The Concise Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature

by Edited by William Toye
529 pages,
ISBN: 019541523X

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by Clara Thomas

It is 35 years, ONLY 35 years, since Norah Story edited the first Oxford Companion to Canadian History and Literature which, together with The Literary History of Canada was a landmark celebratory volume for Canada's Centennial year. Now, thanks to the continuing dedication, devotion and expertise of William Toye, already acknowledged in the Story volume as "bearing a tremendous burden" in its production, we have had two editions and this Concise Companion devoted to Canadian Literature alone. To one of the few who were struggling to teach our literature in the early days each further publication has been a celebratory landmark. The first edition in 1983 was a large and wonderfully detailed vindication of a field of interest and study that was at long last growing rapidly. The second edition in 1997 was a vast compendium with three hundred more entries than the first. Now, to that eminently satisfactory but unwieldy volume has been added an attractive and manageable book of just over 500 pages with none of its readability sacrificed¨a useful and entertaining reference book for student and general reader alike.

In his brief Preface, Toye describes his method of compression: "Omitted were all survey entries, with the exception of those on Aboriginal literature, Exploration literature, and Writing in New France; francophone authors who do not have at least one book in English translation; books EDITED by authors (apart from a few significant titles): and critical bibliographies, though biographies have been noted. Some (historical) author entries were dropped, and it may be thought that more could have been dispensed with." It is, of course, the fate of every Oxford Companion in every field to be subject to the carpings of reviewers on what was omitted and what was included. I don't feel like doing either: I received the book for review one day and picked it up the next. A long time later I put it down again, having thoroughly enjoyed an excursion with the authors and works that were crucial to my long teaching and writing life.

In this edition, the author entries are not signed, but the contributors are listed at the beginning of the book, and anyone who wishes a name can, of course, consult the complete Companion. We have here 61 new entries, as well as a good many updated ones¨the cutoff date for the inclusion of new works was 2000. Finally, Toye gracefully acknowledges the present proliferation of publications in Canada: "In the light of the current explosion of young creative writers, the new author entries in these pages amount to an interim coverage."

There has never been and there will never be any Companion which completely satisfies all its enquirers. But I, who have certainly known years of famine in resource back-up for Canadian Literature, now rejoice in the contemporary years of plenty. William Toye deserves our gratitude. As well, he is uniquely qualified to write of the last decades as he saw them from the editorial chair of the Oxford Press. We are all in his debt now¨we would be even more in his debt should he decide to do so. ˛


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