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Manitoba History No. 89
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Manitoba History: Book Review: Dan Azoulay, Hearts and Minds: Canadian Romance at the Dawn of the Modern Era, 1900-1930

by Greg Thomas
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 69, Summer 2012

Dan Azoulay, Hearts and Minds: Canadian Romance at the Dawn of the Modern Era, 1900–1930, Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2011, 289 pages ISBN 978-1-55238-520-3, $34.95 (paperback)

In this age of reality television where such shows as “Bachelors” attract large audiences, the concept of traditional romance involving marriage-oriented men and women seems part of a distant past. However, in his recently published Hearts and Minds, historian Dan Azoulay delivers a very lively and creatively researched examination of Canadian romance for the period 1900–1930. In the burgeoning field of gender history, Professor Azoulay has taken Canadian historiography in this area of social history forward, while providing the reader with a very accessible portrayal of what romance was like for Canadians a century ago.

Hearts and Minds explores key aspects of romance for these years. Specifically it addresses what average Canadians sought in a marriage partner; the specific rules they were expected to follow and in most cases did pursue in their romantic endeavours; the many hardships they endured along the way; and how the defining event of that era — the Great War — influenced the pursuit of romance. In framing this discussion, Azoulay explores a variety of primary sources, but he particularly focuses upon letters to the “correspondence columns” of two leading periodicals of the era: Montreal’s Family Herald and Weekly Star and Winnipeg’s Western Home Monthly. While these two publications emanated from two major urban centers, the source of the correspondents is a reminder of how rural Canadian society remained during the first three decades of the past century.

Although Azoulay’s comprehensive examination of over twenty thousand letters to the periodicals ultimately allows him to provide the student of romance with considerable insight into the practice of romance from both a male and female perspective, there seem to be Canadian communities excluded from the discourse. Quebec’s profile on the romantic scene is clearly underrepresented, as are the many ethnic communities who arrived in the Canadian west prior to the First World War. Yet, to be fair, the reader does come away with considerable insight into the romantic practices of Western Canadian bachelors struggling to establish farms and ranches throughout the western provinces.

A highlight of this study is an excellent chapter entitled “Love And War” which examines and analyses the impact of the First World War upon the practice of romance. We often forget that between 1914 and 1918, some sixty thousand Canadians served overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In terms of romantic opportunities during the war years, the main beneficiaries in Canada were single men who did not, or could not, enlist. With so many men going off to war, a dearth of eligible bachelors emerged, and soon the number of single women far outnumbered the number of single men, an imbalance accentuated by the rising number of war widows. This meant that any remaining bachelors (provided, of course, they were not considered to be “shirkers”) suddenly found themselves in high demand. Azoulay also provides equal treatment of the difficulties surrounding romance for the soldiers embroiled in the horrors of life at the front in Europe. In this chapter the author successfully argues that the First World War was, in many ways, the birthplace of modern culture: “of a more liberal, secular, rebellious and experimental mindset” that gained momentum during the 1920s.

Azoulay’s strong use of primary sources is complemented by the generous integration of period photographs primarily from the collections of Library and Archives Canada. This winning combination of text and visuals is a tribute to the editors at the University of Calgary Press who continue to produce an impressive body of historic scholarship dealing with a wide variety of topics of interest to both the scholar and lay community.

Page revised: 12 January 2017

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