CBC Canada Reads 2015: Books that break boundaries
For Elise, by Oriole A. Vane Veldhuis, is well worthy of nomination and serious consideration as a Canada Reads choice.
A book to break the silence of harassment and abuse of women. Although many pioneer women endured hardship, my research unearthed enough evidence to write an account of Elise’s life. Every chapter reveals instances of cultural acceptance of the ways she was used to further Percy’s goal of living the life of an English gentleman. Some could have acted to change her life, but did not, since they too benefited from her sacrifices. Others did not dare. Perhaps others repeated a commonly held sentiment, “It is sad but she made her bed; let her lie in it.” What is happening now is not new; what is new is our willingness to begin to talk about issues beyond blaming the victim.
Bill’s Canada Reads 2015 nomination:
I am writing to nominate For Elise by Oriole A. Vane Veldhuis. This book is full of wonder – I was not before familiar with the historical narrative form, but found it a masterful way to portray the experiences of homesteaders at the turn of the century. My own ancestors settled in Canada and then in Manitoba and Saskatchewan about the time that Elise’s did. Reading Elise’s story made vivid the many stories told to me by my grandparents. The manner and style that Oriole Vane Veldhuis choose to tell Elise’ story made the history of the time come alive. And it made the story of the abuse she suffered, along with her children shockingly real.
I will remember her story forever.
Bill Martin, Gimli, Manitoba
Tim sent along this missive… hope springs eternal!
Theme: Books that challenge history, forcing a major change in how history is written and portrayed: …. focusing on a woman and her family who were abused, did not speak up, but nurtured a family in spite of huge privation and poverty.
Elise was a German “gentlewoman”, courted by an English “gentleman” lured to England with promises never kept, but kept as a servant with her and Percy Criddle’s expanding number of “out-of-wedlock” children. It is an important work of historical fiction because it shows how the suppression and use of women has been a part of the history of Canada.
Having burned through his and other people’s money, near destitute Percy Criddle fled to Canada as a “pioneer” in the 19th century. He forced Elise to change her and her 5 children’s identities, and told them never to call him “papa” again. They became the “Vanes” and servants to his new English wife whose money he also burned through. The Criddles travelled above deck; the “Vanes” in steerage. With his new English wife he would have four more children. Over years of near starvation, abuse and unbelievably hard work,
a homestead was built, yet never was Elise’s true relationship revealed.
During ten years of research, Oriole discovered and recorded an amazing story that revealed the truth about a man who had been revered as a model settler. Yet he used his power to force Elise to lie, and to give up her completely legal claim to land for her children’s future. But the best part of all is that after these years of Oriole’s labours, the way history is told in southwestern Manitoba has changed. Museums that would not grant her access to “family” records, because she was not “FAMILY” have changed their exhibits and recently one museum portrayed Elise in its 100th anniversary celebrations. This is the power of a story meticulously researched and carefully crafted: to change history’s story to unmask an abusive man, and reveal a courageous woman. It is the power of one committed woman to get her family’s history and dignity straight.
Charlene: I would like to nominate a wonderful book – “For Elise”
A story written about a pioneering family from England that settled in the Manitoba. This book depicts what is still happening in today’s society – women abused but keeping silent. Elise was brought from England by a man she believed loved her. She agrees to help his wife care for her four young children. She is instructed to call him by his surname and their children are no longer to call him Papa. She lives a terrible life as a servant to the family in very poor living conditions due to weather and shortage of food but has nowhere to go and nobody to turn to. Original letters she wrote home to her family prove that she never mentioned her true circumstances- they believed she was Percy’s wife. She kept on for the sake of the children – their children together – and his other children with his wife. Isn’t that the same today where women still do not speak up of abuse they are experiencing?
Glen and Noreen: Books that break boundaries …. Including a focus on women who have been abused, their not reporting it, and how and why this could be.
Elise’s story is important because it shows how deep and systemic the suppression and abuse of women has been in the history of our country.
Could a man still get away with this now? One only has to look at the case of former MB Judge Lori Douglas to believe it could well be so.