explicitly articulated their partisan views and attempted to demonstrate that the events they reported corroborated these views. In theory, reportage recaptured the object by making the writer one object among many. The problem, as Meridel Le Sueur put it, was that

If you come from the middle class, words are likely to mean more than an event. You are likely to think about a thing, and the happening will be the size of a pin point and the words around the happening very large, distorting it queerly. It’s a case of “Remembrance of Things Past.” When you are in the event, you are likely to have a distinctly individualistic attitude, to be only partly there, and to care more for the happening afterwards than when it is happening.(f.24)

Though hoping to proportion their writing like an event and thereby recapture the real object, reporters like Le Sueur found that most modes of writing at their command shrank the event down to “the size of a pinpoint.” Furthermore, as a result of their “distinctly individualistic attitude,” they themselves were “only partly there.” To be fully there, to equate the writing subject with the object, required new words and concepts that were small, unobtrusive, almost transparent — the very opposite of the self-indulgent, formal decadence of Proust’s purportedly middle-class work, Remembrance of Things Past. By articulating this theory, however, Le Sueur was not encouraging a pseudo-objective journalistic style like that used in the mass media; rather, her discussion of the difficulty of pursuing objectivity aims at making the conditions of writing one of the objects of writing.

This emphasis on the writing subject is characteristic of left-wing reportage, though not all reporters, like Le Sueur, articulated a theory in the process. Take, for example, Tillie Lerner’s “The Strike.” This piece begins with reflections on writing that emphasize Lerner’s solidarity with struggling workers by revealing her own labour process: “Do not ask me to write of the strike and the terror,” she writes; “If I could go away for a while, if there were time and quiet, perhaps I could do it.”(f.25) Distancing herself from the immediacy of the event because she fears it will silence her, Lerner finds she must turn her attention to the linguistic codes that organize her own and other people’s writing. As a result, she begins to distinguish typographically between the newspaper headlines (“LONGSHOREMEN OUT”) and slogans the strikers use to steel themselves (“H-E-L-L C-A-N’-T S-T-O-P U-S”), and the quiet observations one person makes to another (“we’re through sweating blood”). She takes care to demarcate these different types of language because the disparities among mass culture, socialist culture and the private voice anger her, stimulate her and lend her both subject matter and form.

Recognizing these disparities — that the alliance between subjects and objects of representation had not yet been achieved — was a necessary feature of socialist culture in the US in the 1930s, and for this reason the tone that dominates the short prose of the period is one of anxiety. In Zugsmith’s, Conal’s, Farrell’s and Lerner’s pieces, the narrators anxiously pursue the object and attempt to wrest it from mass culture; thus, they continually reflect the anxiety produced in a contest between cultures. At their worst, these efforts devolve into the personal sorrow of the frustrated, lonely intellectual,(f.26) but at their best such experiments enabled many writers — and especially women — to describe what they saw as a new alliance between themselves and the working class, and between the subject and object of their writing.(f.27) Although the writers of reportage, like the proletarian short story writers and the documentarists, did not always accomplish their goals, their work clearly registers a desire to transform their medium. More specifically, they reveal the shared hypothesis that writing in and against a pervasive mass media would alter the political possibilities of writing.

The Canadian Left: In Pursuit of Realism

If Canadian intellectuals during the 1930s commonly compared their own situation unfavourably to that of writers and artists in the United States, in hindsight we might evaluate their situation differently. In comparison to the United States, the Canadian literary left of the 1930s seems to have established a pattern of political engagement that ultimately made a more lasting mark on its national culture. While there was no New Deal in Canada, the 1930s saw the introduction of a long-lived social-democratic party in which intellectuals played a significant role: the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF).(f.28) In specifically cultural matters, left-wing Canadian intellectuals set precedents by actively supporting public interest broadcasting, and some of this work helped pave the way for a structure of governmental support for the arts envied by many Americans.(f.29) Their efforts may also have helped Canadians to resist the worst excesses of the McCarthyist persecution that erased many 1930s writers from cultural memory in the United States.(f.30) While Canada certainly was not immune from Cold War anti-Communism, left-wing poets such as those associated with New Provinces could remain important figures in Canadian literary history, and a number of significant works written in and about the thirties reached the public later — often to considerable acclaim.(f.31) In all, the 1930s left has remained a significant reference point in Canadian literary culture.

