CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 20 . . . . June 9, 2000
The smell of fresh-brewed coffee was just beginning to waft in from the kitchen as the last woman stepped into the room and found herself a chair. It was Mrs. Ingram. Nellie wondered again why Mrs. Ingram came to the meetings. Perhaps she was acting as some sort of spy. Still, what faster way to spread news about the organization? Mrs. Ingram always told everything to everyone, whether they wanted to hear it or not!The opening line of the second volume of J.R.R.Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" begins, "Aragorn sped on up the hill." In our family, this sentence has become synonymous with "Please go back and begin at the beginning," and while I hesitate to compare Connie Brummel Crook's book to Tolkien's masterpiece, Nellie's Victory gave me the same feeling of coming in in the middle of the story. This is not to say that this book does not stand alone, just that I feel it is the natural sequel to the previous two volumes (Nellie L. and Nellie's Quest) and would be best appreciated if read in proper chronological order.
The Winnipeg Public Library files the trilogy under biography rather than fiction with good reason. It is not a novel - it is "history with conversation" as Josephine Tey describes an historical novel mentioned in The Daughter of Time. The extensive notes following the epilogue give references for most of the quotations from Nellie's speeches and books, including whether or not they are direct quotes or up-dated paraphrases.
Nellie's Victory begins with Nellie, a distracted mother of two toddlers and a baby, still managing to find time to write - advertisements for a drug company, a short story for Colliers magazine - just because she loves doing it. Living in the small farming community of Manitou, Manitoba, where her husband was the pharmacist, she witnessed the great harm that drunkenness did to the local families and became a stalwart (and vocal!) member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. In spite of having several more children and a husband who was not physically very strong, she worked for, and extended the platform of, the WCTU to include many different aspects of women's rights: the right to be a "person before the law" (that petition had to go all the way to the Privy Council in Britain!); the right to own property; the right to humane working conditions (the description of her giving the premier of Manitoba a conducted tour of the sweat shops in the North End of Winnipeg is particularly vivid); and, finally, the right of women to vote and hold office. She wrote two best-selling novels and travelled about the province giving readings and speeches. She moved to Winnipeg when her husband gave up his pharmacy to begin selling real estate there, and she continued with her work for women. She did eventually sit in the Manitoba Legislature for one session!
Nellie McClung was a remarkable woman and a fine example of one of the first women to do the home-career balancing act that is so common now. She had a quick wit and was a compelling speaker, pulling crowds of up to a thousand people to hear her argue for prohibition and women's rights. Mind you, in a small piece of local color that is undocumented but only too believable, she was also expected to help with the coffee and goddies that finished off most of these meetings!
The book is full of interesting bits of information, but I found the hop-skip-and-jump approach to Nellie's life meant that I did not get as excited about her triumphs as I wanted to. In other words, it is a better biography than novel. I have, however, gone back and read the first of Crook's volumes and plan to pick up the second whenever I have the opportunity.
Mary Thomas, who works in two schools in the vicinity of the McClung's Winnipeg house on Chestnut Street, was particularly interested to have some light shed on the plaque in front of Laura Secord School commemorating Lillian Beynon Thomas. She and her sister Frances Beynon feature largely in Nellie's Victory.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.