• BETWEEN THE UNES: THE REPRESENTATION OF CANADIAN WOMEN IN ENGUSH-LANGUAGE NOVELS WRIITEN BV WOMEN IN THE 1930S Ann Gossage Department of History McGiII University, Montreal March,1996 A Thesis submitted to the Facult) of Graduate Studies and Research ln partial fulfilment of the requiremern of the degree of Master of Arts (c) copyright Ann Gossage, 1996 • .+. National L,brary of Ganada ACqUISlt;onS and Blbllographlc seMCes Branch 395 Wellington Street Ottawa. Ontario K1AQtI,I4 Bibliotheque naltonale duGanada Direction des acqUisitions et des services bibliographiques Ottawa IOnlano) K1A0N4 95. rue Wellington The author has granted an irrevocable non-exclusive licence allowing the National Library of Canada to reproduce, loan, distribute or sell copies of hisjher thesis by any means and in any form or format, making this thesis available to interested persons. L’auteur a accorde une licence irrevocable et non exclusive permettant a la Bibliotheque nationale du Canada de reproduire, preter, distribuer ou vendre des copies de sa these de quelque maniere et sous quelque forme que ce soit pour mettre des exemplaires de cette these a la disposition des personnes interessees.
The author retains ownership of the copyright in hisjher thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without hisjher permission. L’auteur conserve la propriete du droit d’auteur qui protege sa these. Ni la these ni des extraits substantiels de celle-ci ne doivent etre imprimes ou autrement reproduits sans son autorisation. ISBN 0-612-19896-0 Canada Shortened Title: Between the lines: Women in Canadian novels of the 1930s •
ABSTRACT This thesis examines the role of Canadian women as presented in English language novels of the 1930s written by women authors. Within the context of the Great Depression it focuses on issues that are central to women’s daily lives such as work, love, marriage and motherhood. lt also isolates recurring themes in the nove! s and attempts to understand the authors’ messages within their social context. Social reform. politics and ge! 1der relationships are among the subjects explored.
RESUME Cette these examine le role des femmes canadiennes telles que representees par les auteurs feminins des romans de langue anglaise des annees 1930. Elle se concentre, dans le contexte de la grande depression, sur les preoccupations qui sont qu centre la vie quotidienne des femmes: le travail, l’amour, le mariage et la maternite. On a isole les themes qui reviennent frequerrlll,oot dans les romans et essaye de comprendre les messages des auteurs en tenant compte du contexte social. La reforme sociale, la politique et les relations homme-femmes font partie des sujets explores. : • • ACKNOWlEDGEMENTS 1would like to thank the following people: Professor Andree Levesque for her guidance and forbearance; the inter-library loans staff whose services 1used to the point of abuse; Peter Gossage for his editorial suggestions on structure and style. and for “Between the Unes”; Mary Bleho for the abstraet translation: Joan Kearvell for her help with printing; Audrey Gossage. Mary Bleho and Helene Bleho for babysitting Michael 50 that 1 could work on this thesis: and Mike Bleho for his constant encouragement and support. • • TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION APPROACH and METHODS CHAPTER 1: CANADIAN PUSLISHING IN THE 19305 REALISM RECEPnON CHAPTER Il: EMPLOYMENT AND THE DOMESnC IDEAL THE DEPRESSION SETIlNG WOMEN AND WORK 1 4 15 15 19 24 24 33 47 CHAPTER III: LOVE AND MARRIAGE LONG ENGAGEMENTS 47 ‘ADVANTAGES’ OF MARRIAGE 49 “ILLEGITIMACY” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 SEXUALITY ST SELF-SACRIFICE 65 CHAPTER IV: MOTHERING SIRTH CONTROL CHILDSIRTH CHILDREARING WOMEN’S CULTURE? 73 73 77 83 88 CHAPTER V: WOMEN. SOCIETY AND POLITICS ……….. •…….. 4 SOCIAL REFORM 94 SEING ”WELL-BORN” 97 WEALTH AND CLASS 99 EUGENIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL REFORM 102 ETHNIC INTOLERANCE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . • . . . . . . . . .. 107 COUNTRY VERSUS CITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 111 DEPRESSION POLITICS …………………. •…….. 118 RADICAL ALTERNATIVES 119 GENDER POLITICS 124 CON CLUSI ON ………………………… •… •…….. 135 APPENDIX: STORY SUMMARIES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . • . . . • • • .. 137 BIBLIOGRAPHY …………………………… ••. ••••. • 146 • •
INTRODUCTION Authors and historians tend to charaeterize the decade of the Great Depression as a decade manquee. The idea that the 1930s seem to mark a hait to the progress of the 1920s is expressed, as historian Michiel Hom has pointed out, in Depression titles such as ”ten lost years” and ”the winter years”, Hom sees the “Bennett Buggy” as the best symbol of the rollinq back of certain advances in Canadian society; unable to afford fuel, people hitched their horses to their automobiles and named the hybrid after Prime Minister Bennett. ‘ For Canadian women this rollback was significant.
Althouqh by the 1930s they had won the right to vote in federal elections, to serve in both houses of the Canadian parliament, and had entered the paid workforce in increasing numbers since World War l, their freedom to operate in the “public sphere” did not go unchallenged. With the economic downtum of the 1930s, the sense that the best place for women was in the home was reaffirmed. One author and social commentator, Gwethalyn Graham, in an article entitled. “Women, Are They Human? “, argues that the 1930s witnessed a backlash against wornen’s individual rights.