The political structure of the Canadian left in the thirties probably had something to do with what, in the long run, we might call its relative success. Because the Canadian political scene had two major left parties — the CCF and the Communists — a greater range of roles was available for intellectuals to play than in the US. Also, familiarity with British Labour Party politics ensured that left-wing ideas had greater legitimacy in the public discourse.(f.32) Furthermore, although the intellectuals supporting both parties were heavily concentrated in Toronto and Montreal, activists from all regions of Canada united in their resistance to American cultural imperialism.(f.33) Despite regional differences, Canadian intellectuals usually preferred what A.J.M. Smith called “provincial” culture to an imported mass culture. This preference resulted, I will argue, in a distinctly Canadian form of alliance between national and socialist cultures.

One of the major magazines articulating this alliance was Canadian Forum. This magazine originated in the wave of cultural nationalism that excited Canadian intellectuals during the 1920s, and during the 1930s it sustained this sentiment in supporting the CCF. Perhaps as a result, it was the only Canadian literary magazine on the left to survive the Depression. The editors consistently emphasized specifically Canadian writing and politics, since these issues appealed to a politically heterogeneous selection of readers. However, the other Canadian literary periodicals with a markedly left-wing orientation, Masses and New Frontier, also articulated nationalist sentiments. Although these were officially internationalist in their content, both magazines justified their existence through nationalism. Masses wanted to find and encourage a Canadian proletarian literature, and New Frontier wanted to widen the Canadian audience for left-wing literature.(f.34) The latter project involved not only informing the Canadian public of interesting new works by French, Russian, American and British authors; it also involved a strong focus on publishing poetry, fiction and commentary by rising stars in the Canadian literary world, such as A.M. Klein, Dorothy Livesay, Leo Kennedy, Morley Callaghan, and Ted Allan.

Whatever the differences between the three major leftist magazines in Canada, all shared a basic project, concerned with creating a socialist culture in Canada rather than simply disseminating it, as the American periodicals did. This emphasis on creation might have had something to do with the fact that they were not supplementing a flourishing book publishing industry, nor could they rely on sympathetic reviews in liberal magazines; instead, these magazines were the major site of left-wing literary activity in Canada during the 1930s. Left-wing writers created these magazines in order to have an outlet, and hence were often their most frequent contributors. Editors published their own material, and the creation and distribution of Canadian socialist culture fused. Perhaps for this reason, the writer/editors of Canadian periodicals usually published exclusively in their own periodicals or, when they did publish elsewhere, chose a Canadian competitor. Encouraging Canadian literary culture was a priority for the left-wing in Canada, since they were interested in building a national resistance to mass culture. As Smith’s preface to New Provinces indicates, this resistance combined modernist techniques with provincial realism in a distinctly Canadian socialist culture.

Perhaps the unique qualities of leftist prose in Canada emerge most clearly in the reportage. For example, Dorothy Livesay’s “Corbin — A Company Town Fights for its Life,” an account of life among striking coal-miners in British Columbia, begins with anxiety about borders.(f.35) Livesay describes the subterfuges she resorted to in order to visit the mining town. Though the border refers to provinces rather than nations, it emphasizes the report’s specifically Canadian locale. Livesay identifies the site of struggle (Corbin, British Columbia) and her own point of origin (Crow’s Nest Pass, Alberta) to emphasize the distance of both from any metropolitan or imperialist centres of power. She records local dialect, quoting extensively from the miners’ conversation and paying particular attention to the different accents of workers from Czechoslovakia, Nova Scotia and Ontario. When not quoting dialogue, she describes the events of the strike in the style of a summary more than of a synthesis or interpretation; she spends much of the report recounting details about how much rationed food the miners allow themselves, explaining how they survive from day to day. In other words, while Le Sueur and Lerner concentrated on the reporter’s anxiety about writing, Livesay grounds her report in her desire to go native, to fit into the mining community. The primary goal of her report is a precise rendering of the particularities of the local situation and the character of local resistance to invaders.

As Livesay tells it, the invading force is not herself as reporter, but the company “Corbin Collieries, Ltd., an American firm” (203). The firm is described through images of the system: it controls water, electricity, sanitation, schools, medicine — all from outside the town. But most significantly here, the “American firm” controls the newspapers: “They would not print our facts,” a miner’s wife tells Livesay, “but lies that came from the other side…. It makes you sore to think that people on the outside don’t know what happened” (204). The miners are not presented as the childish victims of the mass media; on the contrary, they seem fully aware of the extent to which the newspapers misrepresent them. They even lament the fact that other people, “on the outside” might believe “the other side.” The “outside” is the “other side,” and worker’s knowledge of the narrative produced in the local community encourages them to criticize invasions by the media.

