My copy of Woman: Maiden Wife and Mother is inscribed as part of Mrs Effie Randall’s collection, Port Edward Ontario, 1928.
It’s an oversized hardcover volume and has no publication date, but there is a small slip of paper used as a bookmark, a Quarterly Ticket for August 1890 for The Methodist Church, with the name of another Randall written in ink.
Inside the back cover is a clipped copy of Alexander Muir’s obituary (he died in 1906) from a Toronto newspaper.
It contains advice on what to have printed on your calling card, how to make a tomato omelet, and sick room routines.
It considers the census statistics for the 1880 report, a call for women to work in China, and the importance of maintaining clean air in abundance.
It makes statements that still feel relevant today, so even though I don’t have calling cards and don’t make omelets, this book is one of my treasured bookish possessions.
“Girl-life among more than half the population of the globe, seems the cheapest thing in the dust-bin of human possessions.” (This could have been pulled from Sally Armstrong’s The Ascent of Women.)
“It is curious how progressive women are becoming, and how they are asserting their ability to cope with men in almost all the arts and industries.” (This, too.)
I imagine this is how K.I. Press felt when she came across Types of Canadian Women and of Women Who Are or Have Been Connected With Canada, Volume I, by Henry J. Morgan.
It is, apparently, a biographical dictionary, illustrated, published in 1903 in Toronto by W. Briggs.
(In my mind, I imagine it to be part of a set, its binding matching my Woman: Maiden Wife and Mother volume, although the publisher is certainly different; I have never seen a copy of it, but I imagine that K.I Press has, and that she feels about it as I feel about Woman.)
In the acknowledgements in her book of verse, K.I. Press writes: “Although the book anticipated the publication of a second volume, as far as I can tell, it was never published.”
Here, enter K.I. Press and Gaspereau Press of Kentville, Nova Scotia, who are responsible for the second volume, compact and sassy, for all that I imagine the first volume to be oversized and serious.
Shall I comment on, once more, what I imagine? I know I’ve done a lot of imagining already here, but it seems appropriate, for the creation of this second volume has required great handfuls of imagination.
Perhaps, however, as Carol Shields states, “This seems to me to be fiction’s magic, that it attempts to be an account of all that cannot be documented but is, nevertheless, true.”
The introduction suggests that the portraits in the first volume undertook to explain what constitutes a Canadian Woman and that this second volume contains some overlapping patterns.
“It is conjectured that the inhospitable Canadian climate greatly exaggerates certain traits in its daughters, no matter from what early age they may have been lifted from their native land and placed in foreign schools to receive a proper education.”
These traits include “heroism…courage, self-sacrifice, privation, technical expertise, ruggedness, and a certain brand of embellishment, all previously thought to be the purview of the male of the species.”
These are all subjective matters, and the writer goes on to declare that great effort has been made to not only cast a light upon the lives of these legendary women but that the lines therein will provide a window “into their very souls”.
What are, however, concrete are the images of women, which are most likely Canadian indeed, given the source information (which frequently cites provincial and national archives).
One image appears on the left-hand page of almost every spread, with the corresponding “biography” opposite. Most are posed, studio-styled photographs, but some are candid shots in- and out-doors (even, in the wilds!).
Beyond the images, however, the book is rooted in imagination. But the truthful sort. Er, mostly. Maybe.
Ethel Wilson, in “Somewhere Near the Truth”, writes: “The human predicament is universal and also intensely personal and curious, and is the subject of all serious fiction.”
Were she to have been commissioned to write the introduction to Types of Canadian Woman Volume II, she might have written: “The predicament of Canadian Women is universal and also intensely personal and curious, and these ‘extraordinary experiences and remarkable personalities of these delightful creatures’ are contained in these pages.”
Sadly, but not surprisingly, all of the reference works discussed herein are out-of-print books now. Be they sincere, or be they smart-ass-y, sources of information for and about Canadian women are limited without volumes like these to flesh out the current offerings.
Is there a book you would like to add to this collection?
Happy Canada Day!