She links this backlash to the economic pressures of the Depression, and to psychoanalytic theories which understand a woman’s bioloqy, her mothering function, as her single motivator in life! According to Graham, “Women are conditioned to regard marriage as an end which is exclusive of everything else since their earliest childhood. ‘” furthers this point. King, writing for New Frontier in 1937, 1 Michiel Hom, The Great Depression of Ihe ‘930s in Canada. Canadian HistoricaJ Association Booklet No. 39 (Ottawa ,984). 3. 2 A woman’s mind. according 10 Frederick Tracy. an ethics Professor ciled by k3eth Ughl and Ruth Roach Pierson. •… is reproductive rather than productive: Beth Ught and Ruth Roach Pierson. No Easy Road Women in Canada 1:)20$ 10 ,960$ (Toronto: New Hoglown Press. ,990), 57, William D. Tait, writing for the Dalhousie Review in ,930. also argued that a woman’s role W8S essentially ! hat of wife and mother. He wriles. ‘The mothers of great men have done more for the world than ail the so-called female uplifters that ever lived: William D. Tait. ·Some Feminisms·. Dalhousie Review , 0 (1930): 54-55. 3 Gwethalyn Graham, “Women. Are They Human? · The Canadian Forum 16 (Oecember 1936): 22. quo. 2 Women are mugs: Because they are brought up to believe they must marry and keep house for a living. They are taught to expect less of themselves than men, and to fear and distrust ”working” for a living as a permanent prospect. The economic system makes this inevitable of course. But what a ridiculous situation! It means that myriads of intelligent women, with extremely varied capabilities and interests, find that if they wish to live a full emotional Iife, to which mating and parenthood are necessary they are automatically doomed to one kind of occupation. hether they Iike it or not. 4 The authors of Canadian Women make the paradox of women’s position in Canadian society explicit, suggesting that despite broadened social opportunities for women after World War 1. there was an attempt to recapture the pre-war status For women, this meant a reaffirmation of traditional roles as wives and mothers at a time when increased educational and job opportunities appeared to offer more choice than ever before…. the “new woman” was incorporated into a value system that reasserted and redefined the female traits of femininity, domesticity. and dependence. Gender politics in the 1930s were informed by the Victorian ideelogy which placed women in the horr. e and men in the work place”. Yet, as Ruth Roach Pierson has noted, the separate spheres doctrine was based on gender • Marjorie King, “Women are Mugs”, Nl! W Frontier 1. no. 10 (February 1937): 23. • Alison Prentice et al. , Canadian Women: A History (Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1988), 240. • The corollary to the theory that women are wives and mothers while men are crusaders and breadwinners, is that there is something unnatural about men or women who wish to step outside of these ready made roles.
This restrictive standard affected even successful women who seemed to live outside of il Agnes MacPhail. the first Canadian woman MP. for exarnple, had to forego a family. She aise had to endure the pejorative depiction of hersel! in Ottawa as “an austere, sharp” tongued 185) who was somehow incomplete despite her accomplishments. It is said that Mac:’hail “.. felt strongly the right of a woman to be a person [emphasis in the original], ta do things in the world at large instead of merely serving as helpmate to a man. ” Mary Quayte Innis, ed..
The Clear Spirit Twenty Canadian Women and Their Times (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1966). 195. • • 3 stereotypes, such as males are aggressive and females are passive. 7 Feminist authors have questioned whether these spheres accurately represented male and female relationships or work patterns. Many conclude that they did not. While men were perceived as breadwinners, for example, women, particularty rural women, engaged in ail sorts of activities that contributed to the household coffers in largely unrecorded ways. Their ingenuity and home production was often ssential to survival during the hard financial times of the thirties. · Wornen’s contributions to the family economy often went publicly unrecognized, however. “… for decades neither the farm wife nor the fisherman’s wife was countoo as a participant in Ganada’s labor force. “· Historian and literary critic Mary Poovey, in her survey of middle-class women in Victorian England, also makes a case for the f1uidity of the spheres. She denies the biological foundat;on for Victorian ideology, and suggests instead that these notions were socially created and never completElly accepted.
She says, “… the middle class ideology we most often associate with the Victorian period was both contested and always under construction. “‘o Apart trom misrepresenting women’s contributions, the separate spheres model also fails to highlight the dynamic quality of women’s domesticity. In her work on western American women in the second half of the 19th century, June Underwood, a Professor of English at Emporia State University, uses historical and literary sources to argue that women were not always restricted or victirnized by Veronica Strong·Boag cites a critic of co-education who lurther delineates the supposed differences between the sexes as follows, •… ‘a boy is a boy’, and will be ‘restless, adventurous, creative. active, a maker, while a girl under normal conditions, gr,Jws calm, home-Ioving, receptive. passive. a user'” Veronica Strong-Boag, The New Day Recalled: Lives of Girls and Women in English Canada. 1919·1939 (Toronto: Copp Clark Pitrnan, 1988). la. • Ught and Pierson, No Easy Road, 215. • • Ibid•• p. 252• ‘0 Mary Poovey. Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid·Victorian EngI8nd (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988),3. 4 prescriptive roles. Instead. “… they remodelled their prescriptive roles to suit the needs, personal and public, that they perceived around them. “” The notion of separate spheres and the domestic ideology which idealized women’s roles as wives and mothers will be a recurring motif throughout this thesis. These ideas constiMe a normative standard against which the characters in these Canadian novels of the 1930s can usefully be compared. APPROACH and METHOOS This thesis represents an attempt to leam about women’s experience by using a collection of novels written by Canadian women in the 1930s as an historical source.
Accepting that literature is a part of a social context. and keeping in mind the concem women’s historians have voiced over the paucity of sources on womell, literature written by women can be read in such a way as to shed light on the ways women lived, their concems and priorities. Fiction written by women has the advantage over some other sources of not being simply prescriptive. Rather it is told in a woman’s voice. Since the novels chosen for this survey have contemporary settings, many social issues of the day are addressed.
