Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Marriage of Minds

Marriage of Minds: Isabel and Oscar Skelton Reinventing Canada

Terry Crowley
  • Book Info
    Marriage of Minds
    Book Description:

    Oscar Skelton (1878-1941) was a prominent early-twentieth century scholar who became a civil servant and political advisor to prime ministers Mackenzie King and R.B. Bennett. He wrote a number of important books and one,Socialism: A Critical Analysis, was highly praised by Vladimir Lenin. His wife, Isabel Skelton (1877-1956), wrote extensively about literature and history; she was the first historian to treat women from the country's past individually in their own right rather than as a generalized category. Both husband and wife promoted the idea that Canada was an independent nation that no longer needed Britain's tutelage.

    Terry Crowley has written a unique double biography that examines the lives of Isabel and Oscar, their works, and their careers. He shows how both individuals in their own way influenced the development of Canada as a nation state. Crowley questions why, when both Isabel and Oscar wrote influential works, Oscar's career blossomed, while Isabel remains virtually unrecognized. He concludes that despite Isabel's literary accomplishments, her life remained enmeshed in domestic and family roles, while Oscar's rise to prominence was facilitated by male scholarly and publishing networks as well as the support that women provided to men's careers. This book traces the lives of two people who rejected British colonialism and hailed a new nation on the world's stage, examining the intersections of gender, nationality, and literary expression at a significant juncture in Canada's history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7707-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-8)

    Despite attaining greater self-government during the nineteenth century, Canada remained a colony of the United Kingdom when Isabel and Oscar Skelton were born in Ontario in 1877 and 1878. Emerging as writers in the opening decades of the twentieth century, the couple sought to transform their country into a nation with a literature and history properly its own. The firm anti-colonialism that governed their outlook, uniting them with critics among subject peoples around the globe, found expression in writings in which they showed that Canada was worthy of attention other than as Britain′s reflection. Confederation had created a federal state...

  6. chapter one THE LETTER
    (pp. 9-19)

    Early in July 1904 a letter arrived at the post office in the hamlet of Antrim, a pinpoint on the map in Fitzroy Township thirty-five kilometres north of the nation′s capital and twelve kilometres south of Arnprior, where the Madawaska River meets the Ottawa. The tiny community of less than a hundred people was located on a pocket of rich loam soil in a region where lumbering was the primary occupation and young men went off to winter in the woods to earn cash. Antrim - otherwise known as Howard′s Corners - functioned as a service centre to surrounding farms....

    (pp. 20-44)

    Isabel and Oscar Skelton were more than the product of Irish and Scottish backgrounds in rural Ontario; they were also shaped by the intellectual environment and gender assumptions imparted through the education and social values of their time. When they married in 1904, both aspired to be writers, but only Oscar had managed to publish his work. Isabel′s initial interests gravitated towards literary criticism, while his involved public affairs, the province primarily of men. Each tried to write short stories, but, failing miserably, they abandoned fiction. In their critical pursuits they agreed to promote reform of existing institutions and practices...

    (pp. 45-72)

    Swept up in reform currents that did not subside until after the First World War, Isabel and Oscar Skelton moved beyond journalism to contribute in a scholarly manner to public debate about contemporary issues. Her work appears more slight, partially because her husband′s output was so exceptionally large but also as a result of the gendered nature of power in early-twentieth-century Canada. Power is a subject that has long fascinated male historians, but one which is generally conceived almost exclusively in terms of political or economic expression. The rise of feminist and gender history combined with larger theoretical inquiries to...

  9. chapter four INVENTING A NATION
    (pp. 73-113)

    Late in 1929 Isabel Skelton cut out an article from a newspaper noting the death of Irish historian Alice Stopford Green. By then she was herself the author of two substantial Canadian history books that had met critical acclaim and one, at least, popular success. Released temporarily from authorship′s lonely drudgery, she began to keep scrapbooks of clippings and notebooks where she recorded the substance of books she read. These pursuits represented more than the pastimes of a middleclass housewife with too little to do. They constituted a form of selfeducation that served to reinforce the ideas and events that...

  10. chapter five THE WORLD STAGE
    (pp. 114-145)

    If, as philosopher Isaiah Berlin maintained, thinkers can be divided into hedgehogs, who know one great thing, and foxes, who are wise to many, Oscar Skelton was a hedgehog and Isabel a fox. Isabel′s penchant for literature, which attuned her to savouring the poetic moment, the telling phrase, and the poignant thought, was deepened through her family role as she sought to relate her reading to herself and the lives evolving around her. Her attention was drawn not only to the varying ways in which the couple′s three children developed, but also to the myriad aspects of her prospering middle-class...

    (pp. 146-171)

    Although the resolutions of the 1923 Imperial Conference had acknowledged the right of the United Kingdom′s self-governing colonies to negotiate and sign bilateral treaties, the idea of imperial unity continued to evoke strong emotions in various quarters. Many assumed that international diplomacy would proceed largely as it had in the past. The Dominions could manage foreign affairs that were particularly their own, but British Empire strength might remain united in the face of larger and more important international questions. Oscar Skelton assumed a different view. He interpreted the results of the Imperial Conference as indicating a devolution, whereby the British...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. chapter seven WOMENʼS TIME AND MENʼS TIME, 1926-1935
    (pp. 172-207)

    Time can be approached in any number of ways. Long associated by poets and writers with impending mortality, time fascinates physicists and developmental psychologists alike. Historians conceive of time primarily as vast expanses over centuries, what the French refer to as thelongue durée. Time is demarcated by social, economic, political, or cultural trends that punctuate humanity′s story or the history of a particular country or region. Much less frequently than novelists do historians deal with time in its personal sense, particularly as it is experienced differently by men and women. Women alone bear children, and their role in childrearing...

  14. chapter eight CANADAʼS WAR?
    (pp. 208-245)

    As the possibility of another impending international crisis became increasingly apparent after Mussolini′s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, the lives of Isabel and Oscar Skelton exemplified the differing worlds that men and women inhabited in the nation′s capital. Despite suffering a heart attack in 1937 when he was fifty-nine, the undersecretary soon became preoccupied with the crisis in the economy and the drift to war, although now more aware of his fallibility. Isabel′s involvement with such issues arose when her husband brought home daily business, but his concerns about the deterioration of international relations or new economic accords reached with...

    (pp. 246-266)

    Wars change lives dramatically in many ways. Those involved in the fighting experience the greatest catharsis, but the home front also undergoes transformations. While enlistments, the expansion of military industries, rationing, a barrage of propaganda, and curtailed transportation affected daily lives, the federal government mushroomed during the Second World War. Much of Oscar Skelton′s larger influence was diminished amid the greater volume of business transacted by Cabinet, but his importance to Mackenzie King as adviser on general policy and foreign affairs remained. The two men worked so closely that it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between Mackenzie King′s policies and...

    (pp. 267-272)

    Reacting against an intellectual and political life in Canada marked indelibly by colonialism, Isabel and Oscar Skelton directed their talents towards creating a nation freed from British imperialism. Graduating from university during the South African War and experiencing the traumas of the First World War, they acclaimed a country whose distinctive heritage was rooted in the cultural duality of its two principal linguistic groups. In the Skeltons′ attempt to establish the primary contours of the new nation′s development, more subtle nuances of region, ethnicity, and social class were not avoided, but they did not figure prominently. Isabel alone emphasized gender...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 273-308)
    (pp. 309-316)
    (pp. 317-318)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 319-328)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 329-330)