Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Much to Be Done: Private Life in Ontario from Victorian Diaries

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Much to Be Done: Private Life in Ontario from Victorian Diaries

Article excerpt

Frances Hoffman and Ryan Taylor, Much To Be Done: Private Life in Ontario from Victorian Diaries (Toronto: Natural Heritage Books/Dundurn Press, 2007), vii + 276pp. Paper. £11.99. ISBN 9781550027723.

This is the second edition and third printing of an interesting compilation first published in 1996. Hoffman and Taylor originally intended to produce a collage of material from the diaries of nineteenth-century Ontario (and Upper Canadian) women, but the project also came to embrace six male-authored records that threw light on their womenfolk. Extracts are grouped, with commentary and background material, in chapters dealing with courtship, childbirth, domestic life, cooking, servants, poverty, illness and various social rituals, from tea-drinking to funerals. As so often with diaries, it is not always clear whether they were written for posterity or as a form of dialogue with an inner or subsequent self. Belle Kittredge cried her eyes out after becoming stranded as a wallflower at a dance, in either 1891 or 1892 (the new edition might have resolved the ambiguous date). Years later she re-read the entry, adding in the margin: 'this makes me smile now but I won't tear it out' (p. 9). The authors treat the Victorian period as a single unit, juxtaposing material from the 1850s alongside a diary entry that refers to the telephone. Since there was indeed an underlying 'Victorian' culture in English-Canada, this works reasonably well. Occasionally it would be useful to have specific information about the locality, for Ontario is a large province and covered a multitude of sinners. …

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