By reading these novels, one can get a sense of whether prescribed roles-such as a woman’s place is in the home-were supported by women authors of the time or whether they were challenged. Most of the books chosen for this thesis were pulied from “The Canadian Catalogue of Books”. ” The criteria for their inclusion here were a Canadian ” June O. Underwood, ‘Western Women and True Womanhood. Culture and Symbol in History and Uterature”. Great Plains Quarterly 5. no. 2 (Spring 1985): 95, Underwood addresses speeifically the four traits altributed to women by the cult of true womanhood: piety. urity. subrnissiveness and domesticity. ” Please refer to the appendix. The novels are summarized and listed a1phabetically, The Newfoundland novels by Margaret Duley are not lisled on the Canadian Catalogue because Newfoundland only entered Confederation in 1949. Their inclusion here is a deliberate anachronism. made in much the serne way that Newfoundland is included in survey texts on Canadian history, • • 5 Depression-era setting and publication date. ” My approach was to read books with contemporary settings with a view. first of ail. 0 the ways in wnich the plot or the behaviour of the characters had been sllaped by Depression conditions. Particular attention was paid to the activities and views of women charaeterswhetherthey worked, married. had children. were politicized-in an attempt to see how this portrayal compared to the picture of Depression women that has already been created. 1 also took a special interest in recurring themes and attempted to piace the authors’ messages in the context of their times. 1 sought books which had been reviewed in order to get a sense of their reception but could not find a review in every case.
It should be noted that due to the number of novels consulted each one could not be given equal space and attention and none are analyzed with depth of analysis required of a literary critique. To make optimal use of an historical source, one must question the motivations behind il. However. to leam more about these women authors and their motivations for writing would be a study in itself. carole Gerson is presently addressing herself to precisely this challenge. She is compiling biographical information on Canadian women authors of books of poetry and fiction between 1820 and 1939.
In a recent article, she suggssts that the reasons women chose to write included the promotion of certain causes such as moral reform, patriotism, and animal welfare, as a means of self expression and in answer to financial need. ‘· Despite some ambiguities about the financial viability of a woman choosing writing for a Iiving,15 one main point seems to be thal as a career it was •• In some instances, the lime frame was unspecified. This along with the absence of a reVlew or corroborating information on the author made the selting difficultto ascertain. Commenls on the difficulty of obtaining employment or tough economic limes. ombined with DeprllSSlon-era publication dates, were interpreted as evidence of a Depression. era selting . .. Carole Gerson, ‘The Business of a Woman’s lJfe: Careers of Early Canadian Women ‘Inters’. Women’s Writina and the Literary Institution. C. Potvin and J. Williamson. eds. (Alberta: Research Inslitute for Comparative Literature. 1992). n. • 15 Gerson states at the beginning of the article that women published their books or pamphlcls with •.. .Iittle hope for financial reward’, (p. 77) and yet concludes with …. many of the ean. dierl women 1am researching tumed te wriling to secure both the money and the roof over thetr heads 6 at least as or somewhat more open to women than other areas of employment. She says, “While women were implicitly excluded from the academic and politicaJ networks and honours that conferred a portion of an author’s literary value, writing offered a fairer chance to achieve economic equality than teaching, for example, where a woman was lucky to eam half the salary of a man. “‘· Gerson aise points out that more money could be made by writing for periodicals than publishing a book but that books lent a certain perrnanency that added to their appeal. 7 Authors often paid to have their books published and had to rely on sales to make up the initial outlay and then hopefully see some profit. This is an especially cogent point because, as Gerson points out, a study of books as opposed to articles isolates a more affluent group: “By privileging books and monographs over periodicals… such projects, including my own, privilege authors who could afford book publication over authors who sold their work to periodicals, many of whom were women. “‘· Moreover, she also points out that for the “professional” woman author, financial success on a par with that of a man was possible.
The they requirey Gabriel Benedict, are allowed to enter canada because of their wealth and their promise to farm. Sheard writes, “[Benedict] spoke of the ease with which they were passed into the country by reason of the influential English names of his friends, and the fact that they were provided with money, and also desired to farm. ””’ Having successfully entered canada, Benedict and his family are met with hostility trom men such as O’Sullivan who organizes an attempt to drive them out of the community. O’Sullivan says, “We’lI make it too hot for them. They’lI have no chance to take root here. o4:l The shivaree intended to chase them away fails because Benedict disarms them with his music and offer of hospitality. It fails, aise, because the men who were sent out by O’Sullivan to harass the Benedict family did not share equally in his anger or his prejudice. ln the books surveyed here, the language of ethnic prejudice is in evidence. ln Waste Heritage, Harry, the restauranteur who befriends Matt, prefers his own kind. He is happy to visit with Matt, because, as he says, “Every once in a while 1get to feelin’ lonely an’ there’s nothin’ but a bunch of lousy Greeks an’ kikes to talk to around here. 044 ln a number of these books, however, the authorial message challenges these narrow views. ln Laugh in the Sun, the presence of Mr. Fu at the camp near Mount Sulphur in Western canada is difficult for the other campers to deal with because of their prejudice. But the racist views are altered as the novel progresses. When Jack Reed, Agnes’s future husband and the nephew of the camp’s owner, asks his uncle Dick who is registered for the summer, Dick answers, “Americans, canadians, English and, above ail things on God’s earth, a Chink. Big bug in his .. Shelll’d, Below the Salt, 1e3. • ..
Iblcl.. 118• .. BlIird, Wasta H!! r!!!! ge. 58. • 109 own country, or his father is. hand. 04S Sporting lad, 1 must say, and willing to take a Mr. Fu’s good nature and tolerance, despite their attitudes, wins them over. Another camper describes her and her husband’s initial reaction to Mr. Fu. “When we first came, my husband and 1didn’t much Iike finding him here,” Mrs. Hall confided. “In fact, Philip called him John. In America ail Chinamen are John, but he didn’t take oftence, and said quite seriously: ‘My name :s Fu. 1have other names if you like, but Fu is short and easy to remember’…..
