Tuesday 21 February 2023

Flint & Feather: The Life and Times of E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake by Charlotte Gray

I think I was in grade 4 or 5 when our teacher told us about the famed Canadian poet, Pauline Johnson. Her story intrigued me. A Mohawk poet who, not only travelled across Canada, but also traveled to England a few times performing. When I saw Charlotte Gray's newest history work, Flint and Feather, it reignited my interest in her and, of course, had to read it. 

A graceful biography that was a #1 national bestseller, Flint & Feather confirms Charlotte Gray’s position as a master biographer, a writer with a rare gift for transforming a historical character into a living, breathing woman who immediately captures our imagination.

In Flint & Feather, Charlotte Gray explores the life of this nineteenth-century daughter of a Mohawk chief and English gentlewoman, creating a fascinating portrait of a young woman equally at home on the stage in her “Indian” costume and in the salons of the rich and powerful. Uncovering Pauline Johnson’s complex and dramatic personality, Flint & Feather is studded with triumph and tragedy, mystery and romance—a first-rate biography blending turn-of-the-century Canadian history and the vibrant story of a woman whose unforgettable voice still echoes through the years.

Pauline Johnson was not just a renowned poet, but was also well know for her eclectic performances. As she was of mixed heritage, Mohawk and English, she create an act which would highlight both sides of her roots. In one act she would dress in her authentic aboriginal garb and recite her poems about canoeing and aboriginal stories she heard or grew up on. 

In the second act, she would dress as an English debutant with poems regarding the upper English lifestyle she had experienced. It was the two different styles, all in one performance which kept people filling the seats of theater everywhere.

Gray does and excellent job in telling the story of her life. Her successes and pitfalls. Her constant state of being poor and in debt, even though she was constantly performing. The reader can see the extensive research which went into Gray's work. It's a tale worth reading.  

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