The incursions of the American firm and its media representatives also contrast with the miners’ sense of a national culture. Represented by the police and by government relief programs, this culture supports the company’s interests. The police attack the miners and relief removes them from the town, allowing replacement workers to fill their jobs. Consequently, the miners view the national government as an invading force as well: “I used to be patriotic,” one woman tells Livesay, “I’d stand up on my little Maple Leaf in front of anyone. But I learned my lesson. We all did” (206). A sense of solidarity within the town — and with other nearby mining towns providing some support — distinguishes nationalism from patriotism. The miners are firm in their Canadian distaste for “an American firm,” but this does not mean they support the Canadian government. Instead, a nationalism growing out of regional or provincial culture, Livesay suggests, is giving birth to a genuinely socialist culture; she goes on to describe how the experience of solidarity led the onetime maple leafer to a newfound appreciation for articles in The Worker, a Communist labour newspaper.

Most of the themes that preoccupied Livesay also appear in the fiction published in left-wing Canadian periodicals. As in the US, this fiction takes three basic forms, the first of which concentrates on describing work. Like the proletarian stories, short workday fiction such as Dyson Carter’s “East Nine” makes use of a radical narrator who interprets working-class life.(f.36) Carter’s Winnipeg story, however, focuses less on narrowing the gap between the subject and object of the story than on creating an empathetic relation between the reader and the characters. Carter’s essentially realist aesthetic aims at involving the reader in a specific community of sufferers. Language in these stories does not hinder the intellectual subject as often as it brings together local cultures, and “realism” here usually indicates the quest for an authentic (local) language or dialect.

The “East Nine” of Carter’s title refers to a hospital ward housing recipients of worker’s compensation. The equivalent of the town of Corbin in Livesay’s reportage, this ward also represents a self-sufficient, multi-ethnic community defending itself from invasion. The most important invader here is Carl Thorsen, a proud Norwegian who was horribly maimed in a sawmill. Thorsen speaks only a few words in the story, and these only in the first scene in the mill. His wounded consciousness is represented by a chaotic gaze that was “unreal and without meaning as some trick movie shot with crazy perspectives” (71). The narrator clearly prefers a real, meaningful perspective to his “crazy,” media-inspired rambling, and one attempt to reach the real occurs in the painful narration of Carl’s accident — an account that produces a visceral sympathy in the reader. A second, more protracted approach to the real develops from the community of voices on the ward.

The community discovers common ground as its members resist further incursions into their territory. The first visitor, the supervisor directly responsible for Carl’s accident, is depicted as feeling guilty and defensive, and the men on the ward bond by mocking him. The narrator intrudes into his consciousness only to note that while exiting the ward he is mentally composing a want-ad for a worker to fill Carl’s position. The message is clear: the mass media are his tools, while irony and solidarity belong to the workers. Other intruders include a doctor, Carl’s father, the memory of Carl’s wife, a Jehovah’s Witness, and death. The doctor and the Witness receive much the same treatment as the boss, while the father and the memory of the wife remind the men of their shared pain. After Carl raves deliriously about them, they become, for the men, mythically proportioned counter-images to the mass media: “Never again would they see a fair Norwegian woman,” Carter writes, “without the memory of that ghastly night rising to blur their vision” (78). In the end, though, these symbols drive some of the men to religious quibbling, and the real strength of their community appears only in their resistance to death. When Carl catches pneumonia, Wardle, a Communist organizer, investigates. He gathers facts and writes a petition, activities that do not save Carl but do unite the men and provide the basis for a final, lyrical apostrophe to the dying man, written in a collective voice.

This collective voice moralizes freely: “Fellow man, worker, comrade, farewell. The motor is repaired, the plane sings, the bee-hive profits mount. No longer wretched, no longer of this earth, rest. We of East Nine who struggle and have yet to die, salute you” (85). The moral is not a lesson that the characters need to learn; it is an ironic statement directed towards the society at large. In a parody of bombast, Carter dramatically juxtaposes the false labels used by the world outside the ward — motor, plane, profits — with the single, ironic fact of death. The language of motors, planes and profits means death for the men of East Nine, and this realist translation is the only alternative he offers to the “crazy” perspectives that would direct our attention elsewhere. Using a collective and ironic voice, Carter invites the reader into the hospital community; he insists that the reader participate in the construction of the moral by reading through the story’s irony to a narrative of cause and effect.