Agnes is embarrassed by the slurs Mr. Fu endures and she apologizes. Mr. Fu is in love with Agnes but betrothed to a woman back home. In this novel, then, Amy J. Baker undermines racist attitudes by making a Chinese man a sympathetic character, but she stops short of allowing a physicallove relationship to develop. Mr. Fu says, “East and West cannot meet except in friendship. 1am young and 1 dreamed, but my dreams must die’7 carol Bacchi has argued that pioneer Canadians experienced “status anxiety” when they felt they could no longer control the character cf the country in the face of demographic change. 8 This anxiety is weil represented in the character of Q’Sullivan in Vima Sheard’s Below the Salt. The fo:lowing is an example of Q’Sullivan’s polemic on immigrants. In this passage, he is ordering his family not to go near a family of Basques who have just moved into the farm next door. Q’Sullivan says, Leave the foreign rift-raft alone. We are the dumping-ground for too many of them. What with the yellow peril they have let in on the Pacific coast, and the naked Doukabours [sic] in the west and the rabid reds in the cities, it has come to a fine pass! The scum of .. Baker, Laugh in the Sun, 114• .. Ibid. , 121 . • •7 Ibid. 253. .. Bacchi, “Race Regeneration end Social Purity”, 468. • 110 Europe and Asia has been passed through the gates. God help US! 40 When the Basques occupy the farm next to O’Sullivan, he is enraged. When the handsome spokesman for their group falls in love with his daughter, Gail, he literally imprisons the girl in her room to keep them apart. Although the family is tolerant of O’Sullivan’s ideas on race superiority, the author makes the final comment on his prejudices by having O’Sullivan die at the hands of his housekeeper and by writing for him a deathbed retraction of his previous statements against his daughter’s suitor.
Metaphorically, through his death, his racist views are put to rest also. Ethel Chapman also challenges this racism in her books. In The Homesteaders, Mary Shoedecker and her husband, and the French Canadians, Ukrainians, and ltalian homesteaders up north, judged neighbours according to their willingness to help out another person, and not their looks, social standing, wealth or ethnie origin.
Mary’s own introduction to the rough life of the bush was eased by her neighbour’s warmth and generosity: And missing nothing, Iiking these people who were being so kind to her, Mary noticed how much of their fun was due to ”the foreigners”: Tony, the ltalian,-the one regret of the party seemed to be that he had not brought his accordion; the Joliettes, though of course they were more truly Canadian than any of the others-their ancestors had been among the first settlers of Quebec; the young Eraschucks and some Ukrainian cousins who put on a dance that moved like a whirlwind through the kitchen.
Oh there was colour enough here for anyone who had eyes to see it! ·· Similarly, in Give Me My Robe the author recognizes that racism exists, but challenges these prejudiced views. It is suggested that some people looked down on Steve, Hannah’s adopted father, because he was half Blackfoot. The bank manager, Mr, Beasley, says, “No one could make me believe after knowing • .. Vima Sheard. Below the SaI!. 104. 50 Ethel Chapman. The Homesteaders. p. 68. • 111 Steve Sanderson that mixed blood is as bad as its made out to oe. He continues on the same page, saying of Steve, “He only spoke of that once and then it was to say he wasn’t ashamed of his Blackfoot mother and that if he’d got any good in him i! was as likely to come from her as the white man that had gone and left her. “” It is through the character of Steve in particular that prejudice is chailenged. For example, he is friendly towards the group identified in the book as “dagoes”, and to whom is generaily attached a pejorative stereotype. 52 Because of this, Hannah wants these farmers informed of Steve’s death, “… or Steve had befriended some of them times they had ! Jeen down on their luck. oo53 ln the books discussed above. then, the notion that one social class or ethnic origin is superior to another is presented as a part of the ambient Canadian discourse of the 1930s. At the . same time. however, these authors in varying degrees publ! cly challenge this notion through their writing. COUr·nRY VERSUS CITY The reform movement of the early twentieth century has been interpreted by historians as being defensive.
In the wake of urbanization, the rise of city siums, and the falling birth rate, many Canadians saw a need for social cleansing and a revival of the founding notions in Canadian society As Mclaren expresses it, Individualism, materialism, feminism, and social’sm were said to be tuberculosis, rampant. The purported surges in venereal a1coholism, divorce, and labour unrest were to by the 54 nervous as evidence of the erosion of traditional values. •• Leigh, Give Me Mv Robe, 38. .. In the following quotation, for example, the implication is that members of this group are inclined te steal. The curlains were drawn across the window sc that no dago fanners nosing around, could look in and see that no one was home. ” Ibid. , 74. • ‘” Ibid. , 28. .. McUlnln. Our Own Master Race, 27. • 112 ln her work on moral reform in Canada between 1885 aud 1925, Mariana Valverde has examined the writing of the social purity advocates. She argues that their f10rid prose was not just stylistic. but contained meaningful symbols, which were “… to the audience. the inconspicuous vehicles in which truths about moral and social reform were conveyed to the public. “” Images of light and cleanliness were used to point out the route to reform.
