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Aleta Dey by Francis Marion Beynon

Aleta Dey (1919)

by Francis Marion Beynon

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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556320,644 (3.31)40



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Showing 5 of 5
4**** for the first thirty-five chapters narrated in Aleta's naive first-person voice (and I think it's a mistake to confuse this voice with the author's own). There's a primitivism to Aleta's voice that might seem infantile — but no more infantile, in a different way, than the paintings of Le Douanier Rousseau. The four concluding chapters, though, switching over to Colin's voice, seem to break the fourth wall and come off in a preachy tone that moves into insipidity. ( )
  CurrerBell | Apr 3, 2014 |
This slim novella is a semi-autobiographical story of a Canadian pacifist and suffragist in the early 20th century. Aleta grows up on the Canadian prairie, the product of strict parenting and the rigid Christian beliefs common in that time period. She rebels against these constraints, forming a long-term romantic partnership -- not marriage -- with a man named McNair. McNair does not share Aleta's views, but does not stifle them either. When WWI breaks out, he eagerly enlists and is sent to Europe. Aleta continues to work for peace and women's rights on the home front, while also mentoring McNair's young ward, Colin. I thought I knew where this was heading, but the story took an unexpected turn.

Unfortunately, the surprise wasn't enough to save this book, which I found thin and melodramatic. I was not emotionally invested in the characters, and could not comprehend why a supposedly strong, independent woman like Aleta remained loyal to McNair once certain aspects of his character were known to her. The writing wasn't great either. The author repeatedly mentioned Aleta's "tiny" hand in McNair's "huge" one. Perhaps this was intended to convince the reader that even diminutive women can achieve great things, but she killed the metaphor with overuse. The ending is related in the form of a long letter from Aleta to McNair, which was largely a platform for the author's beliefs. Perhaps she should have focused on writing a really compelling essay, rather than cloaking it in mediocre fiction. ( )
1 vote lauralkeet | Mar 18, 2014 |
Oh what a maddening book!

Maddening because there were glimpses of greatness, glimpses of what could have been a seminal work, but I wanted so much more than glimpses.

Francis Marion Benyon was a farmer’s daughter, born in 1884, who grew up to be a journalist, a suffragist, a pacifist, an activist …

This is her only novel, and it is clear from the start that it contains much that is autobiographical.

“I am a coward. I think I was born to be free, but my parents, with God as one of their chief instruments of terror, frightened me into servility. Perhaps I owe it to the far horizons of my Canadian prairie birthplace; perhaps to the furious tempests that rocked our slim wooden dwelling, or it may be to the untrammelled migration of birds to distant lands that the shame of being a coward had survived their chastening. I know that these things have always beckoned to something in me that vainly beats its wings against the bars of life.”

Aleta Day was reared by parents who set out to “break her spirit” but she survived, and she tells the story of her childhood beautifully, and with an understanding of its consequences that is truly moving. She learned that appearances were everything, that she could be quietly subversive. And at school, when her friend Ned questioned the English version of history that they were taught, she learned to question everything. She grew up to be a journalist, a suffragist, a pacifist, an activist.

But I missed seeing Aleta grow from a child with ideas to a woman with convictions, because the story took a big leap forward.

Aleta Day fell in love with another journalist. A conservative journalist, a heavy drinker with an estranged wife and a young adopted son. They argued but they were happy. He went to fight in World War I and Aleta went to fight for her pacifist ideals. The ending would not be happy.

I was charmed by Aleta; she was warm, she was thoughtful, and she was so considerate of those she loved. She was prepared to live with her beliefs and accept the consequences, but she was also prepared to accept that she could be wrong. Not a coward at all.

She should have been the heroine of a seminal work, and Francis Marion Benton clearly had the experience, the understanding, the writing talent to make her that.

But the experiences that shaped her beliefs are missing. Much of what was happening in the world around her is missing. And sometimes one story of a life, an experience, an incident, says more than any statement of principle, however eloquent the statement, however right the principle.

If only I could have seen more of what Aleta saw, if only I could have heard more of her arguments with her lover…

It isn’t that this isn’t a good book. It is. I just wished it could have painted a more complete, more rounded, account of the life of Aleta Day, because if it had it might have been truly great. ( )
  BeyondEdenRock | Nov 6, 2013 |
Aleta Dey was reared by parents who set out to "break her spirit." As far as she is concerned as the book's narrator, they simply succeeded in making her a coward. As she explains, writing about a punishment when she was five and said, "Darn," she finally gives in after her mother has strapped her hands and whispers that she is sorry. "God knows I wouldn't have done it only I was so very little and it was the only way to stop her." She lives her whole life seeing things differently from the way the majority sees, and that with a generosity that admits that she might be wrong. Her willingness to trust to love and honesty is anything but cowardly. A suffragist and pacifist, she falls in love with an arch-conservative journalist with a drinking problem and an adopted son. WWI intervenes, and the book comes to its tragic and melodramatic conclusion.
The autobiographical narrative is so highly episodic that it reads like sketches for a memoir, but it is also a valuable document for anyone interested in turn-of-the century feminist thought and action in North America. ( )
6 vote LizzieD | Dec 21, 2010 |
This is the only novel that Francis Marion Beynon wrote, and it reads like her autobiography. Aleta Dey grows up in a strict Methodist farming family in Manitoba in the 1890s. She is surrounded by rigidity - her father beats them; her school teachers are shocked when she wonders if God often changes his mind. She has doubts about the English history they're getting taught, but doesn't voice them, unlike her friend Ned who gets expelled for saying that the history books are full of lies - at the time, Canada had troops fighting in the Boer War. After she leaves school, she rejects religion, becomes an active suffragist, and works as a journalist for a pro-suffrage newspaper. Unfortunately, we don't see the development of all this, and leap ahead a few years from school to when she's already working and a suffragist. She falls in love with a conservative journalist called McNair. This story takes up a lot of the book. McNair goes off to France to fight in World War 1, and Aleta Dey becomes more and more opposed to the war.

I enjoyed the first half of the book, about life on the prairies, more than the second. I think if I hadn't just read Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, which was a superb book about WW1, I might have rated this book higher, but felt a bit speechy by the last 50 pages. A good enough read, but I'm not raving about it. 3 stars. ( )
2 vote cushlareads | May 6, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Beynon, Francis Marionprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hicks, AnneIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I am a coward.
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Book description
In the years before the First World War, Aleta Dey grows up on a remote Canadian farm. After early rebellion against her parents' attempts to "break her spirit", she graduates to "subversion" in the history lessons at school, inspired and supported by her socialist friend Ned. Her mistrust of convention and passionate defence of justice directs Aleta towards radical journalism and an active role in the suffrage movement. With the outbreak of War, her ideology is immediately challenged - for not only is Aleta a pacifist but she has fallen in love with McNair, an out-and-out Tory.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140162259, Paperback)

I think I was born to be free, but my parents, with God as one of their chief instruments of terror, frightened me into servility. Perhaps I owe it to the far horizons of my Canadian prairie birth-place; perhaps to the furious tempests that rocked our slim wooden dwelling, or it may be to the untrammelled migration of birds to distant lands that the shame of being a coward has survived their chastening.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:47 -0400)

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