Nov 102014

Project Focus and Publication

Dr. Pauline Greenhill writes, “I first realised that charivaris (or shivaree or chivaree) were still happening in Ontario in the late 1980s. I was fascinated that a practice I thought had died out at the end of the previous century was still going strong, at least in some areas. I wrote a short article at the time, published in the Journal of Ritual Studies .1 But I left the work aside until 2003, when online legal records made individual word searches possible. Based on finding a couple of references to “charivari” I proposed a three year research program to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which was funded, and resulted in my 2010 book, Make the Night Hideous: Four English-Canadian Charivaris, 1881-1940, with the University of Toronto Press.”

Using the Archives in Winnipeg

A charivari near Brookdale, Manitoba in 1909 resulted in the death of one of the young charivariers. Pauline was lucky enough to find that the records of the Neepawa Methodist Church registered the death of eighteen-year-old Harry Bosnell, listing the cause of death as “gunshot wound” and adding the remark “shot at a chirarivi [sic]”.  This charivari is the basis of a chapter in the book: ” “A Man’s Home is His Castle” Death at a Manitoba Charivari, 1909.”  (Manitoba Historical Society Article)

Research Results

The charivari is a loud, late-night surprise house-visiting custom from members of a community, usually to a newlywed couple, accompanied by a quête (a request for a treat or money in exchange for the noisy performance) and/or pranks. Up to the first decades of the twentieth century, charivaris were for the most part enacted to express disapproval of the relationship that was their focus, such as those between individuals of different ages, races, or religions. While later charivaris maintained the same rituals, their meaning changed to a welcoming of the marriage.

Make the Night Hideous explores this mysterious transformation using four detailed case studies from different time periods and locations across English Canada, as well as first-person accounts of more recent charivari participants. Pauline Greenhill’s unique and fascinating work explores the malleability of a tradition, its continuing value, and its contestation in a variety of discourses.

Reflection on the Project

Pauline: “This work had some of the best research karma of my entire academic career of more than 35 years. Finding the entry for Harry Bosnell’s death so close at hand, right in the library at the University of Winnipeg, where I am a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, was just one example of how fortuitously everything worked out.”

Award for Excellence

In 2011, Pauline was the recipient of an Association of Manitoba Archives Award for Excellence in Archival Research for the book. The award recognizes users of archives who have completed an original work of excellence which contributes to the understanding Manitoba history.

Award for Excellence

Pauline Greenhill is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Winnipeg, Manitoba. She has four recent co-edited books: Fairy Tale Films: Visions of Ambiguity (with Sidney Eve Matrix, Utah State University Press, 2010); Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimms (with Kay Turner, Wayne State University Press, 2012); Unsettling Assumptions: Tradition, Gender, Drag (with Diane Tye, Utah State University Press, 2014), and Channeling Wonder: Fairy Tales on Television (with Jill Terry Rudy, Wayne State University Press, 2014).

1.  Pauline Greenhill, “Welcome and Unwelcome Visitors: Shivarees and the Political Economy of Rural-Urban Interactions in Southern Ontario” in Journal of Ritual Studies  3.1 (1989), pp. 45 – 67.