Valverde says, “Purity work was like washing dishes, like c1eaning sores, like striking matches, and like tuming garbage into useful composf’. se Similarly, although their settings are a decade later or more. being ‘clean’, in a number of these books, means more than being free from dirt. It signifies an honest and religious nature and a dignity that does not come from breeding but from personal integrity. For example, Mary Moran, in The Homesteaders, describes her husband in the following way: “And there was that something of rugged cleanness about him, from his lean, hard hands and strong, white. eeth to the straight, clear look in his eyes. “57 ln With Flame of Freedom, also by Ethel Chapman, Honora. in answer to Dr. Darrow’s request to cite a quotation that best describes her idea of success in life, replies, “‘God keep a clean wind blowing through my heart,. “sa ln Cold Pastoral, cleanliness stands for chastity. Although accused of having carried on a sexual relationship with her friend Tim, Mary Immaculate is sexually innocent. Her friend, Maxine, who is unmarried and pregnant, says. ”You look so clean. 1 hate the sight of your face. so Similar images are used by Jessie Garden Smith Riordan in her novel Crosscuts to describe the loggers of British Columbia. os Valverde. The Age of Ughl Soae and Water, 34. 50 They are “.. clean-cut, Ibid.. 41. Chapman. The Homestead! l! S. 40. Chapman. WIlh Rame of Freedom. 27• 57 • 50 .. Margaret Culey. CoId Pastorlll. p. 318. Tim. in defence of her honour. says of Mary. •… she is as clean as Gad….. p. 279. Her name lIlone. Immaculate, signifies cleanliness and virginity. • 113 muscular in strength; and in nerve seemed independent and self-reliant. ‘. o They have substance, whereas refined appearances, just like civilized behaviour, can simply be a veneer. sophisticated. This is the case with Robert Evans. He is suave and This physical He is weil dressed and physically attractive. attractiveness is described in a way that presents it almost as a weapon, which indeed is how he used it to seduce women for their money or whatever else he might have wanted: “He was weil dressed and weil groomed. His clothes were faultless-almost aggressively 50. ””’ ln the course of the novel, Robert Evans proves himself to be a self-centred gigolo responsible for the death of his own unbom child.
Jessie Riordan’s underlying message, therefore, is that wealth and sophistication are no reflection of the character of a person. Since, as the McLarens point out, urbanization was associated with the degeneration of values, the city, in particular, was seen to be “inherently anonymous and immoral”. ·’ ln many of the books of this survey, the presentation of city Iife as immoral and small town or country living as being healthier and more virtuous is a recurring theme. ln Give Me My Robe, the main character, Hannah, is an orphan raised in a shack on the Prairies by Steve sanderson.
Although he did not have much, he has given her a strong sense of values. He tells her, “Courage, … lt counts for everything. There wouldn’t be no wasters in the world, no skunks, none of them as you see wasting their lives in towns if they was to leam courage at school same as other things. ””” Town Iife is associated with promiscuity and drinking. “Sc many of the men who Iived hard on the Prairie seemed to break up when they were middle-aged but that was more often when they had drunk more than was 00 Riordan, Crossculs, 4. •’ Ibid.. 21 . • .. Mclaren and Mclaren. The Bedroom and the State, 16• ” Leigh, Give Me My Robe, 13. • 114 good for them and gone into town for a bust whenever they got a few dollars together. ,084 Hannah’s own tirst experience of town contirms this impression. She goes to town to look for work and the tirst Iighted building she enters is a brothel. 1 Rainbow at Night, despite the depietion of the cove inhabitants as coarse n and sexually “easy”, the merits of their lifestyle compare favourably with those of the city. lan Blake, the New York musician who spends a summer in a tishing village in Nova Scotia, comes to appreciate the scaled down Iifestyle of the cove. n the absence of “m. :. · to see the pleasure: entertainment” such as movies and radio, he comes .y :ife as “vacuous”. lan thinks the following about the cove inhabitants: “W,. en death stood as a continuous neighbor to life did it cany a greater realization of the importance, the value of one’s brief time on earth? Or were they merely imbuing him with their freedom from urban restlessness? ”” The perceived problem with the city, as we have seen, is more than just its distracting entertainments; urban life is associated with a decayed value system.
Jack Kapica sees this element in Jalna, Mazo de la Roche’s tirst Whiteoak novel. He interprets it as follows: “The city, with its more Iiberal morality, therefore evolves as a symbol of unsettling change and trauma for the Whiteoaks. Conversely, the Whiteoaks’ attachment to the soit can be described as a symbol of conservatism, particularly in the question of moral concems. ,,.. This idea is aise present in The Master of Jalna. Mazo de la Roche employs simple irony to convey how far from the ”traditional” values the Whiteoaks have moved, despite ..
Leigh, Give Me Mv Robe, 14, 15. One can read in this quotation an advocacy 01 temperance. os Sonner, Rainbow at Night, 68-69. A similar value system is in operation in Allistene Starkey’s The Grafted Twig, set in fictional “CresUand”. which is 011 Nova Scotia When the main character, Kerry, compares the values 01 this island to those 01 the city, “She began to understand the CresUanders on whom the vastness 01 the sea had lelt ils mark-their perception 01 rnaterial insignificance-their stress on livable virtues, lundamentaJs as deep as humanity and as necessary to the universe.
Even though they might be lar ! rom perteet in the over- or under emphasis 01 their beliefs, their standards were based on integrity, and built with simple laith. Kerry wenders about her own heterogenous collection 01 standards, culled ! rom careless observation or fin arresting werd. A hodgepodge without much depth or vision. ” Starkey, The Gralted Twig, 254• .. Kapica, “The Social Relevance 01 Jalna by Mazo de la Roche: 50. • • 115 their pretention to the opposite. Their financial difficulties have been overcome, the encroachment of modem housing on Whiteoak land has been orestalled and, it wo’Jld seem on the surface, that the status quo has been reasserted. At the end of the story, however, Alyane who has been going through a rocky period in terms of her relationship with Renny says, “Ali old fashioned things are coming in again. … Conjugal bliss will be coming in next…. 7 What she does not know however is that her husband Renny has begun a sexual relationship with his long time friend, Clara Lebreaux, who is now established on Whiteoak property.
