the bend in the road

Hello again. For all tuning in after the intermission, I am writing this from Sleaford, Lincolnshire, back in England. Having had a fabulous time in Canada, I’m currently in an in between phase, waiting to see what comes next (having put in almost 40 job applications). It’s good to have a pause to breathe after a couple of years where I haven’t really had a break, and it’s nice to be back with family for a while and especially to get to know my nine-month old niece, who looked quizzically at me for the first weekend, but seems now to have taken to me and often smiles when she sees me.


I’m going to continue blogging about Canada, at least for a while. During the past year I’ve been mentally noting bloggable observations quicker than I got round to writing posts, so have a fair number of observations of Canada still in store. I might be making some connections between my Canadian and British lives.

In my last few weeks in Toronto, I was helping a Korean friend with English conversation and enjoying her baking. Watching her put the vanilla essence into her banana bread, I was reminded of Anne of Green Gables’ misadventure in baking when she accidentally makes a cake with anodyne liniment instead of vanilla. Anne of Green Gables had been my bedtime reading, for two main reasons. One is that I probably didn’t read enough children’s fiction as a child, since I was a precocious child who preferred non-fiction, so I feel I have some catching up to do, particularly with some of the children’s classics I think I should have read. The other reason is that Anne of Green Gables is also a Canadian classic and so I thought it would dispatch two birds at once by aiding my quest to appreciate the roots of Canadian culture.

I could identify with many of the scrapes Anne gets into, particularly in the earlier part of the book. With regard to culinary misadventures, I recently found that cooking tomato puree with peanut butter was not the optimum combination. As a child I once tried mixing milk and lemon juice and heating the combination in the microwave. The result was a large white curdled blob floating in a residue of liquid.

I have a number of friends in Toronto who originate from Prince Edward Island where Anne of Green Gables is set. Apparently the island is overrun by coach tours filled with fans of Anne, and PEI benefits from the tourist dollars of multitudes of smitten Japanese ladies in particular. On their July tour of Canada, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge bypassed Toronto, but did visit Prince Edward Island, reportedly due to Kate’s childhood fondness for the series. On the royal visit, a Canadian journalist commented:

Now that Canada is the first to officially welcome Will and Kate, the nation is poised to return the love. And what better choice of host could there be? Like the royal couple themselves, Canada is young, clean-cut, polite, uncontroversial and financially secure. A bit dull, perhaps, but we make up for it with upbeat small talk and unfailing good manners. It’s an approach to life the Royal Family instinctively understands.

I would not dare to offer an assessment of the accuracy or otherwise of this statement.

The hidden subversive potential of Anne was revealed when I bought a copy of the book which was on special offer at the BMV store (BMV = Books Music Videos). Briefly wandering into and then out of an HMV store nearby, I set off the security alarm. They asked me if I had a CD or DVD in my bag, and I said that I didn’t, but I did have a book. After they ran the book through their scanners, I could leave without setting off the alarm.

One passage near the end of the book had a more particular resonance for me. Not wanting to spoil the story for those who don’t know, Anne is reflecting on a change of circumstances which makes her future uncertain:

“When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla. I wonder how the road beyond it goes – what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows – what new landscapes – what new beauties – what curves and hills and valleys further on.”

I have so far been a perpetual student, staying on the educational escalator from one stage to the next, and am immensely grateful for the privileges this has brought me and the places it has taken me. I would have loved to stay longer in Canada and to carry on life with my Toronto friends, but was unable to extend my stay once my year’s fellowship concluded. For now though, I believe I’m in the right place, even if I can’t see round the bend in the road.

My home town of Sleaford is a market town in rural Lincolnshire with a population of 14,500. It’s a relatively small town (in British terms, we wouldn’t call it a city – though I’m not sure if my North American readers make the same distinction between a town and a city), with country fields only ever a few minutes’ drive away. However, Sleaford has been growing rapidly for the past twenty years or so, partly through commuters moving up from the south of England where houses are more expensive. This growth is set to continue, and the town has had a lot of restoration and regeneration work done in the town centre especially since I started university.


I’ve recently discovered some connections between Sleaford and Canada which I didn’t previously know. Frances Brooke (1724-89), author of what is known as “the first Canadian novel”, is buried in the parish church in Sleaford. It was Frances Brooke and her sister Sarah who reportedly complimented Samuel Johnson on his famous English dictionary as follows:

The two ladies paid him due compliments on the occasion. Amongst other topics of praise, they very much commended the omission of all naughty words. ‘What! my dears! then you have been looking for them?’ said Johnson. The ladies, confused at being thus caught, dropped the subject of the dictionary.

