Diversity and Change in Early Canadian Women's Writing

By Galletly, Sarah | British Journal of Canadian Studies, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Diversity and Change in Early Canadian Women's Writing


Galletly, Sarah, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Jennifer Chambers (ed.), Diversity and Change in Early Canadian Women's Writing (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), 218 pp. Cased. £34.99. ISBN 978-1- 8471-8732-1.

In Re(dis)covering Our Foremothers (1990), Lorraine McMullen called for 'scholarship and activism' (p. 4) to aid in the project of recuperating Early Canadian women writers. In 2008, Jennifer Chambers echoes this sentiment, calling for a 'will to persevere' (p. 6) among Canadian scholars to ensure this process of recovery and re-examination continues. The essays collected in this study cover a range of well-known authors such as Sara Jeannette Duncan and L.M. Montgomery, alongside more obscure or, to use Chambers' own term, 'not yet known' (p. 3) authors, such as May Agnes Fleming and Clara May Bell. This collection aims to challenge the tendency to write off Early Canadian fiction as too 'conventional' or overly conservative, focusing instead on 'unconventional' ways of reading these works.

Of particular note is Kathryn Carter's essay on Mary Gapper O'Brien, which creatively explores how journal letters can be used to interrogate and collapse the boundaries of 'home' through an examination of the mechanisms employed by correspondents to navigate Early Canadian postal networks. As Carter outlines, journal letters were the predominant form of correspondence in the 1830s and were often intended for multiple recipients; forwarded from one family member to the next. O'Brien constantly refers to difficulties in writing or ensuring letters reach the right hands - there are even handwritten notes on the envelopes describing where (and by which route) a specific letter should be sent 'home'. These written traces allow Carter to track the progress of these letters across continents, allowing her to explore the ways in which colonial spaces were imagined, and opening up new ways of conceptualising settler space. …

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