This celebration of a simpler life, govemed by Christian values, is advanced in Ethel Chapman’s books, particularly in The Homesteaders. Ali in life that is needed, according to the sage old homesteader, Jane Meadow, is ”work, play, love and worship….. Chapman also emphasizes the need for neighbors to help one another and advocates cooperation as a Christian way of life…. John Erskine, a minister in With Flame of Freedom, is one of the “nervous” McLaren identifies, who believes that Canadian society in the 1930s is in a state of crisis, and that intervention is necessary.
Poverty and isolation were not the only misfortunes in the world. It was not only the youth of the mountain who were losing their way, but individual boys and girls everywhere, and sometimes it seemed that everything was failing them-the state, the home, the school, the church. The last was his responsibility-but were they not ail his responsibility and Similarly, Pearl Foley, in The Gnome Mine Mysterv, presents northem Ontario as a new frontier of sorts and sees the cities as being dominated by the superficial values and criminal activities of big business. Speaking to Felix
Landroit. a representative of a business group, Roger castigates unfair practices 0′ Mazo de la Roche, The Masler 01 Jall!! l. p. 336• .. Chapman, The Homesteaders. 97. • “Ibid.. 130. ‘” Chapman. Wilh Flame of Freedom, 229. • 116 of big business cartels. He asks. “Is it any wonder the wheels of commerce are growing rusty, and the prison gates swinging easily? … if the public were a little more educated as to what lies behind these speculative ventures they are lured into, there would be no such panics as occurred last faU. “” Roger sees Rolland and Marcile St.
Lambert, his partners in the northem mine adventure, as typifying traditional and simpler values. The following is his impression of Rolland on first meeting him: Tawny-headed, fair of skin and blue of eye, he appeared to Roger an incamation of bygone ages-some young Viking or Norseman descended to glimpse a modem world-a personality that exuded the atmosphere of places where men remained young of soul and unsmeared by the sooty hand of commerce. ‘”” The Grafted Twig is a study of the virtues of life in a small community where long-standing traditions are respected.
The setting is an island of 300 people called Crestland located off the coast of Nova Scotia. Kerry Willet has come to Crestland from New York and the comparison of urban versus rural values is a major theme of the book. Kerry is brought to the island by her aunt Hattie whose expressed intention in willing her house to Kerry, is to re-introduce Kerry to truer values. Hattie’s friend, Matilda Coon, tells Kerry, “For years [Hattie] waited for the time when she might see for herself what life was doing to you-what notions vou were picking up-the traits vou were developing. ,,7: Among the traits that Kerry has e reevaluate are her tendency to judge people in terms of wealth and appearances and her attitude that housework is beneath her. It is ironie that Kerry feels superior to Ella who comes in to help with the housework and only refrains from referring to her as a “servanr’ out of respect for the villagers’ pride. 74 Vat Ella ” Foley, The Gnome Mine Mystery, 195. ‘” Ibid. , 34. • 73 Starkey, The Gretled Twig, 39• ,. Ibid. , 55, 117 is shocked at how badly Kerry keeps her house and generously makes excuses for her. Ella says, “Why-Iook at this kitchen-and those lamps! Imagine letting things go this way!
It simply shows that she hasn’t had anyadvantages-and we’lI have to overlook a lot that seems strange to US. ,,75 Kerry is constantly shocking the isolated community with her New York style. Her brief bathing suit scandalizes the older neighbors and fills her rival, Amber Pentworth, with jealousy, while her shorts and halter outfit causes Claw Smithers to stop coming to do the gardening. “Here she comes-and she ain’t dressed! ” he says, later claiming that her house, “oo. ain’t no place for a decent man _00. ,,70 Kerry’s use of make-up is an especially contentious point and ighlights the way in which the community values can be normative and coercive. When Ted tells her n’Jtto “paint up”, she resents this advice and says, “Butthafspersonal” to which he responds, “No-ifs of interest to the community. “n Making herself up is the outward sign that Kerry is resisting assimilation. 70 Having decided to stand up Mrs. Pitkin, a local woman who does her laundry, in favour of a luncheon date with a summer visitor to the island, “a reallady”, Kerry is made up and ready to go out. Ted tells Kerry she should cancel the luncheon and Kerry refuses.
Ted becomes angry and feels that Kerry needs to be taught a lesson: “His eyes fixed on Kerry’s lips, and the sight of their blatant redness against the whiteness of her face choked him with anger. “711 He grabs her and 0, , r , 0, O’ c , , t , ‘”> begins to scrub her face clean. , F. ” Starkey, The Grafled Twig. 90. ‘” Ibid. , 116. n Ibid.. 47. ‘” WhUe rnake-up is frowned upon on Crestland. il was obviously appropriale to Kerry’s Iifestyle in New York City. Although make-up, according to Veronica Strong-Soag, was ·not qulte respectable· in the 1920$. … in the 1930$ high coloured Iips and cheeks received more emphasiswera identified as the keys 10 ·poise and self-confidence: A New Day Recalled, 85. 7ll Ibid.. 155. • 118 ln a minute! ” he assured her grimly, sloshing a wet rag over the cake of soap, “Then-if you still want to go to the hotel, you may! This,” he growled, scrubbing vigorously, “IS the best 1 can do towards preventing you from wantonly insulting an unfortunate woman who”-the words were emphasized with more soap and water-“is obliged to work for her living, and isn’t asha’Tled of it!. 0 Through the use of the word “wantor,ly” one can read an association of promiscuity with the use of make-up. Furthermore, the act of washing awa,>’ with soap and water echoes the symbolism of the social purity campaign as it addressed “sins” of city life. Surprisingly, it is after this drubbing at the hands of the man she loves that Kerry begins to recognize the merits of his value system. But even when she tries to assimilate, meeting the demands of this society is not easy.
