There is a critical debate as to whether Margaret Atwood's Surfacing is a modern or post-modern novel, and the proponents of these two differing schools of thought offer two contradictory readings of the novel. However, this novel lives on the line between the two literary movements, with one foot anchored firmly in modernism and the other in post-modernism. It partakes of both the modern and post-modern characteristics of form, but it is neither a strictly modern or post-modern novel. Its form demands that Surfacing be read as both.
In The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Margaret Atwood is not interested in the documentary component of Moodie's books Roughing It in the Bush and Life in the Clearings, nor is she even prepared to grant that such a component plays a very central role in the autobiographies. Rather, Atwood is primarily interested in the psychological dimension of the immigrant experience in Canada, the ways in which the encounter with the unexplained wilderness precipitates a psychological reaction which is irrational and symptomatic of something larger than the reality at hand. While not denying the possible validity of Atwood's approach, one cannot help noticing that the dichotomies she identifies are largely illusory, the results of a twentieth-century consciousness looking back on a nineteenth-century life.
Much of F.P. Grove's writing can be considered autobiography, yet only In Search of Myself records the full development of his personal and artistic life. In form and structure, In Search of Myself echoes Over Prairie Trails and A Search for America, but it spans a much wider field of study. Grove outlines his theories of art and life in relation to the development of civilization, considering himself a microcosm of the evolution of man and expressing a deterministic view of personality. His overall plan is to chart the difficulties of finding an audience for his writing; more interesting, however, is the way he creates a personal myth and a series of masks to hide the painful realities of his past. He directs the story of his life toward the readers of his novels, referring to the origins of those fictions. In an important way, also, he addresses his autobiography to his private self, to his imagination, and he invents a past to account for the person he believes himself to be as an adult.
D.C. Scott's "The Water Lily" deals with transcendent experience on the personal, intimate level, which is best communicated figuratively in terms of sexual love. "June Lyrics" and "Twelfth Anniversary" deal with sexual encounter and relationship in marriage in terms of the total expression of human nature, where the transcendent ground of being is an intrinsic and essential reality. The emphasis of these poems is different but complementary. However, in view of the emphasis of his poetry in general, it is notable that Scott deals in depth with this loving relationship present in transcendent experience. Not only does the personal element explain something of the psychology which allows human nature to dare to enter on a serious religious quest, but it helps to balance the more mysterious elements which confound a finite being with insecurity, if not with fear.
Charles G.D. Roberts's "The Tantramar Revisited" makes an unmistakable generic allusion to Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" -- both are "return" poems. Both Wordsworth and Roberts's speakers are disturbed by the "still, sad music of humanity," though their attitudes towards that music are markedly different. Wordsworth is chastened, subdued, and elevated, but Roberts's speaker receives less abundant recompense; Wordsworth can return to a beloved setting without abandoning his other and more human concerns, but Roberts cannot resolve his two concerns, the social and the natural. "The Tantramar Revisited" is thus a homecoming that is not a homecoming; it records the point at which the Romantic poet (in this case, Roberts himself) abandons his childhood view of nature .
In Charles Bruce's fiction, the Shore families feel themselves part of a pattern, something old and continuing, a blend of past, present, and future. These men and women, almost without exception, find that deliverance is merged with the small routines, the incidents of living that they know have been part of the Shore way of life for generations. For Bruce, the chronicle of human existence on the Shore has neither beginning nor end, but contains all time. Moreover, time is not something to be denied or mastered by the individual, but rather embraced as a medium of connection between the self and others, between one's unique, personal condition and the forces behind the dates, names, and places that contribute to such uniqueness.
Although the majority of Patrick Lane's poems are about the places he has worked in or passed through, and about his relationships with people, his canon is also punctuated with poems that reveal considerable anxiety about authority, particularly about the sources of poetic authority which ultimately define the poet's moral stance to his material and to his audience. For Lane, poetry is born in the bondage of experience, and this places it outside the law. The corollary is that the poet is an outlaw, an anarchist whose creative impulses frequently place him in an antagonistic relationship to society and the poetic tradition of which he is a part. As an outlaw, the poet can seek out the sources of creative impulse unconstrained by taboo, fashion, or even the canons of good taste.
"Ellen Lindstedt," a 17-page prose fragment, apparently the beginning of a sequel to Settlers of the March, reveals that the ending of the novel is more subtle and complex than previously thought. The sequel presents new developments which prove conclusively that Niels, the main character of the novel, has by no means achieved contentment. The novel's ending is not necessarily a happy one.
It has been suggested that Athanase Tallard, a character in Hugh MacLennan's Two Solitudes, is based specifically on Robert Owen, a well-known entrepreneur and industrialist of nineteenth-century England. Whether this is factual or not, the historical analogue sheds valuable light on Athanase Tallard's character and on his role in MacLennan's novel, for Owen was a man who neither achieved great practical success not created an original system of thought. His contribution lay in his humanity and in his belief that every person had a right to full humanity. Certainly, there could be no more apt description of what Athanase Tallard represents in Two Solitudes.