Looking Back: Canadian Women's Prairie Memoirs and Intersections of Culture, History, and Identity

Looking Back: Canadian Women's Prairie Memoirs and Intersections of Culture, History, and Identity

Looking Back: Canadian Women's Prairie Memoirs and Intersections of Culture, History, and Identity

Looking Back: Canadian Women's Prairie Memoirs and Intersections of Culture, History, and Identity

Synopsis

When we think about women settlers on the Prairies, our notions tend to veer between the nostalgic image of the "cheerful helpmate" and the grim deprivation of the "reluctant immigrant." In this ground-breaking new study, Leigh Matthews shows how a critical approach to the life-writing of individual prairie women can broaden and deepen our understanding of the settlement era. Reopening for examination a substantial body of memoirs published after 1950 but now largely out of print, Matthews engages critical and feminist theory to close the gap between our polarized stereotypes and the actual lived experiences of rural prairie women. Addressing both the limitations and possibilities of life writing, Matthews presents a sound, well-developed and well-written case for memoir as reconciling female experience to the dominant historiography of the prairie west. Reading for "failures and incoherences," the memoirs considered here reveal women's voices that probe a community's most cherished values and beliefs, reveal its conflicts and contradictions, and call leaders to account. - Catherine Cavanaugh, Athabasca University.

Excerpt

Funny, how the stories you read when you are young take such a
hold on you. They are like friends that mold and often seem to be a
part of your own life, as if you had helped live them.

– Edna Jacques, Uphill All the Way (1977)

For the woman artist is not privileged or mandated to find her self
in-world except by facing (affronting?) and mounting an enormous
struggle with the cultural fictions – myths, narratives, iconograph
ies, languages – which heretofore have delimited the representation
of women. and which are culturally and psychically saturating.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, “For the Etruscans” (1985)

Their sharing is a gift of themselves, and a gift to themselves also;
a restoration of themselves into our history.

– Eliane Leslau Silverman, The Last Best West: Women
on the Alberta Frontier, 1880–1930
(1984)

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