Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

May 02, 2003

Babies make giant strides in Canadian fiction, says U of G researcher

Mothers may not get a lot of recognition outside of Mother's Day, but they've received a lot more attention in Canadian fiction than their babies have. Infants are, however, starting to come up in the literary world. University of Guelph research officer Sandra Sabatini has found that because babies are becoming more predominant in contemporary Canadian fiction, they are developing their own literary identity.

Sabatini, a mother of five, documents this revelation in her upcoming book, Making Babies: Infants in Canadian Fiction. "People long dismissed infants in literature as uninteresting because babies are unable to make moral choices," she said. "But the way they are treated as subjects in fiction can reflect how society sees itself."

Infants are more significant in literature than ever before and are being treated in a whole new perspective, said Sabatini. Fiction writers are now not only recognizing babies' awareness and feelings, but are also showing how they influence other characters.

This is a huge change from the 1800s when there was very little written on the subject because infancy was so precarious, said Sabatini. Babies were born and grew up in a sentence or, at most, a paragraph on the page, she said. But influences such as the 1913 conference on infant mortality in London, England, brought babies into the public eye and on to the page.

In the 1940s, Canadian authors such as Gabrielle Roy and Sinclair Ross began to deal more candidly with the subject of babies. Writing about abortion and illegitimacy broke social taboos, and attitude changes unfolded throughout the 1940s and '50s. It was during this period that "writers began to write with some sympathy about unwed mothers and illegitimate children," said Sabatini.

Literature in this period also began to show the pull mothers felt between the love for their babies and the restrictions their children placed on their lives and careers a theme that became more apparent in Canadian fiction with the sexual revolution and the feminist movement, she said.

In the 1960s and 1970s, child birth and child rearing started appearing "in gory detail," said Sabatini. She notes how these shifts overlap with the arrival of the birth control pill and other methods of contraception.

Once men were invited into the delivery room in the late '70s and early '80s, they seemed to become aware that babies are important, engaging and miraculous, she said. In these decades, men discovered babies and wrote about them as they had never done before.

"As men become socially accepted as single parents, some male writers in the late 20th century start to voice that their care is superior to the mother's. This happens while writing by women reveals a sense that babies are, in fact, a source of empowerment since they are something that only women can provide."

Sabatini said because there is little certainty about what infants think or feel, a good look at the way writers write about babies is important to give society a better view of how we imagine ourselves.

Sabatini's research for Making Babies: Infants in Canadian Fiction, which will be published this fall by Wilfrid Laurier University Press, is funded by the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada.

Sandra Sabatini
College of Arts
University of Guelph
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53869, or

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