(from H. D. Beste, Personal and Literary Memorials (1829))

Frances produced plays, poems and translations, as well as editing a periodical entitled The Old Maid, under the pseudonym “Mary Singleton, Spinster”, though in fact she was recently married when she began this publication. However, she is best known as the author of the 1769 novel The History of Emily Montague, often called the first Canadian novel. Although Frances Brooke was not in Canada for that much of her life (living for four years in Quebec, where her husband was a Church of England chaplain), the novel’s role in Canadian literary history attracts significant attention from scholars of Canadian literature which it might not have done had it been just another eighteenth-century English novel.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, The History of Emily Montague is a fairly typical eighteenth-century sentimental novel , which “recounts the courtship and marriage of several sets of lovers including, most importantly, Ed Rivers, a lieutenant-colonel on half-pay, and the beautiful, but apparently poor, Emily Montague.” However, it is distinguished by being set in the British colony of Quebec and by including “comments, reinforcing views already expressed by both Brookes in their letters, on the political, religious, and social characteristics of Britain’s recent acquisition”. I was amused to read that “According to Frances Brooke, this Canadian content, which would make it ‘better liked by men than women’, was partly responsible for the poor sales; ‘a novel to sell shou’d please women because women are the chief readers of novels & perhaps the best judges’”. However, one reviewer “was also impressed with Mrs Brooke’s presentation of Canada ‘and the manners of its inhabitants’, for in ‘her description of these the reader will meet with much amusement” and “In the late eighteenth century the work also became a kind of guidebook for visitors to Quebec.”


Another important figure in Canadian history linked to Sleaford is William Henry (Bill) Wright (1876-1951), the first publisher of The Globe and Mail (a prominent national Canadian newspaper published in Toronto), who made his wealth through gold-prospecting. Wright was born in Sleaford and was a butcher’s apprentice who then joined the British army and fought in the Boer War before moving to Canada in 1907. According to Wikipedia: “In 1916, Wright felt the need to support the Allies in World War I. Though he was a millionaire and almost forty years old, he joined the Canadian army as a private and served overseas. He remained a private throughout the war, though he had to turn down the opportunity of promotion several times.”

The Globe and Mail was not an entirely new newspaper, but rather a merger between two newspapers each founded by politicians who played a major role in Canadian history, though their politics differed. According to Wikipedia, The Globe was founded in 1844 by George Brown, one of the Fathers of Confederation (who have a similar status in Canadian history to that of the Founding Fathers in US history). Brown was aligned with the Clear Grits, an agriculturally based reform movement which fed into the Liberal Party of Canada. The Toronto Mail, on the other hand, was founded in 1872 by John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister and a Tory: The Toronto Mail merged with Toronto Empire, another conservative newspaper, to form The Mail and Empire before merging with The Globe in 1936 to form The Globe and Mail. George Brown and John Macdonald both have names that live on in Toronto through buildings, colleges and the like named after them. Incidentally, both immigrated from Scotland. A book was published in 2010 entitled How the Scots Invented Canada (by Ken McGoogan), exploring how Scottish immigrants played a leading role in creating both the institutions and the culture of what became Canada. But, if the Scots invented Canada, Sleaford had its small role in furnishing Canada with culture.

There are some possibilities in the pipeline for me, and, to mix metaphors, there is a chance that the bend in the road will lead back across the Atlantic, though perhaps not to Canada this time. Keep tuning in.

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2 Responses to the bend in the road

  1. Jameela Lares says:

    Nice blog, David! If you are interested in more girl’s domestic fiction after _Anne_, there are seven more books in the series, not to mention the Emily series and some other stand-alone texts. (And _A Tangled Web_, one of LMM’s adult–young adult?–novels features a valuable copy of Bunyan’s _Pilgrim’s Progress_.) I also recommend Frances Hodgsen Burnett, especially _A Little Princess_ and _The Secret Garden_. Jameela Lares

  2. David says:

    Hi Jameela,

    Thanks for dropping by and for the reading recommendations. I hope to put some more children’s literature into my leisure reading. There’s an essay by Shannon Murray in the recent Cambridge Companion to Bunyan which focuses on Bunyan’s book of children’s verse _A Book for Boys and Girls_ but also mentions references to _The Pilgrim’s Progress_ in a number of children’s classics. (Incidentally, I have a review of the Cambridge Companion coming out imminently in The Glass, the journal of the Christian Literary Studies Group. I got rather carried away writing it so it’s probably “review article” length.) It was good to see you in Seattle.

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