Margaret Duley

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Margaret Duley
Margaret Duley.jpg
BornSeptember 27, 1894
St. John's, Newfoundland
DiedMarch 22, 1968
St. John's, Newfoundland
NationalityNewfoundlander, Canadian

Margaret Iris Duley (September 27, 1894 – March 22, 1968) was arguably Newfoundland's first novelist 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. Her main characters are often outport women who are set apart or restive in their surroundings, and her writing reflected a feminist sensibility.

Early life and education[edit]

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 Duley 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]

Later life and activism[edit]

Two of Duley's three brothers served in World War I, and Duley herself 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, 2nd 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, Duley'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 did the WPA.[2] 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.[3]

Duley worked for the Women's Patriotic Association and the St. John's Ambulance Corporation[4] 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, Duley went to England in 1952 to broadcast four stories on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II[5]

In 1955, Duley's health started to decline because of Parkinson's disease.[6] By 1959, the disease left her unable even to write letters. 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 Duley's memory is attached near the entrance to the Queen Elizabeth II Library on the campus of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Her home at 51 Rennies Mill Road is part of a Women's History Walking Tour of St. John's. In September 2007, Parks Canada designated Duley a National Historic Person.

Written works[edit]

In 1928, when Duley and her brother Cyril took a boat trip to the coast of Labrador. Dudley encountered a seagull which hovered in front of her face with eyes like "yellow ice."[citation needed] 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 novel follows a 30-year-old woman who wants freedom from her outport life and a dictating mother.

Duley's second novel, Cold Pastoral, is said to be influenced by the case of a real missing child lost in the woods[citation needed]. Theme events are parallel to the storyline of an orphaned girl who is adopted by an upper-class family of St. John's. 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.[citation needed]

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 so-called "mannered set" in St. John's.

Duley drew 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, for her final major work, The Caribou Hut (1949). A history of the hostel, The Caribou Hut 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.[7] A short story called Sea Dust, which features a ship's cat rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk also stems from this period.



  1. ^ "Margaret Duley papers" Memorial University Archives and Special Collections Bert Riggs, 1994 Coll.
  2. ^ Duley, Margot I. (1993). Where once our mothers stood we stand : women's suffrage in Newfoundland, 1890-1925. Charlottetown, P.E.I.: Gynergy. ISBN 0-921881-24-X. OCLC 28850183.
  3. ^ Collection Contains Memorabilia From One of Newfoundland's Best Novelists online
  4. ^ "Duley, Margaret :: Finding Aids of the Archives and Special Collections". Retrieved 2020-06-15.
  5. ^ "Author: Margaret Duley." Her story II : women from Canada's past. St. Catharines, Ont.: Vanwell Publ. 1995; 2010
  6. ^ "Duley, Margaret :: Finding Aids of the Archives and Special Collections". Retrieved 2020-06-15.
  7. ^ Margaret Duley: Her story 2: women from Canada's past. St. Catharines, Ont.: Vanwell Publ. 1995. paperback. 2010
  8. ^ "Margaret Duley papers" Memorial University Archives and Special Collections Bert Riggs, 1994 Papers

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

External links[edit]