Thursday, March 08, 2007

To Celebrate International Women's Day

As it is International Women's Day today, I propose a list of reading about a few women from my own nation - books I found intriguing both for their subject and the treatment of such.

1. Sisters in the Wilderness / Charlotte Gray
A dual biography of sisters Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill, both well known in Canadian circles, who emigrated from England in 1832. They were part of a large literary family and ended up publishing information on the Canadian situation for English would-be settlers. Susanna's Roughing it in the Bush was, like her, acerbic and self-referential. Catherine's work, A Canadian Settler's Guide, was like her, factual and helpful and thoughtful. I especially admire Catherine, since not only did she have to face to trials of a new immigrant trying to settle the bush, she had to do so while dealing with a depressive and not very effective husband. Yet she remained always cheerful and was greatly loved. Dove Grey Reader has just mentioned reading this book also, in her discussion of Stef Penney's The Tenderness of Wolves.

2. A Passionate Pen: The Life and Times of Faith Fenton / Jill Downie
This is a popular biography of a woman I had known nothing about. Toronto schoolteacher Alice Freeman was also a journalist, writing under the name of Faith Fenton. She had an active life; friends with Lady Aberdeen (the governor general's wife) she was sent to cover the story of the Klondike during the Gold Rush. She was one of the first women to write about this raucous subject, and ended up marrying a man she met there. The events of her life are rather sketchy, and so there is some guesswork involved in the narrative, but overall it is a fun read about a little known, fascinating woman.

Now this one is a gripping details the case of Torontonian Florence Deeks, and the lawsuit she brought against H.G. Wells in 1925, accusing him of plagiarising the manuscript she had sent to his publisher. McKillop makes a good case for Miss Deeks, and I was rooting for her all along. Her scholarship and hard work in creating a feminist history of the world deserved better than to be mined for the profit of a womanizing hack and his unscrupulous publisher. (I guess you can tell whose side I was on...)

This is a scholarly study of Ontario born Mina Hubbard, a young widow who took it upon herself to retrace her husband's exploration of the interior of Labrador a few years after he died there. Partly spurred on by her husband's former partner who intended to retrace their original, fatal route, Mina challenged him to a "race", which she won handily, by a good six weeks. Her mapping was accepted by the American Geographical Society and the Geographical Society of Great Britain, and her studies of the flora and fauna, and the Naskapi tribes along the way, earned her a great deal of respect as a verifiable explorer. Another more narratively driven approach to her story can be found in North of Unknown: Mina Hubbard's Extraordinary Expedition into the Labrador Wilderness by Randall Silvis.

Last but not least, a compendium of information on my favourite Canadian writer. All you ever wanted to know; lots of memorabilia and neat facts. There hasn't been a complete scholarly biography written about LMM yet, but this meets the need for details about her life, if you are a rabid fan like some of us...


  1. ooohhh-I love, love, love L.M. Montgomery. How has no one written a complete biography on her? So sad...

    when I was little, I used to wish that my name was Anne!

  2. Eva - yes, I remember trying to tell people my name was Anne, too!There are quite a few biographies of LMM, but many of them are aimed at a younger audience. Dr. Mary Rubio(one of the Canadian LMM experts and editor of her journals along with Elizabeth Waterston) is working on an exhaustive scholarly approach to her life and works.

  3. What a good list!! I've add a few of them to the TBR Mountain! Thanks!!


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