As Ted points out, thinking of Kerry, “It wasn’t that she meant any harm, but the Crestland code of honor was so adamant, so strictly literai, that it condemned the slightest deviation, or sign of intrigue. “el Canadian society in the early twentieth century underwent a number of fundamental changes, including, as has been mentioned, urbanization. Many worried that these changes were not for the best. With the onset of the Depression, the sense that things were going terribly wrong was confirmed.
This context helps to explain why so many of these authors tended to idealize the merits of country Iife. Waste Heritage is the only novel in this survey with an urban setting and its subject matter does not reflect weil on its setting either. Through their novels, it seems, authors such as Allistene Starkey attempted to publicly reassert the importance of a value system they perceived to be under siege. DEPRESSION POUTICS The 1930s saw notable changes in the Canadian political Ianc:lscape. Entirely new political parties, William Aberhart’s Social Credit anc:I Maurice • c Starkey, The Grafted Twig, 156• 01 Ibid. , 1n. • 119 Duplessis’ Union Nationale, rose to power in Alberta and Quebec respectively. liberais replaced Conservatives in the New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, saskatchewan, and British Columbia legislatures. Yet, the promise of charge was rarely met. Finlay and Sprague interpret the priority of the Depression era govemments as recapturing “… a pre-1929 status quo… ,,82 The conservative reality of these govemments, despite their Iiberal or populist discourse, is exemplified by Mitchell Hepbum, Liberal premier of Ontario.
Having come to power vowing to defend “the little guys”, he supported General Motors management in Oshawa in 1937, helping defeat the auto workers’ strike organized by the CIO. 53 RADICAL ALTERNATIVES: SOCIALISM AND COMMUNISM The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, a conglomeration of labour, socialist and agricultural interests led by J. S. Woodsworth, was founded in 1932 and consolidated in 1933 by the Regina Manifesto. It offered, in Woodsworth’s own assessment, “a distinctly Canadian type of socialism”. Members lobbied for radical social reordering and for the institution of universal healthcare and unemployment insurance. 85 Woodsworth, once a Methodist minister, envisioned reform through peaceful means only. canada’s communists offered a even more revolutionary altemative during this period. Though never very numerous, they were responsible for organizing groups of unemployed workers and, as the engine behind the Relief camp Workers’ Union, helped to mobilize strikes in relief camps in British Columbia in 1934 and 1935 which culminated in the On-to-Ottawa-Trek. 8lI However, the ., J.
L Finlay and D. N. Sprague, The Structure of Canadian History (Ontario: Prenlice Hall, 1989) 345. Michiel Hom concurs, suggesling tha! , “Most of the talk about change during the Depression was merely talk. ” The Great Depression of the , 930$ in Canada, 19. 83 Ibid.. 347. Bumsted, The Peoples of Canada, 196. 54 • “Ibid• .. Hom, The Great Depression of the 1930$ in Canada. 13. • 120 Communist Party of Canada, under the leadership of Tim Buck, won few votes during this period and, due to his prosecution under Section 98 of the Criminal code, was actually ilfegal between 1931 and 1936. The Govemment’s uppression of communists, despite their lack of success in mainstream politics, is a testament to the perceived danger associated with the spread of radical ideas. The clashes between the establishment and the organized unemployed were violent, and, as Finlay and Sprague conclude, “The radical leaders of the 1920s not only lost ground in the 1930s, some lost their freedom … 87 The influence of agrarian socialism is apparent in the works of Ethel Chapman while communism is referred to in Pearl Foley’s Gnome Mine Mysterv and explored more fully in Irene Baird’s treatment of striking unemployed workers in Waste Heritage.
Although the ideal of community cooperation in The Homesteaders is couched in the idiom of Christian love of neighbour, one could argue that Peter’s views on farmers cooperation and his speech at a political meeting place him among the socialist reformers of the time. This Iink is made much more explicitly in Chapman’s next novel, With Flame of Freedom. Phil Strong is Peter re-worked. Living in Ontario, he is a simple farmer who cares about his community. In the face of lowering crop prices, he encourages his neighbors to band together and not to undercut each other.
He ….. had a Utopian scheme for buying up vacant land and starting a co-operative farm in Old Acres. It seemed pretty visionary, but some of Phil’s other co-operative schemes had seemed just as impossible, and they were working now… ae He was appalled by the poverty and starvation and felt that the farmers should be distributing their surplus through public relief. The rast of the group are similarly radical in their beliefs. Allan, the doctor, argues against capital punishment and the capitaJist system which neglects their sick and aged. He says, • 87
Finlay and Sprague, The Structure of Canadian History, 348. .. Chapman, With F1ame of Freedom, 170. • 121 It’s hard to explain why countries that cali themselves Christian can leave their aged and sick and handicapped to shift for themselves as they do, while a nation that scorns Christianity has at least “a plan” to take care of everyone….. Although they are often taken for “reds”, these characters would likely have been supportive of the reformist politics of J. S. Woodsworth and fit in among the minority of Canadians who believed that socialism would retum justice and prosperity to Canada.
Repudiating the basic premises of acquisitive individualism they demanded an economy geared towards “.. the supplying of human needs instead of the making of profits. “oo ln Phil Strong’s words, they have to “… get away from this competitive every-man-for-himself attitude, and leam the art of living together. ,,01 It is clear that Ethel Chapman intended her work to make a political staternent. In a review by Lady Willison MacMurchy), the author of The Longest Way Round, With Flame of Freedom is described as a “social document” and Ethel’s Chapman’s “… urpose undoubtedly has been not only to tell an interesting story, but to arouse interest in the social problems of a countryside. ,,02 MacMurchy concludes that Chapman has succeeded. ln the Gnome Mine Mystery it seems that communism might be read into any criticism of capitalism. Felix Landroit, a representative of a high powered business group, says to Roger, when they are disagreeing about certain .. Chapman, WIlh Asme 01 Freedom, 120. 00 Finlay and Sprague, The Structure 01 Canadian Historv, 339. •, Chapman, WIlh Asme 01 Freedom, 133. •• Lady Willison (Marjorie MacMurchy). Rural Canadiana”, Saturday Night. 21. It should be noted thet Chapman hersaI! was raised on a larm in Ontario, worked lor the Departrnent of Agriculture and, according to Clara Thomas, edited the home section 01 Toronto’s Farmer’s Magazine, and was involved in Women’s Institute organizations. Clara Thomas, Canadian Novelists 1920-1945. • 21. • 122 monopolistic business tactics, “At ail events it’s something to know your sympathy isn’t from socialistic tendencies. “” ln Irene Baird’s Waste Heritage, communists form the leadership for the organization of the unemployed in their strike against the govemment.
