Constance Lindsay Skinner

Constance Lindsay Skinner: Writing on the Frontier

JEAN BARMAN
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 416
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442673274
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  • Book Info
    Constance Lindsay Skinner
    Book Description:

    Born in 1877 on the British Columbia frontier, Constance Lindsay Skinner died in New York City in 1939, a successful and prolific writer. In contrast to her reputation in the United States, she remains virtually unknown in the country of her birth.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7327-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Writing on the Frontier
    (pp. 3-12)

    On Constance Lindsay Skinner′s death in New York City in 1939,Timemagazine described her as a ′novelist, historian, journalist′ who ′wrote mostly of frontier life.′¹ The assessment was apt and caught the essence of the woman. Hers was a writing life. She lived to write, and she wrote to live. In doing so, she drew repeatedly on the British Columbia frontier of her childhood, and even more so on the frontiers of the imagination.

    All her life, Constance Lindsay Skinner engaged the frontier. She made a living as a writer at a time when few men, even fewer women,...

  5. CHAPTER TWO A British Columbian Inheritance
    (pp. 13-32)

    Constance Lindsay Skinner was born on 9 December 1877 in the Cariboo region of central British Columbia. Hers was a double inheritance. It was not just the location of her birth and childhood but her family background that gave Connie, as she was called when young, deep roots in British Columbia. Her paternal grandfather was one of three farm bailiffs brought out from England in 1852 to the British colony of Vancouver Island. Her maternal grandfather, a Scots businessman, arrived in Victoria at the height of the gold rush that began in 1858. Both families were upper middle class by...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Border Crossing
    (pp. 33-57)

    Connie Skinner had written for as long as she could remember. With Maggie Alexander′s departure from the Skinner household, writing became more and more the centre of her life. She later claimed, at a time when she was fudging her age by a couple of years, as women were wont to do in those days: ′I wrote my first story when I was five, and my first novel when I was eleven. At fourteen I wrote the words and music of a three-act operetta for children, which was performed. At sixteen I had published two short stories, written a lot...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Beyond Journalism
    (pp. 58-83)

    Constance Skinner wanted more. She had written for newspapers for a good decade. She estimated she had done ′over 300 interviews with the great & the near great of every profession.′¹ The job was growing stale. Her success as a journalist paled beside the varied forms of writing in which she had also engaged since her earliest years. She sought the creative freedom that diverse genres gave. The patronage of actress Helena Modjeska encouraged her to believe that she could write as she wished. So did proximity to successful author Jack London and the others whom she interviewed and got to...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Storytelling
    (pp. 84-103)

    The passion that Constance Skinner brought to poetry and plays paid few bills. Her desire to leave journalism was feasible only so long as she acquired other means of income. No genre paid more than did short stories. Their widespread popularity made them almost inherently less literary. They were, quite simply too broadly appealing to make a reputation.

    In telling stories to sustain a writing life during her mid- and late thirties, Constance drew on an enduring strand of her life experience. She claimed to have written her first story at age five, and she had read short stories from...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Engaging the Frontier
    (pp. 104-122)

    As Constance Lindsay Skinner entered her middle years, she could take pride in how far she had come. Not so long before a journalist, she was now established as a writer. Her poems, plays, and short stories garnered recognition and, more importantly, the dollars needed to survive in New York City.

    Perhaps it was because Constance could not resist a challenge, perhaps it was an opportunity too good to be turned down, or perhaps she just needed the money. Whatever the mix of motives, she suddenly diverted. The frontier was already threatening to take over her poetry and short stories....

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Private Woman
    (pp. 123-149)

    As Constance Lindsay Skinner approached her mid-forties, she might appear to have it all. No longer a journalist, or even only a poet, playwright, and short story writer, she was now also a historian of considerable repute. The gamble to leave Vancouver and, eventually, make it to New York appeared to have paid off.

    All the time, Constance lived a contradiction. She wrote again and again, inAinslee′sand elsewhere, of a role for women to which she herself had not succumbed. Part of her wanted desperately to follow ′the law of mates′ as evoked in ′The Trapper′s Son,′ and...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Old and New Directions
    (pp. 150-173)

    However much Constance Lindsay Skinner despaired, she never gave up. Even when she did not know which way to turn, she did not quit writing. For Constance, it was, as she put it, ′the one thing ″wherefore came I into this world.″′ In January 1924, well into her forties even in her imagination, Constance began a letter to Vilhjalmur Stefansson, ′I′m casting about in my mind as to what job I could do, so that I can go after one.′ By letter′s end, she knew she could not look for employment. ′I′ve never wanted anything in my life with a...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER NINE Return to the British Columbia Frontier
    (pp. 174-199)

    Constance Lindsay Skinner mused, on recovering her poise in the mid-1920s, that she possessed ′a will of iron.′ She did. She wrote juveniles as she must, well aware that in some minds she was taking an easier route. If enjoying a kind of fame, from time to time she sought to justify her choice as a considered one, as in 1928 in the third person: ′Books and people, stories and life, have always been so closely interwoven that there is never to be a way of separating them – any more that she will ever be able to say where...

  14. CHAPTER TEN No More Private Woman
    (pp. 200-217)

    Constance Lindsay Skinner′s reference to her apartment in her interview laudingRed Willowspoints up the considerable extent to which her private life had become subsumed in her writing. It existed almost as an aside. So far as Constance maintained a separate sense of self during her fifties, many of the elements visible in her writing were also present. She was no longer the private woman she had been a decade earlier in her search for a frontier hero.

    During her years in New York, Constance had half a dozen or more addresses. Her surviving correspondence reveals little about where...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN Almost Famous
    (pp. 218-246)

    The passage of time in no way diminished the necessity for Constance Lindsay Skinner to write and then to write some more. As she put it in the spring of 1933: ′Me - I′m about the same - up & fighting.′ She had no fallback position, no financial resources on which to draw. The breakneck pace at which Constance worked, year after year, likely accounted for Henry Steele Commager′s somewhat tongue-in-cheek suggestion that she consider a biography of the African explorer G.M. Stanley. ′That would be something to do during these long winter evenings when you have nothing else on hand...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE Reflections
    (pp. 247-262)

    Constance Lindsay Skinner wrote as she lived and lived as she wrote. She died pen in hand, holding firm the writing life that engaged her since childhood. Repeatedly, she ventured into the unfamiliar, just as did the women and men who flowed from her imagination. Like Constance herself, they took chances, they tested boundaries, they dared. As she once put it: ′My motto, never miss a chance coz you never know what may come of it!′¹

    The rules were not fixed on Constance′s frontiers. Human potential was not restrained. It was possible to help make the rules, and alternatively to...

  17. APPENDIX: Chronology of the Life of Constance Lindsay Skinner
    (pp. 263-266)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 267-320)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 321-342)
  20. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 343-344)
  21. Index
    (pp. 345-359)