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HUMANITIES 247 Misao Dean. Practising Femininity: Domestic Realism and the Performance ofGender in Early Canadian Fiction University of Toronto Press. viii. 140. $16.95 Misao Dean locates her conclusion to Practising Femininity within two perspectives. One - she terms it 'very conservative' - is an outgrowth of the poststructuralist idea that to speak of a subject, even in opposition, is to be a participant in its pre-existing construction. From this conservative position Dean views feminist activity as having failed to change the way gender is defined because it operates within the framework of patriarchal thinking. The other perspective - Dean identifies it as 'very radical' - can be summarized as: 'If we're going to change things, we have to change everything.' Left, therefore, to choose between a fall into self-defeating complexityand an impossible task, we mightdespair. Dean's final sentence gives us only vague guidance about how to resolve our quandary: 'Truly, we need to "think globally," about language about meaning, and about gender even as we /I act locally" on the particular issues of aUf workplaces and communities.' Dean has reached her conclusions through an examination of Canadian texts, works that contemporary feminists tend to see as liberationist: pioneer writing by Catharine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie; the nineteenth-century romance as writtenby Rosanna Leprohon; the romance of the New Woman, by writers such as Joanna Wood; the feminist writing by Nellie McChmg; and the modernist depiction of Mrs Bentley in Sinclair Ross's As for Me and My House. Dean argues that, while the range of appropriate behaviours for women changed in Canada from the Upper Canada settlement period to the beginning of the Second World War, no corresponding change of values concerning the acceptable motivations behind women's actions took place. To support her sense thatfeminism did not bring about real progress, Dean postulates that thinking about female gender itself has been constructed around two feminine selves: an inner self, a supposedly essential femininity, which Dean sees as a fiction imposed upon the developing individual; and an outer self, the behaviours and activities normalized by a patriarchal society that determines feminine propriety. She believes that in all the texts she examines, regardless of how 'liberated' women might seem, they are viewed in terms of their gender and thus, for Dean, are always framed within a patriarchal set of values. Such women, whether in fiction or life-writing, must justify their actions in terms of feminine virtues that remain constant. Dean does observe that not only can the acceptable range of women's activities expand, the frame-. works through which femininity may be assessed can also change: in later booksshesees gender refrarned by contexts such as biological determinism, the idea of an inherent female sexuality, and Freudian analysis. Butin spite of these apparently different discourses, for her each system affirms the 248 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 same components of an inner femininity: selflessness, unselfconsciousness, self-control, self-sacrifice, and a desire to protect children. Women must have these virtues to be truly feminine. There is a fascinating and provocative argument here, even if we do not follow its logic to Dean's conclusion that gender-definitions are hopelessly tainted. However, it is so far-reaching that I wish Dean had placed this argument into a broader North American social and historical context and that she had engaged more with the international scholarship concerning both male and female gender definitions. I also would have liked more nuanced examinations of the texts she has chosen. All but one of these books are written for a popular audience and for a particular, even political, purpose in their depiction of women. These factors greatly affect the presentation of gender. The one exception i$ Sinclair Ross's As for Me and My House, the only text written by a man (a man whose own gender definitions were complex) and the only text under consideration that does not use formulas associated with the romance tradition and other 'female' modes of writing. Dean's own reading of this novel largely ignores these complexities. (DONNA BENNETT) Peter Bailey. Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City Cambridge University Press. X, 258. us $59.95 This collection of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 247-248
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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