Laurence, by France Théoret (Mercury, translated by Gail Scott), is also about a young woman in Quebec, but in the 1930s a woman’s struggle to make her life her own was harder. Laurence comes from an impoverished farming family whose daughters have two choices: marry a man or marry the church.
An impulse pushes Laurence to apply for work at a hospital in Quebec City instead, and this turns out to be the first step in her emancipation. The hospital isn’t that different from a nunnery, as the girls there are fed and clothed and ordered about, and Laurence must send her salary home to her father, but she persists in her solitary path and eventually becomes a nurse and an independent woman.
The language in this book is direct and unemotional, much as Laurence is, but the picture we get of a woman who makes her own life, in spite of the overwhelming demands of both church and society, is vivid; and the author’s skill in invoking the flavour of the Depression years is powerful.