Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford
A Striking Woman
by Ruth Latta
Sociology was a new course of study in the late 1930s when Jacqueline decided to change her university major from French literature to this new subject. Always a radical, she wanted to explore the world as an equal to all humans, both male and female and from all different classes. In private school, she was appalled with the treatment of the servant girls, many her age. As a paying student, she was not allowed to acknowledge these servant girls, nor was she allowed to talk to them. Her mind, even at this young age, was set on a path to open the eyes of many who rigidly stuck to the old class system, to the old views of male superiority. This was the beginning of a life standing up for what was right and fair, for leading others on a campaign for true equality in Canada.
Ruth Latta’s novel, A Striking Woman, is a powerful look at one woman’s campaign to set things right. Loosely based on the life of Madeleine Parent, the story is historically accurate in terms of the era, the setting, and the many activist happenings that rocked the world and made people sit up straight and really look at what was happening around them. In many ways, Ruth’s main character, Jacqueline Laflamme is Madeleine Parent. She is strong, bold, courageous and very well educated for a woman of the early twentieth century, a time when men still believed a woman’s place was in the home.
The author creates a compelling, memoir-like story. Jacqueline is telling her story in pieces in an interview, later in life, sometime reliving the events in her dreams. She leads the reader through her childhood experiences attending a Catholic school where the nuns ruled, quite literally, with iron fists. Jacqueline’s first experience, at the young age of six, was summed up quite adequately in her assessment of the nun’s who ran the school: “Maman had said told her the nuns had devoted their lives to Our Lord. They taught little girls to read and write and grow up to be good Catholic women. She’d made them sound kind, but either she’d been mistaken or she’d lied. These two enormous figures weren’t kind and perhaps were not women at all, for they weren’t a bit like her mother, her aunts, or their household helper, Zoë. They were scary.”
This initial experience set the path for Jacqueline’s ultimate battle to make things right, almost as if she was determined to settle a score and point out to the world the many injustices, not just to women, but also to those of the lower working classes. Jacqueline was a fighter, even at the age of six. Her parents were typical Catholic parents of this era: determined to follow the disciplines of the church and make sure they brought up their daughters to be devout Christians who made home and family their first priority. Being an era compounded by multiple societal changes, they hovered on the fence on many issues, and were supportive of their daughter’s desire for further education. Although marginally supportive, it was Jacqueline’s grandfather who inspired and encouraged her: “My grandfather was a comforting presence. He never lost patience with my incessant questions and answered them as best he could. I saw him as the only adult who had never lied to me.”
A Striking Woman is a powerful look at a challenging era in world history. The author expertly and accurately paints a true picture of society in early twentieth-century Quebec, setting the stage for the confrontations that developed later in the life of one very determined woman. Her knowledge of contemporary history is evident. The title is catchy and certainly provides the reader with multiple metaphoric connections to the word, ‘striking’. Ruth has a vivid approach to portraying Canadian women throughout history. The story is both educational and entertaining and, like Ruth’s other books, this one will open the minds of those who read it as she demonstrates again her sound knowledge of history and the ongoing fight for women’s rights. Her-story comes alive with passion in Ruth’s writing. A great read!
About the reviewer: Emily-Jane Hills Orford is the award winning author of “Beauty in the Beast” (Tell-Tale Publishing, 2022). Find out more at http://emilyjanebooks.ca