Monday, October 18, 2010

Ambition and Abominable Shoes

A magazine called the National Monthly published a 1910 era article entitled The Characteristics of a Canadian Girl. This kind of article has long been a staple of magazines, I suspect it serves as a kind of instruction to young women. (I found another one in a 1900 era article in the Canadian Magazine. The fashion magazines of the era are full of such articles.) The term 'girl' always means a nubile young woman, not a child and not a matron, a maiden -and of a certain leisured class. There were no such "Characteristics of a Canadian Boy" articles. The articles that served as instruction to boys were the ubiquitous profiles of successful, even great, men, past and present. Role models. Young women had no role models in the public sphere, of course. Those 'manly' women who were out there were not,under any circumstance, to be emulated!

The words chosen to describe the women are very interesting, if you are in a mood to deconstruct them. Very carefully chosen, methinks. I reprinted in full the part about Montreal women. Hmm. Marion, Flo and Edith were much like French Canadians, for they loved dance, card parties and going to the theatre. (If this article has any truth to it.) But they didn't marry in their teens.

The Halifax girl is closer akin to the native Britisher, than other Canadian girls, except she is more independent. Why. Instead of having a governess she goes off to kindergarten and mingles with other girls. “As a consequence, more scope for the development of her ambition is allowed and thus her range of thought and enterprise is widened, making her in due time a far more interesting companion." The Haligonian lass is also "healthy and hearty" due to her interest in a range of "appropriate exercise" and also because she shuns tight-laced shoes and high heels and ‘other abominations which are as cruel manacles to the poor physical nature'... (Nan Enstad writes about how working class girls in the Textile Industry in New York chose to wear delicate heeled shoes (usually worn by rich women) instead of sensible shoes more suitable to their working lifestyle.
(This Montreal bit is typed verbatim.)

In the city of Montreal, is presented the spectacle of two nationalities, living side by side in practical harmony, though divided by differences of race (sic), religion and language. Out of the total population full three fourths are French (Editor: two thirds) but the English and Scotch people hold the bulk of the wealth, and in the social life of the city they present by far the most important figure and I make bold to assert that in no other city in the world have the girls freer scope for life of happiness, or usefulness, nor can a finer, more interesting type of girl be found.
(This guy writes like Jane Austen. Mr. Collins could be saying these things.)

While much that has been written concerning the girls of Halifax, is true of the girls of Montreal, and need not therefore be repeated, yet there are certain characteristics that must be noted. For one thing, the Montreal girl is not so subservient to the Old Country observances and traditions. She has more freedom of individual initiative and action, of which she takes full advantage, but not, as might be feared, so much in the direction of larger social liberty, as of less restricted personal action.

Matrimony seems to occupy a singularly unimportant corner of the minds of the majority of girls. Their time is so well occupied in the pursuit of intellectual, artistic and physical culture (for Delsarte is in vogue ..(Editor: he's a kind of precursor to Stanislavski) that the pursuit of a husband is quite relegated to the background. Notwithstanding, when the fitting opportunity comes, as it does in good time, they do not scorn it by any means, but settle into the domestic realm with all the more grace.

The young lady of the French quarter has almost invariably received her education in the sombre seclusion of a convent, consequently, when she emerges from this crysalis condition into the butterfly glory of social life, she goes in for gaiety of every kind, with a zest not so fully manifested by her English sister. The ballroom, the card party, and the theatre play a far more important part of her life and she does not give the same attention to the more improving forms of education.

She is a very charming person withal, as full of vivacity, as well bottled champagne, and frankly fond of masculine attentions. As a rule, she marries while in her teens, and finds in the nursery compensation for the delights of the dance....

The Toronto women is sweet and sensible and devoted to philanthropy and religion. The Prairie Girl is, well, from somewhere else in Canada, although the new environment may add a soupcon of breeziness to her behavior. The Victoria girl is more British, like the Haligonian, with an even more formal manner.