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Book Review: Awfully Devoted Women Essay (Book Review)

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Cameron Duder’s Awfully Devoted Women: Lesbian Lives in Canada 1900-65 stands out as a must-read masterpiece that centers on the sexual relationships that existed before 1965 in Canada.

Before 1965, lesbianism was secretive despite the failure to account for the many episodes of same-sex relationship that existed among the middle-class women, upper class, and working class.

The author, Cameron Duder attempts to uncover/unravel the life/intimate relationships of these women through the book.

The author’s main point is that lesbianism in Canada was something that was going on with nobody having any hint about it (Duder 1). The paper strategically analyzes the various tactics that the author uses to deliver this claim to the reader.


Firstly, the content of the book is reliable. Duder draws from an array of documents i.e. letters, newspapers articles, journal entries, and even interviews with women who engaged in same-sex relationships. These women were devoted to one another expressing love and affection among themselves.

The author first looks at the manner of relationships between professional women from 1900 to 1950 in Canada. Such relationships were referred to “romantic friendships” during this period (Duder 12). They were considered as merely close friendship.

However, the women involved were not required to disclose them to any third party because it could create suspicion.

Duder says, “Because women were assumed to be incapable of the same nature and degree of sexual passion as men, it was inconceivable to many that they could desire each other and could engage in same sex sexual activity” (25).

If such relationships came to the public limelight, they risked being condemned because women were not perceived to be sexual beings. He quotes, “women were not perceived as, and did not perceive themselves as sexual beings…had physical sexuality been revealed, the women concerned could have been condemned” (Duder 21).

The bulk of the book is referenced from the novel ‘the well of loneliness by Radclyffe Halls, a famous lesbian novel written in 1928. Women lived as wives who practiced lesbianism in secret to avoid public ridicule.

Duder also investigates the application of the word lesbianism. Universities, schools, and working places played a great role in enhancing lesbianism as people could meet here.

“The workplaces, the universities and colleges, the parties, and the political groups were all sites for the establishment of same-sex relationships between women” (Duder 23).

The book explores at length various aspects of lesbians, for instance, from first encounters to how lesbian bar culture grew and became dominant in Canada.

Therefore, the book provides a vivid understanding of lesbianism in Canada during this period. The author, Cameron Duder is an independent researcher who is based in Vancouver.

He is therefore a person with skills and experience in transgender studies, sexuality, and history of mental heath.

The author’s thesis is well delivered. Women who were devoted to the practice were secretive for fear of isolation or rebuke from the public.

The history on same sex relationships in Canada is scanty and therefore, the author sought to gather this piecemeal information from the 19th century to the mid 20th century.

Therefore, the author is trying to inform the public and any other person who is interested in the history or knowledge of sexuality and lesbianism in Canada.

The author’s goal is to set the record correct on same-sex relationships in Canada and its origin besides showing how it came to be known to the public domain.

Other parts of America had well-documented information about lesbianism as compared to Canada. Therefore, it was salient for the author to carry out research in a bid come out with tangible/credible information concerning the behavior in Canada.

To communicate his message in a manner to trigger understanding, Duder employed various strategies to achieve this. In writing the book, he had the audience that he was targeting in his mind. The book targets people who have an interest in history specifically lesbianism.

The society is made up of different people with different interests. The author therefore aimed to reach out to historians to help them understand how lesbianism began in Canada and how it came to grow to its level currently. Various changes have occurred since early 19th century.

Women who had any desire for fellow women could not come out to the public because of the stigmatization. Nevertheless, currently, transformation has happened. Various organizations have been set up to protect the rights of such women in the society.

Even though the society is reluctant to accept them, it is slowly changing its perception and that women in same sex relationships are being accepted by the larger society. Women in these relationships may really be relieved after reading the book because the book is acknowledging their presence.

It also marks the dawn for reworking of the existing constitutional rights in a bid to incorporate the lesbian’s rights as well. The author’s reason for researching on this area is clear in the book. He was curious to understand how lesbianism emerged in Canada.

Other states and countries have elaborative history and information documented in their libraries and archives concerning lesbianism. Therefore, the motive for writing this book was his interest in finding out more about lesbianism in Canada (Korinek 204).

The book is straight and to the point in terms of delivering the lesbianism history and its development as the central theme in the book. Various issues revolve around this. The period the book covers is from 1900 to 1965.

Even though the author develops his thesis from literatures and writing from the late 19th century, the book covers Canada in its scope. The author centers his arguments and discussions on Canada because he wants to explore the country extensively.

The author has also managed to achieve his objectives through the book by using life interviews with group of women who lived between 1930s and 1970s. “Awfully Devoted Women adds a Canadian voice to that challenge, demonstrating that the women whose letters I examine conformed in many ways to the language of the romantic friendship” (Duder 25).

These women, some of whom were lesbianism, provided valuable information that necessitated the compilation of the book. Furthermore, the author borrows from newspaper articles, journal entries, and letters written in late 1900s talking about same sex relationships.

The author has provided tangible examples and quotations from various letters and pieces of writing that have helped to authentic his points and arguments throughout the book (Korinek 204). This is illustrated through the quote, “Nettie wrote a lengthy letter explaining how Helene could change her approach to the problem” (Duder 32).

