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Letters from Helen
A Canadian Student in Germany
on the Eve of the Great War
by Helen VanWart
Edited by Dr. Douglas Lochhead,
Professor Emeritus of Canadian Studies
(Mount Allison University)
US$20.00 • CA$21.00 • UK£13.00
In August of 1913, a young University of New Brunswick graduate set out for Germany to study music at the renowned Royal Leipzig Conservatory. Helen VanWart was a vivacious, optimistic girl, eager to experience all that Europe had to offer. Her weekly letters home to her family paint a portrait of Europe’s last months of peace, a time that, for Helen, passed all too quickly in classes, lessons, and practice, practice, practice, interspersed with many concerts, operas, and trips to such places as Dresden, Switzerland, and Rome. Despite her daily hours of practice – often five or six – she kept up an active social life, and her letters bring to life her fellow-students and boarders in her Pension, and perhaps most significantly, “Mr. Lochhead”, a Canadian chemistry student about whom she is unaccustomedly reticent! The future Mrs. Lochhead, indeed, was so immersed in her music and her friends that politics rarely impinged upon her letters. As with so many others in Europe and the British Empire, the outbreak of war appears to have taken her utterly by surprise.
Helen’s letters are living social history, a vibrant testament of a time now hard to imagine, the last year of “Edwardian” innocence, and a portrait of a world that, both musically and socially, had nothing backward-looking about it. The future lay ahead and it was going to be golden.