- In Due Season by Christine van der Mark
According to the poet Dorothy Livesay, In Due Season (1947) was probably 'the first Canadian novel wherein the plight of the Native Indian and the Métis is honestly [End Page 247] and painfully recorded'. The Alberta writer Christine van der Mark was certainly ahead of her time, not only in her nuanced and appreciative presentation of the multiethnic communities of Canada's Northwest, but also in her bold characterisation of a determined but flawed pioneer woman. Her protagonist, Lina Ashley, is a single mother, abandoned by her husband, who stakes her own claim on a homestead. Her story unfolds in the Peace River region during the dustbowl 1930s. Van der Mark writes in an author's note:
This is the story of a woman, alone, forced to work like a man to wrest a living from the land. This is the story also of a pioneer community. There is the constant passing of seedtime and harvest, and the pushing back of the wilderness. The community grows and develops; the woman degenerates in spirit. For it is the very soul, as well as human blood and bone, which goes into the building of a new land.(p. 3)
Lina overcomes the physical challenges of her environment, and her farm prospers. Yet she remains an outsider, refusing to acknowledge her dependence on others. She receives help from her Native and Métis neighbours, as well as from those of German and Slavic origin, and at first, treats them all civilly enough. But our sympathy is gradually withdrawn from Lina as she begins to compete ruthlessly with other farmers and to reveal her racial and class-based prejudices. These are most evident in her treatment of Jay, a Métis boy who has taken care of Lina's daughter, Poppy, since she was a little girl. The narrator describes Jay admiringly–'His every attitude was one of grace' (p. 258)–but Lina's realisation that he and Poppy are in love provokes her to a racist outburst. In the context of this emotionally austere narrative, Jay's response is particularly moving. Acknowledging that he has usually been treated well in the harmonious village community, he adds, with reference to Lina's epithets for him: 'I've been to the Outside, and now I know what I am. When I am a boy in the bush, I don't know it. Only sometimes, I feel it, just a little. But I don't understand. When I go Outside, then I really know. I am a breed. A dog' (p. 258).
In their excellent Afterword to this new edition, Carole Gerson and Janice Dowson include revealing excerpts from van der Mark's correspondence with her editors at Oxford University Press, who objected to her sympathetic portrayal of Métis characters and thought she had made Jay 'altogether too attractive' (p. 332). The author stood her ground, and we are fortunate that her book was published without major editorial intervention. In Due Season is a powerful and beautifully written novel: a fine addition to WLUP's valuable Early Canadian Literature Series.