Q: What do the life and experiences of your chosen person reveal about what it means to be Canadian?
This biography’s incorporation of quotes and journal entries add extraordinary detail and emotion to Bell’s story. Charlotte Gray’s Reluctant Genius; The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell explores the struggles and successes of one of the world’s greatest inventors; it’s a truly “outstanding biography that has all the insight, colour, drama, and interest of good entertaining fiction” (The Globe and Mail). From his challenges with health to his passion for inventing, Alexander (Alec) Graham Bell’s life reveals that being Canadian means to not be bound by others and grow as individuals.
As some of you may know, Bell is the inventor of the telephone. However, he was once one of many young scientists racing to develop the first multiple telegram, which was the next step of that technology. And with his “sketchy understanding of the nature of electricity”, Bell didn’t seem to be far ahead, but he persisted, looking up to Morse who “conquered his electrical difficulties although he was only a painter” (29, 81). Alec didn’t have the knowledge or money, but his curiosity and interest in sound pushed him to continue experimenting late into the night. Although his investors wanted him to focus on the multiple telegram, uninterested in a ‘speaking telegram’, Alec continued to work on his passion. Soon, with time, effort, and money, he developed the telephone, which eventually overtook the telegram and made everyone a lot of money. If Bell was bound to his investor’s wishes, he would not have been able to apply his knowledge effectively to produce the telephone.
Alec was also a teacher of the deaf. His father, Melville Bell, pushed his son to continue his work with Visible Speech, a system of symbols intended to help articulate sound. When Melville Bell was invited to Boston to introduce Visible Speech to deaf trainers, he declined and sent his son. Alec’s introduction of Visible Speech was well received, and he decided to stay in Boston as a deaf teacher himself. One day, Gardiner Hubbard, a Boston Lawyer and Bell’s future investor, who was “dazzled by [Alec’s] success with the deaf” came to Alec to discuss private lessons for his deaf daughter, Mabel Hubbard (48). Over some time, Alec developed feelings for Mabel, and sent a letter to her mother seeking advice. However, both mother and father were taken aback by Alec’s feelings and thought Mabel to be far too young to make a decision – being 11 years younger than Alec. They asked Alec not to talk to Mabel about his feelings. However, Alec was a ticking time bomb, having bottled up his emotions for such a long time. Eventually, although he respected her parents, Alec wanted to talk to Mabel himself. He left a letter for her and felt much better having done something for his emotions. Years later, Alec and Mabel were happily married with two children. If Alec let Mabel’s parents suppress his emotions further, his health may have been affected, hindering his life and his passions.
Throughout Alec’s life, passion has driven him to act in ways that others may have disapproved or thought impossible. Because of these passionate decisions, Alec was able to invent, love, and live a fruitful life. His ambitions and successes guided him towards the next; he was always interested in the world around him. This story is told wonderfully through Charlotte Gray’s excellent biography and teaches us that being Canadian means to work towards improving oneself, without paying attention to how others want you, or think you to be.