The Small Details of Life: Twenty Diaries by Women in Canada, 1830-1996

ISBN 10: 0802043399 / ISBN 13: 9780802043399
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'I could scarcely hold myself together. I thought I must give way to my grief, so I hurried out, but when I got home and alone, I could just fall down and cry, I tried to pray but Oh I couldn't contain myself.' - Caroline Alice Porter, September 3rd, 1922, after the deaths of her youngest daughter, Jennie, and husband James within a single week in 1922.

This rich anthology presents twenty diary excerpts written between 1830 and 1996, covering the upper-class travails of nineteenth-century travelers and settlers to the workday struggles and triumphs of twentieth-century students, teachers, housewives, and writers. The diarists are single, married, with children and without, and, on at least one occasion, hiding love for another woman.

The excerpts - all preceded by a biographical sketch - make compelling reading. Elsie Rogstad Jones details the sudden death of her infant daughter in 1943; Constance Kerr Sissons, writing in 1900, discovers that her husband already has a Métis wife "à la façon du pays"; and Dorothy Duncan MacLennan ruminates on her married life with Hugh MacLennan in 1950s Montreal. Writers Marian Engel, Edna Staebler, and Dorothy Choate Herriman articulate their creative processes. Two diarists, Phoebe McInnes and Sophie Alice Puckette, writing in the first decade of the twentieth century, sketch the contradictions and difficulties in the lives of single female teachers. In an excerpt from 1843, Sarah Welch Hill, a newly arrived settler to Canada describes her violent marriage in what must be one of the few documents describing nineteenth-century domestic abuse in the first person.

The Small Details of Life represents a significant contribution to the fields of Canadian women's history and life-writing, and enriches our understanding of women's literature in Canada, especially its tradition of non-fiction, personal writing by such women as Susanna Moodie, Catharine Parr Traill, and Anna Jameson, among others.

Introduced with an examination of diary writing by women in Canada from a historical and theoretical perspective, the anthology also features contributions from two other significant diary scholars in Canada, Margaret Conrad and Barbara Powell.

About the Author: Kathryn Carter teaches Canadian Literature at Wilfrid Laurier University (Brantford).

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Published by University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division (2002)
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