Carter’s editors at New Frontier noted that his stories were quite popular with their readership, and other Canadian writers similarly chose to strike an ironic note.(f.37) Rather than equating mass culture with death and insanity, however, prolific short story writers such as Mary Quayle Innis explored the more seductive side of mass-marketed images. Tackling a topic similar to Farrell’s, Innis’s story “Holiday” describes a woman on relief who spends her free afternoon wandering through a department store looking for “something nice to take the bad taste out of her mouth.”(f.38) Wandering among the cosmetics, bath soaps, powder puffs and velvet dresses, she convinces herself that the “store was for everybody” despite considerable evidence to the contrary. Although clerks refuse to serve her and usher her away from the merchandise, although a pompous matriarch lectures her for bringing her baby out among so many germs, she continues to cherish the illusion of the democracy of the marketplace. In short, Innis assumes that the reader will understand the woman’s thoughts to be false consciousness, but empathize with her regardless of the structural irony.

Unlike Farrell’s story, however, most of “Holiday” is not given over to explicating the ebbs and flows of the woman’s stream of consciousness, nor does it reproduce the relentlessly modern language of popular music and advertising. On the contrary, Innis’s character demonstrates an almost childish lack of knowledge of the names and functions of the products that surround her: “A salesgirl at the corner of the counter sprayed a lady with perfume out of a tall crystal atomizer and a few of the tiny drops fell sparkling on Nettie’s shoulder. She smiled and sniffed them appreciatively. That was nice. Rose, it smelled like, though you couldn’t tell. They had such funny names” (140). The tone insists on Nettie’s naivete, and even colloquialisms such as “rose, it smelled like” have a faintly Victorian ring. Innis’s goal, then, is not to create an accurate, up-to-date portrait of a working-class mother or to celebrate the mother’s role, as Zugsmith does. Instead, she provokes our sympathy for this woman on the basis of a common humanity, emphasising Nettie’s desire for beauty, her love for children, her need to rest. To evoke this kind of bond, Innis relies on what one critic has called a “moderate realism”,(f.39) that is, she employs a traditional narrator who explains the state of mind of the character, justifies the actions of that character, positions the encounters with other characters as illicit interruptions, and accustoms the reader to uncomfortable material in the contemporary setting. The goal of this realist aesthetic is to create a community of feeling between the reader and object of narration, rather than to rationalize to subject’s distribution of the object.

By 1936, stories like Innis’s — exploring the thoughts and feelings of unemployed and impoverished people — were so common that the well-known short story writer Morley Callaghan could remark of their continued proliferation, “[i]f this keeps on it will appear that either all the young writers of the country are out of work, or that they all feel a little frustrated, a little cynical, or even defeated, and that living in this country doesn’t leave one with a strong feeling.” In contrast to this projection of writerly insecurity, Callaghan urged writers to sound “a lustier crowing.”(f.40) Such a crowing would involve countering a “strong feeling” about their own country with the frustration provoked by encounters with an invasive mass culture.

When writers like Marion Nelson answered Callaghan’s challenge, they often turned out stories presenting the dilemma of intellectuals. For example, Nelson’s “What’s Wrong with Us, Webb?” follows the thoughts flying through the mind of an indecisive young teacher who “didn’t even know which side was his own.”(f.41) On the eve of his resignation from a post at an exclusive boys’ school, he feels torn between his service to wealthy chair-warmers and a romantic notion of rescuing the working classes. The story follows his vacillating sympathies, as he applies his derisive wit first to “the school’s soundest advertisement” — its playing fields — then to his radical girlfriend’s seriousness, then to a slightly more radical fellow teacher, and finally to his pompous supervisor. The outcome of the story is ambiguous, since Webb plunges himself back into his work, laughing and comparing his fantasies of rescue to “a bunch of carrots before the nose.”

Interpreted in terms of cultural or aesthetic options, however, the conclusion is clearer. Webb’s elitist scorn for bread and circuses is a constant theme: from the first mention of the school as an advertisement to the final metaphor of carrots, the young teacher views everything around him — the school, his girlfriend’s tears, his friend’s politics — as a conflict between image and reality. An aesthetic preference for realism leads him to feel considerable scorn for the other teachers, “whose leisure was by preference giving to the reading of comic strips and to the cracking of dull jokes concerning them” (10). For Webb, the culture of comic strips too clearly is associated with capitulation to the school hierarchy to be pleasurable, and he comes to prefer the other radical teacher’s probing history lessons for their aesthetic and eventually, we are led to hope, their political appeal.