The author strategically convinces the reader by providing various arguments that indeed lesbianism existed in Canada since 19th century even though little information is available to authentic this.

The few documented information is evident that women in Canada practiced the act in secret without the knowledge of their husbands. “Expressions of romantic love between women, which previously could have been uttered without condemnation, were, by the 1920s, being viewed with suspicion” (Duder 24).

Secondly, lesbianism in Canada was something that was not agreeable and respected in the society. Therefore, women had to use tactics by being secretive. Third is that women identified their mates through various meeting places such as schools, universities, and at work places.

This and many other ideas that are presented by the author are convincing. The arguments are based on evidence. For instance, he uses quotes from some of the letters that were written by ancient women who practiced same-sex relationships. The author has therefore used ethos, logos, and pathos.

The credibility of the book is evident based on the apparent logic reasoning presented in the book. The author has argued his points in a logic and systematic way. The book provides a background to the issue under argument.

It is subdivided into two parts that ensure that there is clear understanding of what happened in each section. For instance, the first part covers 1600 to 1950 while the second part covers 1950 to 1965, also called post war period (Duder 1).

The ideas are also presented in a very coherent manner. The words used are simple to understand. The book communicates its message easily and in simplicity. Therefore, the way the main arguments are backed up enhances credibility.

The personal interviews that the author conducts gives him first hand information on the way the women behaved hence enhance the level of credibility of the arguments.

The ideas are simple and concise. The author has made this by categorizing every issue or argument in its own topic and supporting it with information from credible sources.

The author is representative in his presentation of ideas. The information presented does not seem to lean on one particular side or perspective. Information and arguments are presented the way they appear on the ground.

Therefore, there is no room for one to claim that the arguments lean on one side. The facts are provided the way they are. For instance, the author quotes some of the verses and phrases that women used to send to fellow women.

A good example is where various letters were send to Betty from B that were about new ideas about same sex relationships, “ what is it darling?…what do you think” (Duder 49).

The way the author presents his ideas from the perspective of the third person is very essential in the academic scenarios because the reader is able to understand the real such information as it appeared on the ground. People would need to understand the way certain issues happened in the past.

Therefore, presenting facts as the author has done is essential in presenting the history of the issue of same-sex relationships. This has actually made the book better especially to people who take studies or research on areas of sexuality.

It is a fact that the book is original. Even though the wording and the phrasing of ideas is not the same as the sources the user used, the facts presented in the book are largely original.

The reason why the ideas are original is due to the extensive sources that the author has incorporated in the book to back up his argument. The author has done a lot of researching. From the various sources, he has managed to get the first-hand information to incorporate in his argument.

He says, “The collection of letters between Frieda Fraser and Edith (Bud) Bickerton Williams is the largest thus far in Canadian lesbian history” (Duder 35). Of course, he is not an angel to have known everything that happened during the past years.

However, the sources and the written manuscript that he used show some level of credibility and originality in the thoughts. Secondly, the book is fascinating and interesting especially on how the author incorporated ideas from letters.

It makes the book an attention-grabbing one when reading and or thinking about those old days and how women were able to communicate and express their feelings through letters.

The new thing that has interested me in the book is the extensive use of primary data. Women who engaged in same-sex relationships borrow a good share of the book from various ideas as postulated from various one-on-one interviews.

This has actually taken a notch higher in the research and compilation of the book. Most of the books are normally written based on secondary sources, but this one has incorporated information from both sources. This has made the book more original, reliable, and interesting to read.

The book has also provided new ideas about same-sex relationships. The behavior was not welcome by the society as it felt that it was against the norms and values. The women victims at that time were determined to ensure that they lived their lives the way they desired.

They were determined to go against the norms of the society that had provided obstacles for them to express their love and affection (Parks 45). This has enabled the reader to be aware that since such behaviors were denounced by the society time immemorial.


In general, it suffices to conclude that the book is appropriate for reading. It is understandable and therefore recommendable to many different kinds of readers. The book does not require any amendments or revisions because it is well structured and formatted.

Various people have edited the book. Therefore, it satisfies the standards of any publishing house. The language used to convey the message is simple and easy to understand by the target audience. Furthermore, the author has acknowledged the sources and the people who enabled him to complete the work successfully.

The bibliography and index is presented well according to set standards. The author has also provided quotations of the works that he sourced. This makes the book professional, as the author cannot be charged in the court of law for copyright.

Therefore, in general, the book is perfect and recommendable to any reader. The author has presented his arguments in a good way by addressing all aspects concerning lesbianism in Canada.

Any person who did not know about lesbianism in Canada before has an opportunity of exploiting this book. For sure, it is worthy reading, as it educates extensively on aspects of same-sex relationships.

Works Cited

Duder, Cameron. Awfully Devoted Women: Lesbian Lives in Canada. 1900-65. London, UBC Press, 2010. Print.

Korinek, Valerie. “Awfully Devoted Women: Lesbian Lives in Canada, 1900-65.” Labour/ Le Travail 69.1(2012): 204-206. Print.

Parks, Joy. “Awfully devoted women.” Horizons 25.4(2012): 45-45. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Book Review: Awfully Devoted Women." December 10, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/book-review-awfully-devoted-women/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Book Review: Awfully Devoted Women'. 10 December.

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