Literary and Critical Theory Linda Hutcheon
Geert Lernout
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0093


Linda Hutcheon (b. 1947 as Linda Bortolotti) grew up in Toronto, where she did her honors bachelor of arts in modern languages and literatures, and where, after a master of arts in Romance studies at Cornell University, she also defended her doctorate in comparative literature. Hutcheon spent her early academic career as a professor of English at McMaster University before moving back to the University of Toronto in 1988, to the department of English and the Centre for Comparative Literature; she was made University Professor in 1996 and became emeritus in 2010. The impact of her work is felt in a number of distinct but related fields: in literary theory and history, in the study of Canadian literature and culture, in the definition(s) of postmodernism, and most recently, in collaboration with her husband Michael Hutcheon in the scholarly study of opera. Hutcheon’s main contribution to literary criticism may well be her work on the theory and practice of postmodernism, starting with her dissertation on what she then called narcissistic narrative. From a wide and varied theoretical background, she has defined and redefined the contours of postmodernism, doing so on the basis of the close study of postmodernist works in different disciplines: not just literature, but also architecture, music, and the visual arts. What distinguishes Hutcheon’s contribution to literary criticism and art theory is the width of her frame of reference, in terms of both the variety of the works that she has studied and of the critical approaches that she addresses in her own thinking. This width is also reflected in the numerous collaborative initiatives in which she has been involved during her long career: she is one of the few literary critics of her generation to have fully engaged in collaboration with many others, including her husband. With other scholars, she has written articles, published books, and edited special issues of journals and essay collections.

General Overview

In 2006, Linda Hutcheon was considered the most influential literary scholar in Canada and one of fifty key literary theorists worldwide (Lane 2006). Her basic stance can be called dialectic: more often than not, she argues for a balanced position in which two apparent opposites are reconciled in a third term that does not reconcile them but retains them in ironic and creative tension. In this context it is also no coincidence that she has published books on the theory of irony and parody. While very productive in publishing and in teaching, Hutcheon also took up more than her share of administrative duties, most prestigiously as president of the Modern Language Association, as only the third Canadian and the first Canadian woman in that post. During her term as president, she introduced the Millennium issue of the PMLA (Hutcheon 2000a). She was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1990, an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2010, and Honorary Foreign Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and she is recognized as one of the foremost cultural and literary critics in her own country, though not by all in that country (Blodgett 2018). The continuing relevance of her work is shown in the fact that most of her books have had second and revised editions; a great number of her articles and book chapters, and more than half of her books, have been translated into a number of European and non-European languages. In addition, she has received numerous prizes (Killam Award, Molson Prize), a wide variety of international honorary degrees (Finland, Belgium, Sweden, Romania). Arguably, Hutcheon has been even more influential as a teacher and supervisor of graduate students, at her own university and elsewhere. Both in North America and globally, Hutcheon personally influenced a generation of scholars in all the different but overlapping disciplines in which she has been active.

  • Blodgett, E. D. “Comparative Literature in Canada: A Case Study.” In Comparative Literature for the New Century. Edited by Giulia de Gasperi and Joseph Pivato, 289–303. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv4t7zcg.21

    Personal and mournful history of comparative literature in Canada, with emphasis on the University of Alberta, in contrast to the tradition at Hutcheon’s home base of Toronto. With the exception of translation studies, Hutcheon has been active in all the different aspects of comparative literature, often as a pioneer, but her work is not mentioned.

  • Hutcheon, Linda. “Introduction: Plus ca change . . . .” In Special Millennium Issue. PMLA 115.7 (2000a): 1719–1727.

    Writing as president of the MLA, Hutcheon provides a look at the state of the profession at the end of the 20th century and looks forward to a new millennium.

  • Lane, Richard J. Fifty Key Literary Theorists. New York: Routledge, 2006.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203441428

    A survey of the work of fifty most influential literary theorists of the last one hundred years, with six pages on Hutcheon’s work.

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