This combination of realist aesthetic and political skepticism makes it difficult for Webb to appreciate socialist culture immediately, but the following passage demonstrates how the aesthetic begins to alter the politics:

Webb’s strong point was his sense of humour. He amused people, he said witty things, often without thought. Frances [the girlfriend] had suddenly wanted him to grow serious. Once, he remembered, she had wept at a joke of his — something or other about Ethiopia, the details escaped him now. She had wept bitterly and he had comforted her, only dimly understanding her pain then. After that she began to give him pamphlets and a string of novels about people on relief (8).

The passage describes Webb’s incomplete understanding of politics and shows how he uses wit as a cover for his lack of comprehension, but significantly, the passage is also a memory. Webb remembers that he had a partial understanding, and his preference for realism makes him uncomfortable with the thought that he has been deluded. In that gesture, in that brief desire to improve himself by understanding his girlfriend’s real “pain,” Webb offers a glimmer of hope. Once he begins applying a realist aesthetic to his own self-image, once he begins to separate his own self-advertising as a witty fellow from his real purposes, Nelson implies, the road to political engagement begins. Since Nelson is faithful to the technique of internal monologue, she does not allow the narrator to conclude what those real purposes might be for Webb, but her story does suggest that asking the title question “What’s Wrong with Us” is a necessary step for intellectuals seeking an alternative to mass culture. As long as Webb refuses to identify his problem, he remains unallied — without a “side” — and therefore outside the communities already writing “pamphlets” and “strings of novels about people on relief.”

Although Nelson’s, Innis’s, Carter’s and Livesay’s versions of realist prose are not entirely consonant with the more consistently modernist poetry of the New Provinces anthology, taken together these literary experiments do highlight a basic difference between the literature found in American and Canadian periodicals of the 1930s: the difference between pursuing the object in itself and pursuing the local reality that unites subject and object. This difference, I have argued, results from the different positions of American and Canadian writers vis-a-vis mass culture. While left-wing writers in the US viewed mass culture as a pervasive feature of their environment and anxiously experimented with literary forms that would describe its effect on working-class consciousness, Canadian writers saw mass culture as an invader from the south and sought sources of resistance in regional culture. As a result, each country’s socialists developed a different aesthetic and political style.

Realism vs. Objectivism: National Culture

If the different positions in relation to mass culture can explain the different aesthetics adopted by left-wing writers in the US and Canada, what explains the different relations to mass culture? Most cultural historians interested in such a question conclude that the two countries have separate national cultures: some consider the difference primarily political and call attention to the contrast between a country founded by revolution and one founded by treaty; between a two-and three-party political structure; between a republic and a federation, or — speaking more particularly of the thirties — between a Communist-dominated left and a social-democratic left. Others emphasize ethical differences — contrasting individualism and Puritanism in the United States to a Canadian sense of community and social gospel. Still others discuss economic, technological, geographical, climatic, or historical factors that differentiate the two nations.(f.42) Margaret Atwood’s thematic survey Survival, associated with 1970s nationalism, pointed to a particular relationship to the land as a unique feature of Canadian literary culture.(f.43) The implication of these studies is that any difference between the positions of American and Canadian writers in mass culture simply reflects a difference in the national cultures.

The problem with this absolutely nationalist position is that it tends to relegate marginal cultures that developed in both countries to obscurity. For example, Atwood suggests that certain left-leaning writers cannot properly be considered Canadian, because they “connect [their] social protest not with the Canadian predicament specifically, but with some other group or movement: the workers in the thirties, persecuted minority groups such as the Japanese uprooted during the war.”(f.44) This statement was bound to irritate a writer like Dorothy Livesay, who had devoted herself to both causes as well as to a lifetime of writing, publishing, and teaching Canadian literature.(f.45) In Atwood’s view, Livesay and the other thirties writers for whom she stands leap too quickly from personal concerns to “The World,” by-passing intermediary categories such as the region and the nation.

I hope to have demonstrated that, on the contrary, whatever the problems inherent in the political theory of the thirties, “nation,” however viewed, remained an important category in socialist cultural productions of that period; this category was part of the self-conscious analysis of culture in the thirties as well as its practice. Furthermore, I have pointed out parallels between American and Canadian socialist writings in order to suggest that the marked national differences are relative rather than absolute. I see the two cultures of the thirties as having developed in relation to one another and as usefully studied together.(f.46) In my view, mass culture, socialist culture and national culture were continually contesting one another in the 1930s as in the 1960s and 1970s, and only by clarifying the interrelations among them will we be able to identify with certainty any single contestant in this shifting terrain.


