Possibilities for Dramatic Monologue
in the Whitehern Archives

by Dr. Mary J. Anderson

Annual TPS PoetryTALK

February 11, 2006


PART ONE: A review of the characteristics of the Dramatic Monologue, with examples of Dramatic Monologue poems.

PART TWO: Dramatic examples from the Whitehern letters which would lend themselves to Dramatic Monologues.

[Search on www.whitehern.ca. The search mechanism is user-friendly. IMPORTANT NOTE: Always read the footnotes, they provide historical richness and will lead to other letters on the same subject — or photos (IMG’s).]



To explore the possibilities of Dramatic Monologue within the Whiteh­ern historical archives, we must first understand what constitutes a Dramatic Monologue. Many detailed definitions of this poetic genre can be found, but all boil down to these basics.

1. The Dramatic Monologue is written in the first person, apparent either at the beginning or disclosed somewhere within the poem. This is often an historical personage, who becomes the persona of the poem. This will often be the case with the Whitehern material since the monologue may be “spoken” by one of the members of the family, as in a letter.

2. In the Dramatic Monologue there is an explicit or an implied listener, and the listener is sometimes addressed in the poem.

3. In the Dramatic Monologue the persona of the poem reveals or betrays something of his/her own character in the telling, often a negative aspect, and certainly an ironic or dramatic aspect.

4. The form of a Dramatic Monologue varies, but is usually a lyric poem, and can be a strictly structured poem like a sonnet, or can be a prose poem, or blank verse.


From Shakespeare's Hamlet (soliloquy):

My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning (rhyming couplets):

Porphyria’s Lover, by Robert Browning:

Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord, by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Mending Wall, by Robert Frost:

In Flanders Fields, By Lt. Col. John McCrae (1872-1918):

from Night Attack, by Siegfried Sassoon:

Lessons of the War, I. Naming of Parts, by Henry Reed

This is a Photograph of Me, by Margaret Atwood

Death of a Naturalist, by Seamus Heaney

Hanging Fire, by Audre Lord

Prayers and letters are good examples of Dramatic Monologue.




Note: See the “Family Page” on the website;
if you click on any of the characters it will lead you to a brief biography.


The Rise of the House of McQuesten.

Dr. Calvin McQuesten, a medical doctor, came to Hamilton from New Hampshire in the 1830's, but not as a medical doctor (there was no money in medicine at that time), but as an entrepreneur. He started Hamilton’s first foundry and Hamilton eventually grew to become “the Birmingham of Canada.” Dr. Calvin made a fortune in stoves and threshing machines, and retired in 1865 with $500,000 and investments, to take up his favourite avocation, evangelical Protestantism, and the design and building of Presbyterian Churches. He had made a huge fortune, but he also made two very large mistakes in his life.

His first mistake occurred when he married for a third time, to Elizabeth Fuller, when he was seeking a mother for his two sons, Calvin and Isaac, from his previous wives who both died in childbirth. However, Elizabeth instructed the boys, NOT to call her mother, but to call her Mrs. McQuesten. However, secretly the boys called her the “O.L.” for “Old Lady.” She sent the boys away to school and spent most of her time shopping, and trying to gain control of the McQuesten fortune. Elizabeth Fuller is the “Wicked Stepmother” of the tale — but that is another story for another day.

Dr. Calvin McQuesten’s second mistake occurred when he turned over control of his fortune to his son Isaac who had graduated in law in 1869 and appeared capable. Isaac did succeed in thwarting the wicked stepmother, by surreptitious but legal means, and when Dr. Calvin died in 1885, his will granted his wife, Elizabeth Fuller, an annuity and she returned to the U.S. — never to be heard from again. So Isaac won that battle.

The Fall of the House of McQuesten.

Although Isaac saved his father’s estate from Elizabeth’s grasp, he promptly lost it. He made some very poor investments. He was a heavy drinker and made his own wine and hard cider. He suffered from depression and insomnia. He also took some prescribed medications, Paregoric and Calomel, which are derivatives of Opium and Mercury, and he mixed them generously with alcohol. He became mentally unstable and was treated at Guelph, but repeatedly relapsed into alcoholism, depression, and paranoia.

The reports of Isaac’s death vary, but the most likely report is that one evening in March 1888, in the library at Whitehern, Isaac took a sleeping potion (or several), generously laced with alcohol, and fell into a stupor. His wife, Mary, had retired after coming home from a Missionary Society meeting; she heard the thud, rushed to his aid, and called Dr. Mullin. Isaac rallied briefly, but by morning he was dead.

To make matters worse, Isaac’s death was accompanied by bankruptcy, which had been looming for some months, and he lost his and his brother’s share of their father’s fortune, as well as most of his wife’s inheritance from her father, Rev. Thomas Baker. Isaac died with liabilities of nearly $1,000,000. The circumstances of Isaac’s death and bankruptcy inevitably generated rumours of suicide, and the family suffered much social stigma. The bankruptcy, the suspected suicide, the mental illness, which was also inherited by some of the children, caused the family to live forever in a state of guarded secrecy. Mother, Mary, states to Tom “We don’t mention Edna’s name unless someone specifically asks.”

At the moment of Isaac’s death and bankruptcy, the McQuesten family fell from the highest echelons of Hamilton society to one of the lowest — an impoverished widow with 6 children. The family suffered much stigma caused by the inherited mental illness, alcoholism, rumours of suicide, and bankruptcy.

