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Mable Riley: A Reliable Record of Humdrum, Peril and Romance by Marthe Jocelyn

Mable Riley

1901, Ontario, Canada

Riding the train to a small farming community, young Mable and her older—and rather bossily annoying—sister Viola are about to embark on an autumn of possibilities, although certainly everything seems dull as dishwater on the surface. Goodhand Farm, where they will be rooming, seems the same as countless other family dairy farms, and the one-room school where 19-year-old Viola will be teaching seems much like countless others across territory.  But there are some very important details in Marthe Jocelyn’s book, Mabel Riley, that change the dull into the brilliant to illuminate the friction of a swiftly changing world.

Certainly, sister Viola’s new job as a woman school teacher is a matter for malign gossip, but far more curious to the gossipers is their neighbor, the eccentric Mrs. Rattle. Living alone at Silver Lining Cottage, she scandalizes the countryside with her brilliant red and purple outfits and often wears a kind of trousers called bloomers to show off her independence whilst bicycling down the country lanes rather than swanning about in long skirts as all proper women do.

Mable and Viola may have a difficult time establishing themselves in a new town, but Mable’s new friend Mrs. Rattle doesn’t care to try.  She has a vision for changing a world that seems so unfair to women and is harboring some secrets that the town gossips would love to know.

Aspiring writer Mable sets it all down in her diary, alongside her burgeoning penny-dreadful romance.  Little does she know as she begins her record that she will play an important part in the unfolding events, going from a chronicler of the fight to taking her place in the arena.

Not entirely grim, the irrepressible Mable is quick to note the funny and romantic angles, too.  Those who have enjoyed the Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables series may like this look at women’s work in times past.