Canadian Novel Study Blog Post (Nellie McClung by Charlotte Gray)

Passage #1

“In Canada, we are developing a pattern of life and […] I know that we who make the patterns are not important, but the pattern is” (Prologue).


This is a quotation taken directly from my chosen person that resonates with me on a personal basis. The way that the Charlotte Gray starts the book with a direct passage from McClung’s own work adds to the hook for the novel. This quote sets the stage for the novel to tell a modest truthful story about feminism through lenses that do not focus minutely on minor details. I personally agree with the philosophy that although recognition is important the more important aspect of history is the story and patterns that we can learn from in the modern world. By starting off the novel with a clear intention and focus on Canada’s patterns also relaxed my personal apprehensiveness of reading a biography.


Through the passage “in Canada, we are developing a pattern of life” I can immediately start connecting the biography to Canadian identity. As this specific quotation is a cited source from McClung herself, we can begin to understand how Canadian Identity was formed in the 1940s. This quotation is cited from another novel called The Stream Runs Fast by Nellie McClung in 1945. This book surrounded Nellie’s life during World War II and the Great Depression. Due to the time of this quote, it is reasonable to infer that McClung thought that the development of Canada was still very fluid during her time. Through “developing a pattern of life” Canadian Identity was still being constructed during the early 19th century. This leads me to believe that a part of Canadian Identity may be the fluidity of ideas within society as the mid 19th century is incredibly recent.


Passage #2

“Nellie was a key figure I two of the critical campaign’s of first-wave feminism: the fight to win the vote for women and the right of women to considered ‘persons,’ and to be entitled to sit in federal senate” (pg5).


This quotation came as a shock to me as I was reading my novel. Personally both the right to vote and “the right of women to considered persons” has never been questioned within my lifetime (pg5). Although my biography did not give an exact date I did my own research and found that in 1940 the last province passed a bylaw allowing women to vote. The process of gaining the vote throughout Canada started in 1916 and was successful in 1940. All the bylaws allowing women to vote were petitioned personally by Nellie McClung. Personally, I have a great appreciation for all the people who fought to gain me and 50% of the population the right to vote and be considered a person. Less than 100years ago most provinces did not recognize women as people or give them the simple right to vote.

The outside perspective of the Canadian identity has always been petitioned as promoting equality although this quotation would directly disagree. Compared to today Canada has not been nearly as inclusive as we like to project through media. However, a key piece of information about women’s rights movements within Canada is that they were non-violent and unbiased. Most feminist movements were broad and focused on multiple audiences surrounding low to high-class women as well as different ethnicities and minority groups. “She kept feminism mainstream, [and] deliberately kept on board with other groups that were not obvious allies” which can be argued to have set the tone for Canada’s inclusive reputation (pg6). Although Canada may not have always been a great example of equality the way groups approached issues and combined ideas is unique within history. In reference to the absence of violence, many people may attribute this to Canadian Identity. Throughout history, Canada has shown the ability to talk about ideas without violence such as in Canadian Confederation, or in the women’s rights movement.


Passage #3

“Nellie achieved with wit and irony what feminist leaders elsewhere achieved only with harsh rhetoric and demonstrations. […] Nellie was operating in a male-dominated society, and her actions did not dislodge the deeply rooted power structure of her Canada” (pg7).


This passage demonstrated the full capabilities of social power within society and allows me to learn from McClung’s strategies with people. One of the main subjects in this quote is her “wit and irony” that replaced qualities of other feminists that used “rhetoric and demonstrations” (pg7). This stands out to me as a lesson to not limit yourself to specific audiences. McClung succeeded in changing opinions due to her likeability to men and women alike and did not limit herself to only people who shared her disapproval of certain social systems. Instead of speaking against men she spoke for women in ways that added to Canada instead of breaking our systems. Through building on laws instead of petitioning against them she not only made the feminist movement more streamlined but also more widely accepted by a variety of audiences. In this way, I admire McClung’s ability to work within a structure and with a variety of people.


Canadian identity shown in this quote is deeply rooted in how we historically solved problems and approached social change. Within the feminist movement, they did not “dislodge the deeply rooted power structure of […] Canada” but rather approached feminism as an addition to society (pg7). McClung and many other writers of the time petitioned in ways so that providing social change would directly boost the economy and political powers within Canada. Instead of working against their male-dominated society they worked within laws to add to the success of the developing nation. This quote shows how Canadian Identity is to add to existing foundations and be accepting of new social changes.


Passage #4

“I never was very fond of work, and I remember that when the dishes were coming up to be washed, my sister Hannah often remarked that I had a way of disappearing” (pg14).


Within this quote, I can directly relate to Nellie McClung showing how the author uses this quotation to humanize McClung for readers. Everyone in all times has at one point avoided doing work and this quotation can be utilized effectively to humanize McClung in a way that relates to readers. By relating to readers Charlotte Gray can draw people into the story as it becomes more personal. For instance, to me, this quote can be related to my own housework that I run away from as well as my own sister wondering where I disappeared to. In this way, I can now contextualize McClung not only as a leader of feminism but also as a fellow human being.


This passage exemplifies how Canadian Identity could be based on forming relationships with leaders in an equal way. As explained in the previous paragraph this quotation shows us that Nellie McClung was human and, in some ways, equal to everyone else. This quote is another cited source originally from McClung’s autobiography. Due to its origin, we can infer that some followers of McClung’s feminist’s movements were attracted to her humanity and ability to accept fault. This shows a need for Canadian leaders to show fault and equality to their followers to remain relatable.


Passage #5

“The abduction of a young girl is punishable by five years’ imprisonment but the stealing of a cow is punished by a fourteen-year sentence. Property has ever been held dearer than flesh and blood when the flesh and blood are woman’s” (pg47).


This quote awakened me to research into the historical past of women’s rights. Although I was aware of many injustices committed throughout history this quote puts it into a contextualized perspective. During the early 19th century less than 100 years ago longer sentences were dealt to cattle thieves that to kidnappers. Moreover, the phrasing of the quote (originally used by McClung) makes me admire McClung’s calm attitude towards social change. Instead of approaching issues with anger she approached women’s rights with questions. In stories written for newspapers, she described women’s stories with “gentle irony and biting satire” (pg48). Throughout the biography, several articles are quoted and described in detail shedding light on the harsh situation and of McClung’s plan to fix it. I greatly admire and respect her for her role in women’s rights as well as a calm attitude.


This passage describes Canadian Identity in many controversial ways. Due to my personal ignorance of the timeline of women’s rights values, I can infer that “the flesh and blood” of women is held in higher regard within society in modern Canada. In this way, I argue that this quote brings to light the fluidity of Canadian Identity. Although women were not respected in McClung’s time many values and laws have changed. In this way, I argue that a piece of Canadian Identity is rooted in the acceptance of social change and fluidity of societal values.



Analyzation of the perceived problems of a time period can help create an identity for a given time. Throughout the first half of my novel, many feminist and minority problems were addressed within a historical context and the perception of these problems ultimately embodied Canadian Identity over time. Although many issues have changed since the early 19th century our perception of problems and solutions remains rooted in the same ideals of a relatable leader, constructive progress, and an openness to listen. The main achievement of McClung’s feminist movement is its appeal to the mainstream Canadian through these ideals. McClung remained relatable to people through her storytelling of her own life as well as other Canadians lives. Moreover, the argument of women’s rights was made in a way that constructively built on Canadian societal structure with a critical though the process. Lastly, the openness of men and women alike to listen to their fellow Canadian is what ultimately allowed for the success of the feminist movement within Canada. In this way, analyzation of perception can assist in creating an identity for a group.

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