- Evangelical Balance Sheet: Character, Family, and Business in Mid-Victorian Nova Scotia
In Evangelical Balance Sheet, Anne Wood explores that most elusive concept, character, and the way character, particularly its masculine iteration, was constructed in mid-Victorian Nova Scotia. Specifically, Wood examines the Victorian ideal of character through the private observations and analysis of a single man, Norman Rudolph, in journal entries written over a twenty-five-year period. Rudolph, a member of the evangelical wing of the Church of England, is an intriguing subject for such a study. Little has been written about the experience of Anglican evangelicals, and historians will welcome this addition to the growing body of historiography dealing with the relationship between evangelical sensibilities and social, economic, and political life.
Norman Rudolph migrated to Pictou in 1853 at the age of eighteen. By 1862, when his journal begins, Rudolph had been employed by the merchant and lumbering firm of Primrose Sons for eight years, had been a member of the vestry at St James Anglican Church for five years, and had met and married Cassie Dawson, the daughter of a [End Page 266] Pictou merchant. Commenting on his decision to keep a journal, Rudolph noted that 'it may not be an unprofitable expenditure of time to jot down passing occurrences in my quiet life, and if spared in the Providence of God to complete a year's history I trust a retrospective of it, will enable me to correct errors, and to improve any more time allotted to me.'
For Anne Wood, Rudolph's journal has provided 'an unusually rich source for examining the development of the male concept of character.' As the acknowledged authority on the Scottish milieu of Pictou, Wood brings a unique insight to the topic, deftly situating Rudolph's experience within the broader community context. Rudolph and the Scottish Pictou cultural community into which he was absorbed 'were constructing a liberal ideal of character that had attained great prominence in the political thought of the Victorian period.' For Protestant Christians, 'their sense of dignity, or character, was derived from their stewardship – as parents, as family leaders, as responsible businessmen and as social reformers.' Rudolph's companionate marriage was very much consonant with this view of the attributes of 'manly character.' He also proved himself a responsible businessman, rising, in the course of a decade, from the status of clerk to partner. As a community activist, Rudolph played a significant role in his church, in the local militia, and in voluntary societies ranging from the Masonic Lodge through the Sons of Temperance, the British and Foreign Bible Society, to the YMCA.
Yet in 1870, at the age of thirty-five, Norman Rudolph left his business and community behind, immigrating to Scotland, taking with him, along with his wife, three older children and his mother-in-law, 'merely my character, my ability whatever that may be, and a little money to start anew wherever I could find an opening.' Rudolph's journal entry is somewhat misleading, for he had accepted a position in his brother-in-law's business. He left behind his widowed mother, a sister and brother, and, for a time, his youngest son. Why did he leave? Were opportunities for Cassie and the children the major determinant? Or were a series of risky business ventures, coupled with certain tensions among the partners, the determining factors? Here the 'evangelical balance sheet' is difficult to read.
The major strength of the volume is also its weakness. The worlds of family and community in Pictou are very much viewed through the eyes of Norman Rudolph; aside from his journals, no other family papers or newspapers are cited. The reader is left wondering how Howard and Clarence Primrose viewed Rudolph. Similarly, one wonders how Cassie saw her role in family decision making. Was Rudolph a successful businessman, caught in a volatile economic climate, or was he less effectual than his own portrayal would lead us to believe? [End Page 267] Ultimately, such questions are moot, for historians are...