In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

HUMANITIES 385 Pauline Greenhill and Diane Tye, editors. Undisciplined Women: Tradition and Culture i11 Canada MeGill-Queen's University Press. xv, 306. $45.00 The introduction to Undisciplined Women by the editors, Diane Tye and Pauline Greenhill, is good: it sets out various permutations of the triple marginalization- of women, of folklore, of Canada- which mark out the territory of Canadian women folklorists. As the editors forthrightly claim, the essays should be 'of particular interest to feminist folklorists seeking alternatives to the academic status quo.' The more polemical manifesto of Laurel Doucette's lead essay, 'Reclaiming the Study of Our Cultural Lives,' develops the case with considerable eloquence. Doucette sets out a brief, lucid history of the discipline of folklore, from 'romantic nationalism' to the institutionalization of the modem university, and shows the deeply buried reasons, both intellectual and social, for our changing the direction of that history, starting now. An exemplary memoirby Edith Fowke follows, and two exemplary lives of early workers in the folklore field, S~ur CatherineJolic~ur (by Ronald Labelle) and Jean D. Heffernan (by Diane Tye). The strengths and accomplishments of these three women, as well as their limitations, are set out in a balanced way, but so also are the difficulties put in their path by an exclusively male academic establishment. The men 'in charge' of the discipline , saw (inevitably) these three women, and others like them, as unsystematic, indeed 'undisciplined,' amateurs (whence the title of the book). These opening essays thus offer a revisionist view of women's place (in both senses) in the study of Canadian folklore. Although the term 'cultural studies' is not used, the broader, currently more respected, and highly interdisciplinaryfield that the introduction and the papers in the first quarter of the volume encourage point clearly in that direction. To put it more crudely than the editors do, such a move offers some hope of making 'folklore' fashionable (again?). If the essays which follow are not always as satisfying as these introductory materials, it is largely because the topics are, in accordance with folklore research protocols, narrowly empirical; further, in accordance with the custom of conferences, a number of the papers are too short to allow for much contextualizing or teasing out of broader implications, as was done so effectively in the prefatory material. Also, despite considerable crossreferencing of the essays, they do not reinforce each other as much as one might hope. Although any such volume of essays is likely to be uneven, I am perhaps eliding the subversive feminist metaphor of the quilt in assessing the aesthetic harmony of this work 'by various hands.' I will just point briefly to the papers I fonnd particularly successfuL Anne Brydon on 'The Icelandic "Fjallkona" in Canada,' Michael Taft on 386 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 'Theatrical Transvestites on the Canadian Prairie,' and Robin McGrath on 'Inuit Women's Autobiographies' all go beyond a purely empirical report of an investigation and succeed best, not only in establishing an argument but in drawing broader conclusions from it. McGrath's title, for instance, 'Circumventing the Taboos,' provides, taken along with excerpts from the autobiographies themselves, a mise en abynze of the collection as a whole. Brydon's account of a vestige of ancient custom surviving into the day of multiculturalism catches what I have always experienced as a main feature ofsmall-group sociology: the partplayed by the abrasions of one individual personality upon another. Michael Taft is both broad and analytical in his combination of the concepts of gender studies with close observation, to illuminate th.e half-buried psychological significance ofcross-dressed mockweddings : to demonstrate masculinity precisely by bemg a 'good sport' about pretending to femininity. The studies of more deracinated present-day social phenomena are, for the most part, less satisfactory, though of course they further confirm the book's central point, that folklore studies cannot be tied only to the quaint, the nostalgic, and the vanishing, if they are to regain their rightful place in the intellectual world. Jean Heffernan, to return to the beginning of the book, set the pattern for (her) future (our present) by rightly insisting on the continuity of folklore from the lives of Nova Scotian...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 385-386
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.