Born and raised in Lewisporte, Newfoundland, Ella Manuel went on to become a broadcaster and writer, among other careers. No Place for a Woman, written by Ella’s son, Antony Berger, both chronicles Ella’s endeavours and provides a sampling of her stories about the people and places of Newfoundland. The book begins with autobiographical and biographical information about Ella’s personal and professional life. The remainder (around 240 of the roughly 300 pages) is devoted to Ella’s slice-of-life stories.
During an era when the activities undertaken by women were constrained by societal expectations, Ella forged for herself a varied and interesting life that in addition to her broadcasting and writing career included a job in England with Marks and Spencer’s Welfare Department. Ella also, for a brief period of time, operated a seasonal fishing lodge in Lomond. Around 1960, she “became a member of the Voice of Women, then the main peace movement engaging women in Canada.” (p. 13)
Ella’s family can trace their Newfoundland roots back to the mid-1700s, so it is not surprising that she formulated an abiding love of the province’s scenery and culture. This affection comes out in Ella’s stories, which are “all based on actual people and events, especially those in western Newfoundland’s Bonne Bay, where she eventually found her home.” (p. 10)
These stories are recounted in an eminently readable and descriptive style. While some appear just as Ella wrote them, others have been “assembled from her journals and correspondence, adjoined to scraps of text left among her generally undated files” (p. 54) by Berger. It’s a task he appears to have achieved seamlessly. No distinction between Ella’s work and his own was apparent to me as a reader. This proficiency should not be a surprise; Berger himself possesses degrees from multiple universities, and has himself written scientific books and articles as well as a history of Bonne Bay, Newfoundland.
In a short preface to each of the chapters containing Ella’s stories, Berger provides context to the piece. No Place for a Woman also includes, in its central section, a number of photographs of Ella at various stages of her life. One of the photos shows her receiving the Persons Award from Governor General Schreyer in 1980.
While the story of Ella’s life is interesting in its own right, it is in her writings about the people and places of Newfoundland that the book really takes flight. These writings are organized into sections, either related to particular locales like “Woody Point” and “Lomond,” or by topic—“Friends and Neighbours,” “Missionaries, Medics, and Military Men,” and “Of Soldiers and the Sea,” for example.
Many of the stories contain descriptions of Newfoundland’s striking landscapes, as below:
What could be more beautiful than the dim light on the misty-white Tablelands—the wind sighing and shifting the pebbles, stars dim in the haze and the singing brooks! Then, for one magic moment, the haze lifts and Cassiopeia shines from a well of intense blue, Gros Morne is touched by a wisp of mist, with the distant hills black against the lucent sky.” (p. 123)
Some chapters talk about customs, like jannying, “the old yuletide tradition of visiting homes in disguise,” (p. 116), or of everyday neighbourliness. Ella also recounts stories of exploration, privation, and adventure, introducing the reader to many colourful characters.
No Place for a Woman is an entertaining and illuminating book that ensures that the words of Ella Manuel, an independent and talented woman who fiercely loved her corner of the world, will get continued exposure—a worthy endeavour in itself.
Antony Berger is a graduate of Dalhousie, the University of Melbourne, and Liverpool University and has lectured on every continent except Antarctica. The author and editor of numerous scientific books and articles and more recently The Good and Beautiful Bay (Flanker 2014), a history of Bonne Bay, Newfoundland, he divides his time between Woody Point, NL, and Wolfville, NS, where his is a keen choral singer.
- Publisher : Breakwater Books (June 29 2020)
- Paperback : 316 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1550818368
- ISBN-13 : 978-1550818369
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