Frederick Philip Grove is best known for exploring the Canadian West and its pioneer landscape in non-fiction and semi-fictionalized works such as Over Prairie Trails, Settlers of the Marsh, In Search for America, and In Search of Myself. “Grove gave a voice to the land-hungry pioneers of the West, but also cloaked his past in the ostensible honesty of the prairie pioneer novel.” Grove had much to hide, given his prison incarceration in Germany and the fact that he was leading a double life, having married a young schoolteacher while still married to Elsa (who lived in New York until 1923 and then returned to Berlin where she died in 1927).
Known for his rugged realism and naturalism, Grove created memorable pioneer characters, such as Niels Lindstedt, the hardworking and sexually naive Swedish immigrant pioneer in Settlers of the Marsh (1925); Abe Spalding, the noble but single-minded pioneer in Fruits of the Earth, and John Elliot, the aging and tragic patriarch in Our Daily Bread. Grove patriarchs are all strong and tragic, often lacking the words to change their fates. In contrast, Grove’s female characters are survivors, verbally nimble and often androgynous in assuming traditionally male roles. Most important, Grove’s novels all evoke the polyglot world of immigrants.
His novels are populated with a remarkable diversity of Swedish, German, French, Icelandic, and Ukrainian immigrants, offering a vibrant multi-culturalism as a vision for Canada’s social fabric. As an author he assumed the role of “spokesperson for the young Canadian nation,” who cleverly staged himself as “an adopted son [in Canada]” in lecture tours, essays, and advertisements.
Grove also experimented with forms of modernism, both in staging fictionalized selves in his autobiographical fiction, and in experimenting with unreliable narrators and time shifts in his late novel, The Master of the Mill.