Margaret Duley

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Margaret Duley
BornSeptember 27, 1894
St. John's, Newfoundland
DiedMarch 22, 1968
St. John's, Newfoundland

Margaret Iris Duley (September 27, 1894 – March 22, 1968) was arguably Newfoundland's first novelist of either sex, and certainly the first to gain an international audience. She was born in pre-Confederation Newfoundland. Her four novels combine a deep sense of geography and place, and especially of the sea which "gave and took away. " Her main characters are often outport women, who are set apart or restive in their surroundings, and her writing reflected a feminist sensibility.

Duley was the daughter of Thomas Duley, who emigrated from Birmingham, England, and Tryphena Soper, born in Carbonear, Newfoundland. Thomas Duley, established a successful optical, jewelry and luxury goods store on Water Street. In 1910 Margaret graduated from the Methodist College in St. John's, and shortly after in 1911 she and her family visited England for an aunt's wedding. She subsequently decided to study elocution and drama at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, but because of World War I she had to move home.[1]

During World War I two of Margaret's three brothers served in the war, and Margaret worked at the Women's Patriotic Association, an organization that raised money and supplies for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Her oldest brother, Captain Cyril C. Duley, MBE was badly wounded during the war, and her younger brother, 2 Lt. Lionel Duley, was killed shortly before the Armistice. She would later write a short story "Mother Boggan", one of the few written by a Newfoundland author that reflected critically about the conflagration that left so many of Newfoundland's young men dead or wounded.

In 1920 Margaret's father died and left her an estate of $250 a year allowing her to live at home. She joined the Ladies Reading Room and the Current Events Club, a center of advanced opinion that produced many of the leaders of the Newfoundland women's suffrage movement. as was also the case with the WPA. She was a supporter of the Women's Franchise League whose island-wide petition campaign resulted in the passage of women's suffrage in March 1925, allowing women to vote at 25, men at 21.[2]

Margaret worked for the Women's Patriotic Association and the St. John's Ambulance Corporation for World War II. Afterwards she became the Public Relations Officer for Red Cross and began writing newspaper articles. After many interviews and broadcast talks on Radio Station CJON, Margaret went to England (1952) to broadcast four stories on the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II [3]

In 1955 Margaret's health started to decline because of Parkinson's disease and by 1959 she was unable to even write letters because of her disease. She then lived with her sister-in-law and niece who cared for her until 1968. She died at age 73.

A Parks Canada historic plaque to her memory is attached near the entrance to the Queen Elizabeth II Library on the campus of Memorial University in Newfoundland; and her home at 51 Rennies Mill Road is part of a Women's History walking tour of St. John's. In September 2007 she was selected as a "National Historic Person" by Parks Canada for their historical website.

Written Works

During 1928 Margaret and her brother, Cyril, went on a boat trip to the coast of Labrador, and a seagull hovered in front of Margaret's face with eyes like "yellow ice." She used this fierce, yellow eyed image in her first book titled The Eyes of the Gull and described the theme as a "symbol of a piteous heart of the north." The book is about a 30-year-old woman who wants freedom from her outport life and a dictating mother. The book uses grim humour, and unforgettable characters which effectively portrays the outport life of Newfoundland

Margaret's second novel Cold Pastoral is said to be influenced by a real missing girl, who was lost in the woods. Theme events are parallel to the storyline of an orphaned girl who was adopted by an upper-class family of St. John during that period. The authenticity of the lifestyles of outport life and the poverty of depression-era Newfoundland resonated in the United States and Britain but resulted in acquaintances in her town being unimpressed.

Her next novel Highway to Valour (1941) is set against the backdrop of the devastating tidal wave that struck the Burin Peninsula in 1929, and the subsequent life of the young heroine, Mageila, in St. John's. Novelty on Earth (1942), set in a "British colony," is a thinly veiled depiction of life among the "mannered set," in St. John's.

Drawing upon her experiences as a volunteer at the Caribou Hut, a hostel for servicemen who flooded into the port of St. John's during World War II, Margaret wrote her final major work. The Caribou Hut (1949) It depicts the turbulence and excitement of wartime St. John's, as well as the activities at the hostel that entertained, fed and housed approximately 16,000 soldiers by 1946.[4] A short story ("Sea Dust") featuring a ship's cat rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk also stems from this period.

Published works[edit]

  • A Pair of Grey Socks: Facts and Fancies by Tryphena Soper Duley; Verses by Margaret Duley, 1916 (St. John's, Newfoundland: n. publ.) at A Celebration of Women Writers
  • The Eyes of the Gull, 1936 (Arthur Baker Limited of London)
  • Cold Pastoral, 1939 (London: Hutchinson and Company)
  • Highway to Valour, 1941 (Toronto and London: Macmillan Company), 1943 (London: Methuen and Company)
  • Novelty on Earth, 1943 (Toronto and London: Macmillan Company), 1944 (Britain: Methuen)[5]
  • The Caribou Hut, 1949 (Toronto: Ryerson Press)
  • Mother Boggan. (The Fortnightly, April 1940)
  • Sea Dust. (Chatelaine, November 1943)

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Alison Feder: Margaret Duley, Newfoundland Novelist, A Biographical and Critical Study. St. John's: Harry Cuff Publ. 1983
  • Margot Duley: Margaret Duley, 1894-1968, introduction to Highway to Valour. reprint edition, Toronto: Griffin Publ. 1977
  • Margot Duley: Where Once Our Mothers Stood We Stand: Women's Suffrage in Newfoundland. PEI: Gynergy press 1993
  • Patrick O'Flaherty: The Rock Observed: Studies in the Literature of Newfoundland. University of Toronto Press 1979


  1. ^ "Margaret Duley papers" Memorial University Archives and Special Collections Bert Riggs, 1994 Coll.
  2. ^ Collection Contains Memorabilia From One of Newfoundland's Best Novelists online
  3. ^ "Author: Margaret Duley." Her story II : women from Canada's past. St. Catharines, Ont.: Vanwell Publ. 1995; 2010
  4. ^ Margaret Duley: Her story 2: women from Canada's past. St. Catharines, Ont.: Vanwell Publ. 1995. paperback. 2010
  5. ^ "Margaret Duley papers" Memorial University Archives and Special Collections Bert Riggs, 1994 Papers