Early twentieth century women reading through disability and illness: Letters to Canadian novelist Ralph Connor
Keywords:Disability; Invalidism; Reading; Ralph Connor
Ralph Connor was a well-known novelist in the first decade of the twentieth century. Many people read his popular fiction novels around the world. Perhaps owing to his popularity and penchant for keeping correspondence, his collected papers, held the Archives and Special Collections at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, include over six hundred fan letters. I examined these letters with the intention of exploring women’s responses to popular fiction of the era and the reasons they were reading. As I read the letters, a recurring theme emerged in letters penned by women: they described the role of reading in their lives in relation to their personal experiences with disabilities and chronic illness. Others wrote about the experience of reading to their mothers, sisters, or friends with disabilities. These fan letters are the voices of women with disabilities who were relegated to the margins of society. Ultimately, the letters reveal the role of reading as a leisure activity, a vocation, and a social outlet in the lives of early twentieth century women who identified themselves as invalids, shut-ins, and bedbound.
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