Lakehead University Interview - The Factory Voice

Reviewed by: Melissa Gaudette

On November 5, 2009, an eager and diverse crowd gathered in anticipation of Dr. Jeanette Lynes' lecture, "Riveting Rosie Returns: History, Story, and Can Car during WWII." Lynes, an associate professor at St. Francis Xavier University, spoke about her recent novel, The Factory Voice, an historical fiction that depicts 1940s Riveting Rosies in Fort William (the south side of present-day Thunder Bay). 

Inevitably, "historical fiction" privileges a few stories at the expense of the rest, and risks the charge of essentialism. Is it ever possible to separate what is real, what is construed, and what is interpreted? How do we, as authors and as readers, navigate the differences between fact and fiction?

According to Lynes, historical fiction is of crucial importance to understanding the past. She believes that "story is one way that we have to tell who we are. We tell stories, where we've been, and where we are. It's a form of channelling." Uncovering the oral stories brings the past back to life.

Of course Lynes is aware that she selects, edits, and therefore moulds this history. Given the multitude of possibilities, angles, and narrators, Lynes admits that moulding the story was a constant challenge. "[Editing] is the hard part. Draft after draft, you have a sense of what you need to have in the story and what you need to let go of."

Lynes lived The Factory Voice during the seven years of her extensive research and editing. Lynes said she employed various methodologies while she was (re) creating the stories told in The Factory Voice. Lynes first learned about the real-life experiences of being a Riveter through her participation in an oral history project led by Lakehead University faculty members, Pam Wakewich and Helen Smith. Then Lynes delved into the National Archives, reviewed films from the 1940s, read texts devoted to 1940s Canadian vernacular, and spoke with various local riveters.

Interestingly, she says that her biggest inspiration for culture was the in-house magazine, the Aircrafter. Lynes found that such a popular, mainstream magazine reflected the dominat ideology of the period and so neglected marginalized groups or ideas. Consequently, The Factory Voice uses and also subverts the dominant discourse she found in its pages. Above all Lynes focussed on the magazine's humour. Humour, she explains, relates incredibly well to society. For Lynes, the Aircrafter's humour was the doorway into 1940s culture. "Humour," she tells us, "can tell us a lot about culture." So Lynes examined the patterns of the jokes and tried to replicate their tone in her novel.

After her presentation, audience members shared experiences of living in the 1940s. One Riveter in the audience pointed out a flaw in Lynes' story - Lynes neglected to mention the Port Arthur Riveters. And as befits an audience who could cliam to have "been there," a general buzzing remained faintly questioning Lynes' authentic voice. Lynes reflects on her privilege of hearing the stories. Lynes states that "anything I could write would not match the people's stories at the time - [but] that's the inspiration."

Concluding the night, Dr. Jeanette Lynes hinted to the audience an underlying but powerful response to her critics: Where would our society be if all the histories were silenced?  

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