"Court from Away but Marry Close to Home": Women, Marriage and Interpersonal Relations in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland

By Powers, Ann Marie; Tye, Diane | Ethnologies, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview
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"Court from Away but Marry Close to Home": Women, Marriage and Interpersonal Relations in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland


Powers, Ann Marie, Tye, Diane, Ethnologies


Belonging is important in Newfoundland and Labrador but with its long history of patrilocality, where and to whom have women belonged? Here we consider how women who married into new families and communities in the Placentia Bay area of the province over a fifty year period (1943-1993) negotiated a place for themselves. The women, sometimes in complicity with their mothers-in-law, managed to create physical and social space through a variety of informal strategies, from managing gossip to creating a separate living space in their in-laws' home. Some wives eventually developed a sense of belonging while others were never able to shake off their status as strangers and always felt like outsiders.

Le sentiment d'appartenance a Terre-Neuve et au Labrador est un phenomene qui s'impose dans une tradition de patrilocalite : a qui et a quel territoire les femmes appartiennent-elles ? Cet article traite de la situation des femmes qui sont integrees a de nouvelles familles et de nouvelles communautes dans la region de Placentia Bay sur une periode de 50 ans (1943-1993), alors qu'elles doivent negocier leur place dans la communaute. Ces femmes, quelquefois de connivence avec leur belle-mere, reussissent a creer un espace physique et social par le biais de strategies informelles. Certaines epouses developpent eventuellement un sentiment d'appartenance, alors que d'autres ne franchissent jamais le statut d'etrangeres.

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Being able to get along with one's neighbours was a quality highly valued by earlier generations of rural Newfoundlanders. This is not surprising given Newfoundland's history of small fishing settlements scattered along a large coastline, where extended families worked together to catch and salt cod, and depended on each other's reciprocity to survive. Nonetheless, it was a predominant aspect of outport life that struck the first generation of ethnographers conducting fieldwork throughout rural Newfoundland in the 1960s. Their findings, published by the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) established in 1961 to undertake and encourage social and economic research in the province, reflect the importance outport residents in all parts of the island placed on civility. In this article, we return to these early studies in an effort to extend the important discussion they began on interpersonal relations. Completed nearly fifty years ago, the ISER ethnographies of Newfoundland rural communities largely neglected women's experiences, either subsuming them in men's experiences or overlooking them almost entirely (see Faris 1972: 119). In light of subsequent feminist work on women's roles (see Davis 1986, Allison et al 1989; Nadel-Klein and Davis 1988; Neis 1988, Porter 1995), we reflect here on relations among women, especially mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, as we focus our discussion on the concept of belonging and its intersections with issues of place and power.

In the second publication of the ISER book series titled, Private Cultures and Public Imagery: Interpersonal Relations in a Newfoundland Peasant Society (1966), anthropologist John Szwed draws on fieldwork undertaken in 1962-1964 to highlight "the high degree of exposure of the self to community evaluation and comment" present in the face-to-face social environment of the parish he studied in the Codroy Valley (1966: 98). Szwed explores various strategies adopted by residents to maintain harmonious interpersonal relations and positively influence public impressions of themselves. Similarly, James Faris' fieldwork, carried out in a rural fishing community on Newfoundland's northeast coast in 1964-1965, led him to stress "the premium placed on the avoidance of conflict in Cat Harbour" (1972: 141), while Louis J. Chiaramonte's analysis of craftsmanclient contracts, based on two years of field research (1962-1964) in a community on Newfoundland's south coast, demonstrates how residents relied on forms of indirect communication to prevent any discord.

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"Court from Away but Marry Close to Home": Women, Marriage and Interpersonal Relations in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland
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