(f.1) A list of interesting recent work on the 1930s would include the following: James D. Bloom, Left Letters: The Culture Wars of Mike Gold and Joseph Freeman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992); Paul Buhle, Marxism in the US (New York: Verso, 1987); Elizabeth Faue, Community of Suffering and Struggle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1991); Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1990); Robbie Lieberman, “My Song Is My Weapon”: People’s Songs, American Communism, and the Politics of Culture, 1930-1950 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989); Barbara Melosh, Engendering Culture: Manhood and Womanhood in New Deal Public Art and Theatre (Washington: Smithsonian, 1991); James Murphy, The Proletarian Moment: The Controversy Over Leftism in Literature (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991); Cary Nelson, Repression and Recovery (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1989); Paula Rabinowitz, Labor and Desire: Women’s Revolutionary Fiction in Depression America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991); and Alan Wald, The New York Intellectuals (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989). The Feminist Press reprintings of important novels by women of the thirties — such as Josephine Herbst’s Rope of Gold, Fielding Burke’s Call Home the Heart, Tess Slesinger’s The Unpossessed, and Agnes Smedley’s Daughter of Earth — are also invaluable to the study of this period.

(f.2) See Granville Hicks, The Great Tradition (New York: Macmillan, 1933), 303-5; V.F. Calverton, The Liberation of American Literature (New York: Scribner’s, 1932), 36. On the Canadian left, a statement such as Dorothy Livesay’s that “[u]ntil our writers are social realists (proletarian writers if you will) we will have no Canadian literature” does not seem to have been unacceptable. “Proletarianitis in Canada,” in Right Hand, Left Hand (Toronto: Press Porcepic, 1977), 230.

(f.3) Controversies surrounding American exceptionalism created major factional disputes in the Communist Party during the late 1920s. Buhle, Chapter 4.

(f.4) Reprinted in New Provinces, ed. Michael Gnarowski (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1976), xxvii-xxxii, xxix. Further references to Smith’s preface will appear in the text.

(f.5) Joyce Wayne and Stuart MacKinnon describe the controversy surrounding A Book of Canadian Poetry in “Dorothy Livesay: A Literary Life on the Left” in A Public and Private Voice: Essays on the Life and Work of Dorothy Livesay, ed. Lindsay Dorsey, et al. (Waterloo, Ont.: University of Waterloo, 1986), 37-38.

(f.6) Warren Susman, “Culture and Civilization in the 1920s,” in Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York: Pantheon, 1984), 105-21.

(f.7) For a further description of this controversy, see Gnarowski’s introduction to the 1976 edition of the New Provinces anthology.

(f.8) Clement Greenberg, “Avant-garde and Kitsch,” Partisan Review 6,5 (1939), 34-49.

(f.9) See Robert Weaver, “Books” and Arnold Edinborough, “The Press,” in Mass Media in Canada, ed. John A. Irving (Toronto: Ryerson, 1962), 31-50, 15-28. More recent studies agree with this assessment; see Fraser Sutherland’s The Monthly Epic: A History of Canadian Magazines, 1789-1989 (Markham, Ont.: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1989). For discussion of the US publishing industry in the thirties, see Alice G. Marquis, Hopes and Ashes: The Birth of Modem Times, 1929-1939 (New York: Free Press, 1986); and Theodore Peterson, Magazines in the Twentieth Century (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1956).

(f.10) Although the tariff debate began in the 1920s, Canadian magazine publishers took up their struggle to exclude US magazines from the Canadian market again during the early 1930s. See Isaiah Litvak and Christopher Maule, Cultural Sovereignity: The Time and Reader’s Digest Case in Canada (New York: Praeger, 1974), 23-26.

(f.11) See Buhle for further intellectual history.

(f.12) Dos Passos contributed the “near-beer” anecdote to a Modern Quarterly survey entitled “Whither the American Writer” (Summer 1932), 11-12. Cited in Townsend Ludington’s exhaustive biography, John Dos Passos: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1980), 313.

(f.13) Jack Conroy recounts the many difficulties he and Nelson Algren encountered in their many years of publishing little magazines in Chicago in the introduction to Writers in Revolt: The Anvil Anthology, ed. Jack Conroy and Curt Johnson (New York: Lawrence Hill, 1974), ix-xxi.

(f.14) For example, Walter Rideout charges that Gold retained editorship of New Masses “with the result that the literary contents often seemed artistically crude and the circulation remained numerically unimpressive.” The Radical Novel in the United States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956), 149. Bloom evaluates Gold’s influence on the literary scene of the thirties more positively.

