Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Great Disruption?

My grandfather, Jules Crepeau's, city hall ID Montreal 1929. Odd, there's no specific City of Montreal insignia or anything... It is signed by J. Etienne Gauthier, City Clerk or Greffier, for whom my grandfather worked before becoming Director of Services. There's a line that says Nationality...He writes French Canadian. In my story I have Edith working as a tutor at the Crepeaus, since I have no record of what she was doing in Montreal in 1909, although I know she was there.

Hmm. As I write this second section of Flo in the City, my novel in progress about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1908-1913 era, based on the letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/. I am continuing my education about the era. I have decided to listen to the BBC's In Our Times, the discussions on the Modern Age. Just today, I listened to a 1999 discussion about the change from an Industrial to Information Age, titled The Great Disruption, which proved to be a very interesting discussion with respect to Tighsolas. It was not at all what I expected.

This edition of In Our Time covered the break up of the nuclear family, with an American scholar spouting the usual line, that single mothers are the cause of all evil, especially in America. The discussion also touched on religion and fundamentalism, with an Israeli author claiming that the nuclear family (just like religion) has the potential for great good but also for great evil. (This was a pre 9 -11 discussion, of course.)

This man made an interesting point: that before the modern age, 'certainty' was a part of existence...You were certain you were going to spend your life near your home, you were certain you'd be doing what your parents did, but then came industrialization, with its flow and flux, and little was certain any more, so people tried to replace this sense of certainty with 'false idols', the values of consumerism, and began searching in vain for something called happiness through consumer goods and escapism.

Anyway, in the Tighsolas Era, the 1910 era all this 'certainty' is certainly melting away, and in my story ( which is based on real letters) this is happening right under the feet of Marion, Flo and Edith. In the place of certainty the girls have 'dreams' to sustain them.

Even the emerging art form of the day, the motion picture show or 'flickers' (as in flickering light) had an ephemeral quality to it. (And, not so surprisingly, Hollywood has been called "The Dream Factory.") And the established art form of painting was turning to Impressionism, a style that was of the city (mostly) and about the changing nature of light.

Anyway, as for children needing 'two parents' as the American scholar asserted in this discussion (he has authored a book called the Great Disruption) the Tighsolas letters prove an interesting real-life counterpoint.

No doubt, father Norman was important to the family, but the fact was, he was seldom at home, not while the girls were being raised and not in the 1910 era.. and, simply put, Margaret liked it that way. Margaret was the strong one in the family and devoted as she was to her husband, she liked to rule the roost, which she could only do when her husband was away.

Whenever I hear the argument that children need a father and mother to raise them I always want to ask: Do children need 'two parents' around or do they need financial security and an adult or more to watch over them? Is this really about stigmatizing the poor? How come no one criticizes rich people for sending their kids away to boarding school?

In another In Our Time discussion I listened to today, a scholar was remarking on the evil stepmother archetype in literature and said the reason why there are so many stepmothers in traditional stories is because there were a lot of stepmothers, period, in society. Women, in the past, often died in childbirth. Since a man in the past was incapable of taking care of his children on his own, he had to remarry or give the children up. So much for the much lauded family stability of the good old days!

The In our Time discussion about the Great Disruption, touched upon the nature of a small community, the typical social unit before industrialization, where people were always being watched by someone and if anyone misbehaved, he wasn't so much as punished, put away, but shamed, or shunned. This is considered a very good thing by the Israeli writer, who has lived on a kibbutz, considering the alternative, urban alienation and crime and incarceration.

My story, Flo in the City, illustrates this aspect of small town life. In Richmond, in 1910, everyone knew what everyone else was doing. Both the men and women of the community made sure of this! Hence, Flo knows that her family's money problems are common knowledge, which makes her uncomfortable. She hopes the church ladies don't know about brother Herb, who lives in Montreal, where his comings and goings are mostly secret. That's part of my story, too.

At this point, the beginning of 1909, Flo's older brother Herb is being forced to move back home, not to Richmond, but to another town in the E.T. (His parents have arranged this.) He is angry about this. (I hint that he has been frequenting prostitutes in Montreal, something young men of the era did, of course.) Herb will continue to do his best to avoid writing or visiting his parents. Of course, things only get worse, when it comes to Herbert Nicholson.