While their role as organizers fed the tendency in the 1930s to blame “reds” for the problems in society, Baird directs the criticism at the establishment. She writes, “S’pose the Reds is at the bottom of the trouble. You can’t let a swamp lay around year after year an’ not expect to breed mosquitos,” to which another responds, “The whole damn system is at the bottom of the trouble. “” Baird’s clear political statement was, by sorne accounts, inappropriate for a woman author. Eleanor Godefroy, who reviewed Waste Heritage for The Canadian Forum in 1940, acknowledges the unique value of Baird’s work as social commentary.
She described the book as, “… a social indictment in a literary form only too rarely found in this under-written country. Even more than that, however, it is a lesson and an example to Canadian writers in the energetic and searching study that must be done before a truly vigorous, indigenous Iiterature can be established. ” Godfrey’s objection to Waste Heritage, however, is that it is an example of a woman writing a man’s story, which to her mind, never works: A few women writers can write of men and women in relationship with equal insight into either sex as long as it is the impact of one upon the other that is under observation.
But 1 know of no woman writer who can write of men alone and in a man’s worfd with any sustained credibility. Miss Ba. ird has tried harder than most but with very Iittle more success. The grammar and the vocabulary may be authentic, the behaviour and attitudes of her strikers correctly described; nevertheless, for ail the tough prose, the jargon, the gutter-epithets, Waste Heritage is the work of one who guesses rather than knows what is going on below the surface. That this • .. Foley. The Gnome Mine Myslery, 192• .. Irene Baird, Waste Heritage, 165. • 123 ault can be ascribed to the gender of the writer rather than to any lack of talent does not make it any less obvious. gS It seems that by allowing women to write of men in terms of their interactions with women, Godfrey was leaving room for love stories and domestic scenarios in women’s fiction. Political comments are rare but not completely absent in the novels covered in this survey. In Lucien, which is the only novel set in Quebec, there is a distinction made between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Parsons writes, “The land about Charbonneau was ail taken up by men who were deeply rooted in their farms.
When they died, their sons went on about the business of planting and harvesting as their fathers had belore them. Whatever happened in the rest of Canada would be of no concem to Charbonneau. “”” Also, in the following quotation there is further expression 01 the distinction between Quebec, as a francophone province, and the rest of Canada and the way in which education, at the time, obscured this difference. Pierre is attending school in Trois-Rivieres and talks about the history he is being taught by the school master. He says, He read to them about Canada. Some of them leamed that, though they were French, they belonged to England.
Pierre did not think Wolfe so great a man. He had heard this tale before. He wished the book the Master had told more about Montcalm. He resolved to tell Lucien about him, because he didn’t want her to think g7 belonging to England was as fine as the book said. oc Seanor Godfrey. “Reviewof Waste Heritage”, The Canadian Forum 19, no. 229 (February 1940): 365. Margaret Atwood has written, that as late as the 19605, women authors who wrote on “men’s” topies had to be prepared for scathing reviews: “And Lord help you if you step outside your ‘proper’ sphere as a woman writer and comment on boy stuff like, say. olilies. You want to see the heavy artillery come out? Try Free Trade. ” Margaret Atwood. “If You Can’! Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything at AIr. Language in Her Eye: Views on Wriling and Gender by Canadien Women Writing in English, Ubby Scheier. Sarah Sheard and Seanor Wachtel, eds. (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1990). 20. • .. Parsons, Lucien, 11-12. ‘7 Ibid.. 67. • 124 GENDER POLITICS The feminism of many of the women characters in these novels is not expressed within organized politics but through their attempts to assume control over their own lives and resist restrictive social conventions.
Kathleen Evans, in Jessie Garden Smith Riordan’s romance Crosscuts, is independent and proud of it. Angry with her husband, she thinks to herself, “Robert gets on my nerves! Does he think 1am a c1inging vine? That is absolutely wrong! Haven’t 1taken care of myself, even to supporting myself ever since my marriage? “·· If Kathleen has a f1aw it is having been foolish enough to love Robert Evans and behaving according to his wishes. However, when their marriage is finally over, she reasserts her individuality.
They are living apart by this time and Robert Evans reminds her that they are one only in the eyes of the law, to which she responds, “Apparently vou have been laboring under the impression that you are that onethat when 1married Vou, 1lost my identity. You are mistaken. “” The feminist content in Crosscuts is more explicitly expressed in the thoughts of Buck MacAulay, who runs the logging camp. The majority of women, he realized, were normal human beings, not because they had been Iiberated and had secured a degree of independence, self-sufficiency, and self·assurance unknown to their sisters of the past, but because of their nature.
He knew that although they were known as the weaker sex, they often fought and won battles against not only their own nature, but against those stronger than their own. •00 It is interesting how the gender stereotypes are present and yet undermined in the above quotation. With the marked exception of Ethel Chapman’s main female characters, the women charaeters in these novels feel, to varying degrees, entrapped by .. Riordan, Crosscuts, 34. • .. Ibid. , 198.