Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Extraordinary Canadians

Eighteen biographies are part of the Penguin series about Extraordinary Canadians, with documentary films exploring the same subjects.

This is an ambitious project and sheds necessary light on historic personalities such as Trudeau, Bethune, Gould, and Carr. Several are written by fiction writers, some by artists, others by poets. I'm looking forward to exploring the series.

Senior editor John Ralston Saul says
Together they produce a grand sweep of the creation of modern Canada... They changed the way the world hears music, thinks of war, communicates. They changed how each of us sees what surrounds us, how minorities are treated, how we think of immigrants, how we look after each other, how we imagine ourselves through what are now our stories.

I had my first taste of the series in Nellie McClung, by Charlotte Gray, and tonight went to the Heliconian lecture to hear the author speak about her subject.

This biography was probably chosen by the club because of McClung's pivotal role in winning the vote for women in Canada. But Gray has written a fairly conventional biography, and the short 40K word bio doesn't really do her justice. Quite factual, it mentions details, such as Nellie's husband Wes having a mysterious mental illness, or the suffragette countering whisper campaigns by opening her speeches mentioning she had phoned home to make sure her kids were okay. Nellie is presented as the hero she is, but without much depth. A bit of a pet peeve for me was, why no photos, when the author repeatedly refers to her as an 'attractive woman'? So here's a photo tracked down from another source. The book did succeed in making me curious about McClung's life and times.

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