To Wear or Not to Wear a Wedding Dress
- Susan Whelehan (Editor) and Anne Laurel Carter (Editor)
My Wedding Dress. Vintage Canada (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Maria Noëlle Ng
A collection of 26 true stories on the theme of the wedding dress could be quite predictable—there must be a bride, a groom, and a wedding. So it is to the editors’ credit that some of these memory pieces are quite unconventional in their treatment of the clichéd “most important day” of a woman’s life. The collection does contain the usual high-octane emotional ride of a bride-to-be’s preparation for a wedding, but it also features some eccentric and original perspectives on both marriage and its concomitant rituals.
For instance, Edeet Ravel (“Waiting-Room Wedding with Veil”) writes: “[W]hen I fell in love in what I considered to be a permanent and final way, I had no intention of marrying my true love.” When she did marry, in Israel, it was because married women “were exempt from service” and Ravel had been called up to join the army. Her account of the pre-marriage requirements, her choice of the wedding outfit, and the “shtetl-like atmosphere of burlesque and improvisation” of the marriage ceremony are delightfully comical.
Another entry that is equally indifferent to the required solemn social rituals of the wedding is “The Art Project” by Jessica Ruth Harris. The narrative begins deceptively: “What I wanted was the most traditional wedding dress possible.” It transpires that Harris was an art student and the wedding dress was needed as a prop in a performance art project. The dress eventually contributed to various pieces of textile art works, a costume at a fetish ball, and a graduation dress: “The full tulle and lace overskirts had been cut off” and “the burst seam in the bodice was mended with safety pins.” Woven into the life of the wedding dress is the writer’s growing awareness of love and sexualities. As Harris realizes, the dress “taught me that the accepted forms and meanings are not the only possibilities open to us.”
Similar to Harris’ narrative, “Two Suits and a Closet” is also told from the perspective of someone in a same-sex relationship. Rosemary Hood married in the conventional sense in 1946. After twenty-two years, Hood left her husband and moved in with Kay, whom she met at work. The story ends with Hood and Kay’s marriage. Both were in the 80s and their desire to formalize their relationship after thirty-four years was touching. The wedding, then, became more significant than the usual ritual. It was a test of both their friends’ and relatives’ acceptance of their sexuality and their own comfort with being integrated into conventional society as a married couple.
Though the conventional wedding dress conjures up the picture of a white gown, lace, satin, and so on, several narratives feature a wedding dress that is anything but. Michele Landsberg’s “Unbearable Whiteness” is also a critique of the hypocrisy towards women and virginity in the 1950s. Landsberg emerged from her background smarter and stronger: “Most of the negative things that happened to me in childhood served me in good stead.” These included anti-Semitism, patriarchal attitudes, her parents’ unhappy marriage, and a stifling social culture. Landsberg’s choice of a wedding dress, “run up swiftly by a seamstress in time for the wedding,” stood for “my rejection of a woman’s role, my scorn for the concept of virginity, and my reluctance to adopt, even for my mother’s sake, any of the usual symbols of marital bliss.”
Not surprisingly, the mother plays an important role in many of the narratives in this collection, either as someone supportive and wise, or as someone whose experiences and values spurred her daughter in another direction. In “Dark Water,” Lorna Crozier paints a more vivid portrait of her mother than of herself as bride. Crozier’s mother got married in 1938 when Saskatchewan “had suffered eight years of drought.” Money for the wedding dress came from “the scarce eggs and cream produced in that dry year” and money for a perm came from selling a duck and a chicken to the Chinese café in town. The couple was going to live in a shack abandoned by some homesteader and Crozier imaginatively retells the scenes of her parents’ wedding during these very hard times: her mother prepared the stuffed turkey and raisin pies before changing into her blue-black velvet dress; the next day, she walked to the nearby town to buy formaldehyde in order to make a “deadly home remedy” to kill off the bedbugs in the shack. Juxtaposed against this naturalistic picture of depression-era life is Crozier’s poetic images of her mother’s wedding dress: “The velvet, the colour of pooled ink, must have drawn the moonlight into its folds and dewlaps as it lay draped on a chair by the bed, the couple young and naked in one another’s arms, their lives together stretching in front of them.” Maybe that’s what the reader of My Wedding Dress is hoping for as well, a future of promises and gifts, the possibility of disappointment and failure kept at bay.
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MLA: Ng, Maria Noëlle. To Wear or Not to Wear a Wedding Dress. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #194 (Autumn 2007), Visual/Textual Intersections. (pg. 186 - 188)
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