A Word to Canada: We are not dismayed.

Colleen of the always engaging blog Bookphilia is clearing out stock at her bookstore (side note: check out the website or, if you’re in Toronto, just show up, and you will find some great deals). In the process she came across a little gem which she sent along for my Daphne du Maurier collection. It’s called Come Wind, Come Weather; first published in Britain 1940, this collection of “true stories” is intended to “bring courage and strength” to the British in the face of impending invasion by the Germans. My copy is the Canadian edition. I haven’t read the stories yet, though their titles are perfectly enticing (“The Admiralty Regrets,” “A Nation’s Strength,” “Spitfire Megan” [that might have to be first], “Mrs. Hill and the Soldiers”…). But I have read the preface, “A Word to Canada,” which is–well, rather than describe it, I’ll just quote from it:

The book was published on the 15th of August, 1940, the famous date of threatened invasion when every man, woman, and child in the Kingdom stood waiting tense and expectant for the blow to fall. Since then we in this island have experienced the full horrors of war in the air. Many have faced death itself, others are homeless–parents without children, children without parents.

In spite of these things we are standing firm. We are not dismayed. The spirit of the British people is rising triumphant. The old lazy go-as-you-please, every-man-for-himself attitude is becoming a thing of the past, and out of this testing time of tribulation we shall arise, please God, worthy descendants of those ancestors of ours who first sailed the Seven Seas and laughed at danger.

You men and women of Canada are helping us in the European struggle. Many of your sons are with us now, showing great gallantry and courage in the face of danger, and their coming has strengthened even more, if it were possible, the link that binds our two countries together.

We believe that side by side with this war in Europe we are fighting another battle–the battle against human selfishness. We can only win the first if we are victorious in the second.

You people of Canada are fighting this battle too. We are allies in this war, just as we are allies in the war in Europe. Political differences, class struggle, financial wrangles, racial jealousies, these are all problems that must be solved before the new world can be born. Peace will not come nor unity be achieved among the nations of the world, unless we can first sow peace and unity ourselves. It is in the workshops, in the farms, in the factories, in the fields, and above all in the homes that you men and women of Canada can lay the foundation stone. You have inherited a splended past from your British and French ancestors; but you will bequeath a far greater future to your Canadian descendants, if you can hand down to them, side by side with equality and freedom, the new spirit of selflessness, cooperation, and goodwill.

There are so many odd things about this little period piece that I hardly know where to begin. For one thing, I have no idea if this call to selflessness is actually typical of the war-time rhetoric, but that’s not where I thought she was going when she started. It’s also really interesting how she places the responsibility for the Utopian future right in the domestic sphere. I’m curious to see how the “true stories” that follow reflect that idea. But certainly my favourite moment is the brilliantly understated remark “We are not dismayed.” Take that, Hitler!

3 thoughts on “A Word to Canada: We are not dismayed.

  1. Shelley August 25, 2010 / 7:22 pm

    This book is a little bit past the time period I write about, but since Canada is the topic, I just wanted to mention to Netflixers that I just discovered a very literate Canadian miniseries: Slings And Arrows. Funny and modern, but includes a little Shakespeare!

  2. Sara Paretsky August 26, 2010 / 11:57 am

    Yes, yes, yes, Slings and Arrows is fabulous. I’m watching Paul Gross in Due South right now, not as coherent but still quite wonderful.

  3. Rohan Maitzen August 26, 2010 / 9:27 pm

    I haven’t seen Slings and Arrows but it sounds like I should look it up! I remember Due South fondly: I used to watch it when I was a graduate student at Cornell–the slightly off-kilter and understated humor was refreshing as an antidote to most of what was on US television in those days.

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