Tag: Nellie McLung

Universal Truth

 

I’m reading “The Valiant Nellie McClung, a Christmas gift.  I’m well acquainted with this Canadian icon, I’ve written about her in this space before.  What I’m struck with in this reading, is the timelessness of her writing.  So timeless, in fact, that some sixty years after her death my local newspaper is re-running some of her columns and they are very popular, not just from an historic point of view but from a current one.

What makes her still relevant? It’s her ability to hit upon universal truths.  Language changes, styles change, manners change, but when Mrs. McClung writes about war, her words ring true for any conflict. “War is not only a waste of things we can see and touch, but makes heavy inroads on the invisible and intangible things of the spirit.” When she speaks of the struggle of good over evil, that struggle is relevant in any age. “The power of evil . . . now stands before us in tanks that belch fire, in planes that drop bombs on hospitals and schools, in grasping bloodstained hands, ready to strangle the innocent and throttle our liberties.” McClung was writing about WWII but her words could apply to Syria, or Sudan, or Somalia today.  Even when she writes of domestic things, she calls to the heart of all of us who long for home. “I began to feel at home as soon as I walked up the gangplank.”

So, apart from my admiration for the woman, why am I telling you about Nellie McClung’s writing today? Because all writers, whatever their time, whatever their genre, strive to tap into that universal truth, that notion that crosses the ages.  The theme of star-crossed lovers has been explored from Shakespeare to Hardy to Bernstein.  Sibling rivalry is a story as old as Cain and Abel.    For romance writers,  we often explore such truths as the need to belong, the desire for family, the longing for justice.   Note this is not the same as genre tropes such as reunion stories, secret babies or runaway brides.  A truth is much deeper and more profound than a genre convention.

Nellie McClung was a woman of strong faith. Her words and actions were shaped by her Christian beliefs and her unwavering belief in Christian democracy.  Her tireless championing of women and children and all those who suffered under the existing power structure stemmed from those convictions.  I believe that is one reason her writings still resonate.  Not only are her themes universally true, they are true to her.

As story-tellers today, we must remember to be true to ourselves in our fiction. No matter the current “hot” topic, if the writer dislikes vampires, she will not be successful as an author of vampire stories.  If she hates small towns, then setting a tale of family and church and community in a small town will ring false to readers.  An old adage for authors is “write what you know.”  I suggest “write what you believe.”

 

 

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Voted!

Monday was election day in Canada and I happily took myself off to the polling station and exercised my right to vote for my member of parliament.  As I did so, I remembered my grandmother, one of the first generation of Canadian women to win the vote.  Imagine, she’d taught school, personally known Sir John A. MacDonald,, helped her husband pioneer on a farm in Northern Ontario, born ten children, sent a son to fight in Flanders Fields and she was deemed unfit to chose her government.  In our modern age such a situation seems incredible.  Roughly 30% of eligible voters didn’t bother to mark a ballot this time around.  My grandmother would shake her finger at them and say, “shame on you.”

My grandmother got the right to vote partially through the efforts of the Famous Five, a group of five women who took their demand to be considered “persons” under the law all the way to the Privy Council in Britain.  They had been denied by the Supreme Court of Canada, but the Privy Council agreed that women were in fact, persons, and as such must be treated equally with men under the law.

Apart from the right to vote, and the right to run for parliament,  this change in the understanding of the BNA Act had far reaching effects on women’s rights of ownership, finances, family, children, divorce and education.  The famous five didn’t end their activism with suffrage.  After they were declared “persons” they worked on many causes including mother’s allowances,  better education for their children,  free medical and dental care for school children, and equal pay for equal work.

One of the Famous Five was Nellie Mooney McLung.  My grandmother claimed kinship with Nellie because of the shared Mooney name.  I have a cousin who has done extensive work on our family tree and even she has been unable to unearth a connection between our family and Nellie’s but Grandmother claimed there was a spiritual connection even if she couldn’t find one by blood.

So, as I cast my vote I say thanks to Nellie and her compatriots who campaigned so tirelessly for the rights of women and I say thanks to my grandmother who instilled in all her many descendants the privileges and duties of citizenship.  This one’s for you, Gramma.

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