actress portraying Aunt Jemima Anthony David Harrington a.k.a
With the republication of E. Pauline Johnson's 1913 collection of short stories, The Moccasin Maker, A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff contributes to the reclamation of both women and Indian authors in Canadian literature. Daughter of a Mohawk chief and an English immigrant, Emily Pauline Johnson (1861-1913) became a poet, fiction writer, essayist, and most successfully, a stage performer. Although Pauline had less than fifty percent Indian blood (since her father was one-quarter white), "by Canadian law and by heritage she was Indian" (1). She was born on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, a mixed-blood in the remarkable position of having for a great-great grandfather "a member of the first council of the Iroquois Confederacy" (2) and for her mother's first cousin the American author William Dean Howells. "Billed as the Mohawk Princess," notes Ruoff, "Pauline became one of the most popular stage performers in Canada" (1) as well as a celebrated figure in the United States and Great Britain. Influenced by Mohawk oral tradition and history passed on by her grandfather, Smoke Johnson, speaker of the Council of the Iroquois Confederacy, and by British literary traditions taught to her by her mother, Johnson incorporated both Indian and Anglo perspectives into her work. The British Romantic writers, particularly Keats and Byron, along with Shakespeare, the British essayists, and American writers Longfellow and Emerson, were among her favorite authors. She wrote about Canadian Indian life, then, from a fundamentally Romantic point of view. Her works include three books of poetry-- White Wampum (1895), her first and most acclaimed collection, her less critically acclaimed Canadian Born (1903), and Flint and Feather (1912), a re-collection of earlier poems; and three books of prose--The Legend of Vancouver (1911), based on stories told by Chief Joe Capilano (Squamish), and The Shagganappi (1913) and The Moccasin Maker (1913), two collections of short stories published after her death.
The Moccasin Maker, a "direct photographic reproduction of the 1913 edition published by the Ryerson Press of Toronto" (38), retains the original pagination but replaces the original introductory materials with Ruoff's. Since Ruoff does not discuss the original 1913 introduction, it is unclear whether, as was the case for many Indian authors, it included prefaces, explanations, and other such authenticating devices. Reprinting the original introduction would provide a sense of how Johnson's work was introduced to the reading public in 1913 when she was still known as a popular performer. Ruoff's introduction, however, provides a rich historical, biographical, and literary background. She presents an overview of Johnson's personal and professional history, a discussion of cultural and literary influences on Johnson's work, and an analysis of Johnson's contribution. Pauline was one of the writers of "the first renaissance in Canadian literature" (31), explains Ruoff, and was "among the first to introduce her frontier audiences in the Canadian West to the excitement of literature" (34). In her work Johnson challenged, yet sometimes perpetuated, the stereotypes of "savage"/"noble savage" Indians and "untrustworthy" mixed-bloods; she presented female protagonists from an Indian point of view; and she depicted the relationship between individuals and their vast Canadian landscape.
Most of the eleven short stories or sketches and one essay in The Moccasin Maker were published originally in Mother's Magazine. Johnson's themes include the predicament of mixed-bloods, especially the resistance to miscegenation; the relationship between whites and Indians; and the contrast between native religion and Christianity. Many of her stories, however, focus on women, particularly on mothers and wives. Whether Indian or white, almost all of Johnson's female characters are idealized, but notes Ruoff, "the situations in which Pauline involves her heroines are real" (33). Generally, Johnson "champions Victorian values," creating resourceful, domestic women who "triumph over difficulties" (22).
Three stories, in particular, stand out because of their "strong feminist perspective for the period" (25). "A Red Girl's Reasoning," "As It Was in the Beginning," and "The Derelict" all focus on the relationship between a mixed-blood or Indian woman and a white man. In the first story, the protagonist leaves her white husband when she discovers he does not genuinely respect her Indian heritage; in the second, betrayed by her white lover, the heroine kills him ingeniously. In "The Derelict," however, the lovers finally come together. Usually, both sets of parents, Indian and white, actively resist these unions, even after the couple marries. Babies, though, especially grandbabies, never fail to win over disapproving parents on both sides.
No less than six of the eleven stories have as the central focus "mother-love." Three are devoted to white mothers: "My Mother," "Mother o' the Men," and "The Nest Builder"; and three to Indian mothers: "Catharine of the 'Crows Nest,'" "The Legend of Lilooet Falls," and "The Tenas Klootchman." Like many stories by nineteenth-century women, these exalt domesticity, especially the intimate bond between mother and child. One story, for instance, describes how a woman with nine children, the oldest twelve years old, is never worried or discouraged, but always hard-working and generous, "good-natured and smiling" (195). Johnson presents a more dismal depiction of domestic life in "the Envoy Extraordinary" in which a mother and son are oppressed by the husband/father. Two of the stories, "My Mother" and "Her Majesty's Guest," are, in fact, slightly fictionalized accounts of her parents' lives.
Johnson's stories invite comparison with such Native American writers as Charles Alexander Eastman (Santee Sioux; 1858-1939) and Mourning Dove (Okanogan; 1888-1936), who both wrote about Indian/white themes using many nineteenth-century Euro-American literary conventions, who both criticized the hypocrisy of the white world, and who both served as "interpreter[s] of the Indian to non-Indian audiences" (31). In addition, Johnson's work recalls the fiction of local color writers, like Mary Freeman, whose stories focus on family relations, specific communities, and small female liberations. Johnson's stories and Ruoff's introduction, annotations, and bibliography are a welcome addition to the ongoing reconstruction of Indian literature in North America.