(f.15) See bibliography of Meridel Le Sueur’s writings in Harvest Song: Collected Essays and Stories (Albuquerque: West End Press, 1977), 242-43. Similarly, Josephine Herbst, Agnes Smedley and Mary Heaton Vorse published simultaneously in American Mercury, New Masses and New Republic.

(f.16) Peterson discusses the disproportionate influence leftist magazines exerted.

(f.17) Henry Siedel Canby, “The Threatening Thirties,” Saturday Review of Literature 16, 4 (22 May 1937), 3-4, 14; Alan Calmer, “Portrait of the Artist as a Proletarian,” Saturday Review of Literature 16, 14 (31 July 1937), 3-4, 14; Robert Briffault, “The Left Turn in Literature,” Scribner’s 42, 2 (August 1932), 88-90; R.W. Steadman, “A Critique of Proletarian Literature: An Objective Appraisal of Recent Radical Writing in America,” North American Review 247, 1 (March 1939), 142-52; Harold Strauss, “Realism in the Proletarian Novel,” Yale Review XXVIII, 2 (December 1938), 360-74; Sidney Hook, “Socialism at the Crossroads,” Saturday Review XI, 1 (21 July 1934), 1.

(f.18) Leane Zugsmith, “Room in the World,” in Writing Red: An Anthology of American Women Writers, 1930-1940, ed. Paula Rabinowitz (New York: Feminist Press, 1987), 46-51.

(f.19) Robert F. Haugh, “Sentimentalism in the American Proletarian Novel.” Ph.D., University of Michigan, 1947.

(f.20) Barney Conal, “Notes on A Character,” Partisan Review (June-July 1934), 46-51.

(f.21) James T. Farrell, “A Jazz Age Clerk,” New Frontier (July 1936), 9-11. Although this story appeared in a Canadian magazine, it closely resembles other Farrell stories and the experiments with documentary made by US writers such as John Dos Passos, Ruth McKenney, and James Agee.

(f.22) Farrell, “A Jazz Age Clerk,” 9.

(f.23) William Stott offers a typical critique of documentary in his Documentary Expression and Thirties America (New York: Oxford, 1973), 189. Stott charges that written forms of radical documentary, such as reportage, were primitive, emotional, distorted, reductive and fanatical.

(f.24) Meridel Le Sueur, “I Was Marching,” originally published 1934 in New Masses, reprinted in Ripening, Selected Work, 1927-1980, ed. Elaine Hedges (Old Westbury, NY: Feminist Press, 1982), 158-65.

(f.25) Tillie Lerner, “The Strike,” Partisan Review 1, 4 (1934), 3-9.

(f.26) Georg Lukacs argues that reportage is based on an exaggerated rejection of the psychologism of the bourgeois novel, and that reportage therefore remains within the constraints of psychologism; see “Reportage or Portrayal?” in Essays on Realism, trans. David Fernbach, ed. by Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1980), 45-75. Lukacs’s views were not unknown in the US in the thirties, since the editors of Partisan Review published an abridged version of another essay of his on a similar theme, “Propaganda or Partisanship?” in their second issue (April-May 1939), 36-46.

(f.27) For two theories on the attraction of such experiments for women writers, see Charlotte Nekola,” Worlds Unseen: Political Women Journalists and the 1930s” in Writing Red (189-97); and Andreas Huyssen’s “Mass Culture as A Woman: Modernism’s Other” in Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture, ed. Tania Modeleski (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1986), 188-208.

(f.28) Michiel Horn, The League for Social Reconstruction: Intellectual Origins of the Democratic Left in Canada, 1930-42 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980).

(f.29) For accounts of the phases during which federal support for the arts was instituted, see Maria Tippett, Making Culture: English-Canadian Institutions and the Arts before the Massey Commission (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1990); and Paul Litt, The Muses, the Masses and the Massey Commission (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1992).

(f.30) It would be a misrepresentation to say that there was no Canadian version of McCarthyism but, none the less, large scale Canadian counter-espionage did not begin until World War II. Furthermore, some have argued that even in the fifties the Canadian government tended to take a reactive rather than proactive role in persecuting Communists. See J.L. Granatstein and David Stafford, Spy Wars: Espionage and Canada from Gouzenko to Glasnost (Toronto: Key Porter, 1990), v-xii.

