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Entries in Canadian Authors (3)

Wednesday
Jan212015

Elsewhere

That is where I am today.

At Out of the Ordinary, I share some thoughts about the need to serve in the local church.

At my Canadian history and literature blog (yes, you may run screaming now if you wish, and I won't be offended), I share a snippet from L.M. Montgomery's journals which reveals a rather embittered pastor's wife.

And now, Psalm 139 beckons to me as I prepare for Sunday school.

Monday
Dec152014

Not your typical "Favourite Reads From 2014" list

This afternoon, I was tidying up my bookshelves, putting my "want to reads" for 2015 at eye level on the shelf, so I was thinking about what I read in 2014. 

My favourite book of the year was Kevin DeYoung's Taking God at His Word. I'm still remembering snippets from it, months later, so I guess that was a reading success. Others which I read, I'm ashamed to say I have forgotten, especially if I read it for review, because I always feel so pressured to finish. I don't think I'll do much reviewing anymore because of that. And who cares, anyway? No one is waiting for my opinion on books.

The books I remember most vividly are the ones about and by two extraordinary women, Nellie McClung and Lucy Maud Montgomery (sorry to all of the folks who don't care about these things, but I am, after all, Canadian. This is where you can click away if you're bored).

I think I read, in addition to her own autobiography, three other volumes about Nellie McClung. She was an amazing, energetic woman, and even though I think she and I would have disagreed about a few things, I admire her very much. I appreciate her efforts to bring justice to women in Canada, especially in the area of property rights and the right to vote. She was a woman of faith, and she speaks about it openly. She had a love for Western Canada that I share, and hearing her stories about places in Manitoba of which I'm familiar did my heart good. Someone else who loves the Prairies is okay with me.

The other woman I spent time with (and continue to) is Lucy Maud Montgomery. In addition to re-visiting her novels, I've been reading her selected journals. Mary Rubio, one of Montgomery's biographers, along with Elizabeth Waterson, put out five volumes of these journals in co-operation with Montgomery's heirs. If you read the journals and are familiar with her fiction, you can easily see the parallels. Waterson also authored a book, which I've begun, that shows the parallels of Montgomery's life with the novels she wrote.

Montgomery had a very sad life, and despite being a minister's wife, had some lingering doubts about God which occasionally came across as bitterness. I'm just getting into the years when the Methodist Church of Canada and the Presbyterian Church of Canada joined together to become the United Church of Canada, and it's quite interesting. She was not in favour of the union, but at the same time, her faith can hardly be described as orthodox, considering she gives accounts of using a Ouija board after the death of her beloved cousin. She was a woman not entirely comforted by her faith, and her marriage was not a happy one.

My favourite Montgomery book is not Anne of Green Gables. While I liked it, and read it over and over again as a girl, my favourite is Rilla of Ingleside, which is set during World War I. It is a novel unique for its time, because it is one of the few which depicts the role of women during the First World War. There are a number of critical works which recognize its contribution in that regard.

When I read the volume of Montgomery's journals written during the war years, I found over and over again, phrases and descriptions that were taken verbatim from her journals which she put into Rilla of Ingleside. Montgomery's reaction to the war was quite profound and intense, which I think was quite typical for her disposition.

After re-reading Rilla of Ingleside, I found a volume of essays entitled A Sisterhood of Suffering and Service: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland in the First World War. It was a fascinating look into the contributions of Canadian women during World War I, both here and in France. They are the kind of stories that aren't well known, but I found completely engaging.

In January, I'll be picking up Emily of New Moon again. I read it for the first time last winter. In her journals, I am at the point in her life where she has just finished writing it. I'm curious to see how the passages in it compare to what I remember about her childhood journals.

People may consider Montgomery's literature "childish," or for young audiences, but I still enjoy it. She had a gift for describing the world around her. Her stories may not be gritty enough for young readers these days, but she's part of my heritage, too, and I'm thankful that I grew up with her, and am growing old with her, too.

Thursday
Jan162014

Dissent without bravery

I just finished reading a short novel called Aleta Dey. It is by the Canadian author and suffragist, Francis Marion Beynon. She is lesser known than other suffragists largely because she was a pacifist during World War I. Canada was much more British at that time, and objection to the war was seen as very bad, indeed.

Aleta Dey is allegedly semi-autobiographical. It tells the story of a woman who struggles with the tension between activism and her love for a man. At one point in the story, Aleta is jailed for protesting in the war while the man she loves is in France fighting.

From the time of her childhood, Aleta feels a desire to go against the popular opinion, but remains quiet, likely due to her harsh father who doesn't allow for dissent. In an episode at school, she withholds her opinion in a class dispute, and offends her friend who really needed her support. She makes the decision to go to his house after school and apologize to him for not standing up to him. As she walks, she reflects on the difficulty it is to have a desire to dissent while actually being very fearful:

As I followed the footpath along the barbed wire fence, which enclosed the pasture field, I thought with deep disgust of what had happened at school. Why couldn't I follow straight and swiftly my own opinions as the yellow buttercups at my feet went without self-conscious to their goal? Why did find myself apologetic when I did not agree with the majority? When I was given a mind that questioned everything, why was I not given a spirit that feared nothing? Since minds came into being that questioned things it seemed the world needed that kind of mind. Then why be ashamed of it? So I reasoned fruitlessly, for the wings of my soul had been clipped in my infancy. I had lost the power to fly while retaining the will to rise above the clouds of bigotry and prejudice.

Something else is interesting about this story, and reflects the author's life, and that is the rejection of God. In the first paragraphs of the story, Aleta reveals that the kind of God presented in her home was not loving, but harsh:

I think I was born to be free, but my parents, with God as one of their chief instruments of terror, frightened me into servility. 

Aleta struggles against God often in the story. Beynon herself, born into a Methodist home, ultimately rejected God.

I was reminded of how difficult it is for faith to be nurtured in a child when the parents are harsh and God is depicted as a force to, as Aleta narrates, "frighten into servility."

I can relate a little to Aleta's words about feeling uncomfortable if I don't agree with the majority. I can also relate to wishing I was not afraid of the opinions of others. The difference, I think, is that I recognize that feeling as pride, whereas Aleta seems not to have reconciled that.