Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Yesterday’s News


I generally don’t do a whole lot of indepth research while I’m ploughing through the first draft of a novel, especially if it’s November and I’m trying rack up 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. But with a historical novel, there are times when you just can’t move forward without going backward a little. This weekend I was working on the section of the novel that takes place during the First World War, and I had to do a little light research — just brushing the edges of some primary sources — to clarify a few facts and get my head in the right space. (More detailed research will come with later revisions).

To get into the general WWI home-front mood, I reread Rilla of Ingleside, a book I must have read twenty or thirty times when growing up (and I cried as much as ever, or possibly more, especially at Little Dog Monday). Then to check some facts, I read notes from some Newfoundland newspapers during 1914-1918. I found myself laughing at the congruence of the two, because Rilla of Ingleside, as those who’ve read it may recall, starts with Susan reading the newspaper and commenting aloud on the “Notes from Glen St. Mary” — setting up an ironic contrast between the gossipy, domestic news that everyone in that small PEI town is focused on in the summer of 1914, and the huge world events which will soon come to dominate their lives.  Sure enough, I found that Montgomery’s “Notes from Glen St. Mary” were no satire, but typical of the kind of “social notes” that were printed as small town news in the first part of the 20th century.

My absolute favourite, and my best laugh-out-loud moment of the day, came with this note printed in the Bay Roberts news in the summer of 1916:

“Mrs. J. BARRETT of Vancouver, who arrived here sometime ago is not altogether on a pleasure trip, but was advised by her doctor to leave Vancouver as the climate there did not agree with her. Mrs. Barrett has gained considerable in weight during the short time she has been here. She is at present the guest of her sister, Mrs. Ben Morgan, Coley’s Point.”

Wouldn’t you just love to go on a visit to your relatives and have the local newspaper comment on the fact that you had “gained considerable in weight” during your vacation??? I realize that since Mrs. Barrett was encouraged to leave Vancouver for the good of her health, the fact that she had gained weight was probably seen as a good thing, but still … seems a little invasive, doesn’t it?


8 thoughts on “Yesterday’s News

  1. Funny, indeed!
    Perhaps she had been way too skinny before and this was GOOD NEWS?

  2. Oh, I’m sure it was meant as good news. Reading between the lines, if her doctor suggested she leave Vancouver because of her health, the doctor probably wanted her to go to a drier climate, possibly because of tuberculosis, which was so common in those days. If so, Newfoundland would have been a terrible choice, but presumably she went threre because her sister was there! If she was sick, her weight gain would definitely have been seen as a good thing — but I still think the idea of the local paper reporting on people’s weight is kind of hilarious (although, to be honest, a couple of years ago I can remember a front-page headline story about a municipal politician who had lost a lot of weight, with speculation as to whether this meant his was making a bid for the mayor’s job in the next election, so maybe we haven’t changed all that much).

  3. it reminds me of our tabloids today… pictures of star’s bottoms, close ups on celulite, “whose belly is this?” photos… actually, we seem to have gotten considerably worse over the years, haven’t we? 🙂

  4. hmmm…
    I am cynical enough to think that she left Vancouver to gain weight and then lose it in a very labourous day…
    I wonder if her sister gained a baby before she left.

  5. If she’d been MISS Barrett maybe, but Mrs.? I’m going with tuberculosis as a theory …

  6. And you don’t think that she might have added that title on her trip out without the needed spouse?

  7. I’m pretty sure if she was the sister of Mrs. Ben Morgan in Coley’s Point, she couldn’t possibly have fooled the Bay Roberts news reporter with a fake “Mrs” — they would have known her family tree back for four generations and known whether she was married or not!!

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