(f.31) A list of fiction concerning the left movements of the thirties would include works by some of Canada’s most famous writers: Hugh MacLennan’s bitter but powerful The Watch That Ends the Night; Earle Birney, Down the Long Table; and Mordecai Richler, Joshua Then and Now.

(f.32) See Kenneth McNaught, “Socialism and the Canadian Political Tradition,” in On F.R. Scott: Essays on His Contributions to Law, Literature, and Politics, ed. Sandra Djwa and R. St. J. MacDonald (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1983), 89-102.

(f.33) The CCF, for example, had strong bases of support on the prairies, while Communist organizers had important drives from Vancouver to Prince Edward Island. For discussions of some of the controversies this widely spread support engendered, see Horn and Irving Abella, Nationalism, Communism, and Canadian Labour: The CIO, the Communist Party, and the Canadian Congress of Labour, 1935-1956 (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1973).

(f.34) In the first issue of Masses, L.F. Edwards wrote that the writers in the Canadian Authors Association “seem totally unaware of the obligation to endeavor to express the feelings and thoughts of their countrymen.” “Authorship and Canadiana,” 1, 1 (April 1932). n.p. Editors of New Frontier were out “to acquaint the Canadian public with the work of those writers and artists who are expressing a positive reaction to the social scene.” Editorial, New Frontier, (April 1936), 3. Nationalism was a very complicated issue for leftists in the 1930s; in labour struggles, especially, contradictions between supporting local resistance to US imperialism sometimes conflicted with desire for unionization. For two differing assessments of the results in union organizing, see Abella, and Desmond Morton, Working People (Toronto: Summerhill, 1990), Chapters 14 and 15. For an outline of the history of leftist debates about nationalism, see Robin Mathews, Canadian Identity: Major Forces Shaping the Life of a People (Ottawa: Steel Rail, 1988).

(f.35) Dorothy Livesay, “Corbin — A Company Town Fights for its Life,” in Right Hand, Left Hand, 202-8. Orig. pub. in New Frontier (1936).

(f.36) Dyson Carter, “East Nine” in Voices of Discord, ed. Donna Phillips (Toronto: New Hogtown, 1979), 68-86. Orig. pub. in New Frontier, June 1936, under the pseudonym Jack Parr.

(f.37) Carter’s “short stories are well known to readers of New Frontier, many of whom have written to us to ask for more of them,” his editors wrote in issue 1, 10 (February 1937), 1.

(f.38) Mary Quayle Innis, “Holiday,” in Canadian Forum 12, 136 (1932), 140-2.

(f.39) Margaret Prang, “Some Opinions of Political Radicalism in Canada Between the Two World Wars,” Ph.D., University of Toronto, 1953, 30. Other work in Forum also stresses conservative critical tastes; Ann Stephenson Cowan, “The Canadian Forum, 1920-1950,” Ph.D., Carleton University, 1974.

(f.40) Morley Callaghan, “A Criticism,” in New Frontier 1, 1 (1936), 24.

(f.41) Marion Nelson, “What’s Wrong with Us, Webb?” New Frontier 2, 2 (June 1937), 8-12.

(f.42) Political explanations of national differences between the US and Canada include McNaught, Mathews and Tippett; ethical explanations appear in T.D. MacLulich, Between Europe and America: The Canadian Tradition in Fiction (ECW: Toronto, 1988), 100, and Horn. Other factors are discussed in Paul Rutherford, The Making of the Canadian Media (Toronto: McGraw-Hill, Ryerson, 1978); Marshall McLuhan, “Canada: The Borderline Case,” in The Canadian Imagination: Dimensions of a Literary Culture, ed. David Staines, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 1977), 226-48; and John A. Irving, “The Development of Communications in Canada,” in Mass Media in Canada, 3-12.

(f.43) Margaret Atwood, Survival (Toronto: Anansi, 1972).

(f.44) Atwood, 242.

(f.45) See Livesay’s correspondence with Atwood. Folder 55, Box 46, Dorothy Livesay Collection, University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections, Winnipeg.

(f.46) I share this opinion with Peter Dale Scott, who discusses the relation between American and Canadian literary cultures through the framework of imperialism and neo-colonialism in “The Difference Perspective Makes: Literary Studies in Canada and the United States,” in Essays on Canadian Writing (Fall 1991), 1-60.

Caren Irr is currently revising a book-length manuscript entitled “The Suburb of Dissent: Cultural Politics in the US and Canada During the 1930s.” She joined the Department of English and American Studies at Pennsylvania State University in the fall of 1994.

Copyright Trent University Summer 1995

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

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