- Mapping the Margins: The Family and Social Discipline in Canada, 1700-1975
The twelve chapters in this collection are divided among three sections: 'Broken Families,' 'Bachelors and Spinsters,' and 'Institutions and Marginality.' Even then, as most good chapters are in most good collections, they cover widely different subject areas and times. Helpfully and skilfully, the editors provide not only a blanket introduction and conclusion to the book, but also an introduction to each section.
Of course, a volume on this topic assumes the centrality of the family in the construction of society, but there is plenty of admission that such centrality as exists is maintained only through great effort on the part of institutions and true dedication on the part of individuals. That those on the margins play a significant part in defining the centre is an ongoing theme in the volume, most notably in the chapter on rural Quebec by Ollivier Hubert. En scène in other chapters are such faded characters as not only the above-cited bachelors and spinsters, but 'old maids' and 'unmarried mothers,' the latter a term which could be but isn't applied to a large number of today's female procreators! The topic of same-sex couples and the families they create is only alluded to. If a margin is invisible, what is its effect on the centre? (I will return to this last point at the end.)
The chapters differ not only as to topic and era but as to genre and source. An enterprising instructor looking to teach not just the content of history but the creation of the literature of history will find plenty of discussion material between the covers. J.L. Little's excavation of one man's diary, for instance, could be nicely juxtaposed with Michele Stairs's use of the fiction of L.M. Montgomery. What makes one source 'fact' and another 'fiction'? Another comparison could be between Bettina Bradbury's use of [End Page 268] legal documents pertaining to marriage and widowhood and the use of statistics, for instance, in the article on institutionalization (for madness) by James Moran, David Wright, and Mat Savelli. What are the dangers of generalizing the experience of the individual? What are the dangers of assembling flesh and blood along a backbone of numbers?
I found this volume to be, in general, a very good read, certainly a factor of importance in the undergraduate classroom. I also found it thought-provoking, likely to generate good discussion in the graduate seminar. The article I found the most enlightening was Nancy Christie's examination of begging letters and their role in the economy of the family and the society at large. Those authors who do not find themselves mentioned individually here should look no farther than to the enforced brevity of this review format for explanation. Only one of the chapters appeared to me to have been rather tossed off and I suspect the author is fully aware of this.
I'll end with one suggestion and one complaint. The suggestion - a strongly urged suggestion - is that such volumes be properly indexed. Indexes help tremendously in seeing the development of themes across even the most disparate of contributions. The complaint has to do with the ambition of the subtitle. There is nothing here of the Canada that lies west of southern Ontario. (Okay, there is one reference to the historical Northwest Territories and there may be others I've missed.) The centre of this volume is what Suzanne Morton identifies in her article on bastardy in Nova Scotia as 'Old Canada.' We on the margins would find it more acceptable to be excluded specifically rather than included by specious implication. [End Page 269]
Janice Dickin, Department of Communications, University of Calgary