Isaac had married Mary Baker in 1873 and they had 7 children in 12 years, (one child died in infancy), and when Isaac died suddenly and unexpectedly, in 1888, Mary was left with 6 children between the ages of 14 and 2. They were impoverished, with a meagre income, with NO social assistance of ANY kind, no medical assistance, and a large house to maintain — a house that was already seriously in need of repair. Mary struggled for 20 years to restore the family.

That is the story of the Fall of the House of McQuesten — it was sudden and catastrophic. The sonnet What Remains, by George Down, the winning sonnet in the Tower Poetry contest of 2005, comments on that time in 1888 when the family had become impoverished and was forced to confront an uncertain future on a greatly reduced income.


Oh, Isaac, how could you have squandered so
Much fortune? Cash, trust, real estate and health
All dissipated, blown apart. Although
Your father Calvin steamed his way to wealth
Your frittering addiction soon outran
The sturdy chambered comfort he secured.
It seems your paregoric was more than
Mere tincture—dilution shunned, strength assured.
I could weep like a willow on the bank
That named the house—but there is no bank, and
Scant vestige of the funds your habits sank.
New generations take the task in hand,
And now it will be for others to learn
What chance, what hope remains to keep Whitehern.

G. W. Down

The Restoration of the House of McQuesten was accomplished by The Hon. Thomas Baker McQuesten MPP, with a great deal of help from his sister Ruby and his mother, Mary. Ruby worked as a teacher and sent all of her money to Tom to put him through University and as soon as he graduated, she fell ill and died in 1911 of Consumption (Tuberculosis) — she is the Tragic Victorian Maiden of the story. A play is being planned about their lives: “Ruby and Tom: Tragedy & Triumph” to be presented at MacNab Street Presbyterian Church, October 14, 2006 at 7:30 p.m.

After Isaac’s death Mary assessed each of her children for their potential to restore the family and she decided that the two oldest girls, Mary and Hilda, who were not particularly scholarly should take over the household duties since they could no longer afford to have servants. Calvin, the eldest son was born with a disability in his left hand and side, and an inclination to the family’s inherited nervous disease. However, Calvin did go on to become a journalist and then a minister, finally graduated and ordained at age 34. As a journalist he wrote the “Tatler” articles and the “Corner for Women Readers” on the site. He became a minister in the west, and had a homestead, and a “shack,” and he also wrote several other articles and took many photos which are all on the site. He also took a ministerial position at Muskoka, but he suffered several breakdowns under stress and, later, he became the chaplain of the Hamilton Mountain Sanatorium. His confessional diary is on the site as well.

Mary decided that Ruby had potential, she was scholarly, artistic, beautiful and charming and could become a teacher, and could send her money to Tom to put him through university — which she did and as soon as he graduated (1907), she became ill and died in 1911. Ruby is the Tragic Victorian Maiden of the story. (Margaret) Edna, the youngest, was very bright but was too young to judge at that time. However, she went on to have numerous breakdowns and finally died in the Guelph Infirmary at the age of 51 after undergoing several surgeries, a hysterectomy (to control hysteria), and a partial lobotomy. Edna is the “Madwoman in the Attic” of the story.

DRAMATIC CHARACTERS OR EVENTS: In the Whitehern three-part saga there are many dramatic characters and/or events: the Wealthy Industrialist, the Wicked Stepmother, Tragic death by Suicide, Alcoholism & Bankruptcy, the Victorian Matriarch, the Victorian Patriarch and the deathbed renunciation of his daughter, Repressive Presbyterianism (Alice Munro named it “Southern Ontario Gothic”), disabled son and robust son (the Doppleganger effect), inherited mental disease, three thwarted love affairs, the Madwoman in the Attic, Victorian medicine, Lottie’s surgery, a Victorian Sacrificial Maiden, Thomas & the Restoration, many descriptions of death and dying, some Wills, especially David McQuesten’s will, Gender Conflict among the missionaries at home and abroad, the dramatic and poetic quality of the writing, religious sentiment regarding death.


Dr. Calvin McQuesten is the Wealthy Industrialist from New England: There are many letters between Dr. Calvin McQuesten and his cousin John Fisher describing the problems of setting up the first foundry in Hamilton in the 1830’s, iron ore, steam engines, currency, experienced help, etc., and the troubles suffered by Americans during the Rebellion of Upper Canada 1837/38, during which time they had to send the wives and children back to New England for safety.


Sep 11, 1826. The Death of little William. “Could you make one of our number this evening it would seem to dispel the gloom which rest upon all around me, but this is denied me, and in pensive silence will relate our tale of woe.”

Apr 17, 1833, Death of their mother Margaret Fisher McQuesten. “What we have long feared has come upon us. Our dear Mother is no more but is removed, I believe to a better world. . . . she said she had got partly on her way through the dark valley and then could speak no more…………………..”

Jul 22, 1833. The illness of baby Ellen (she finally dies about a week after this letter.) She was treated with Calomel powders (Mercury) “She is now very weak, coughs very hard, sometimes an hour, till nearly exhausted & once I thought her dying. . . . I never witnessed so much patience as this little sufferer shows.”


Jun 3, 1835. TO MRS. DR. CALVIN MCQUESTEN (MARGARETTE B. LERNED) from a friend S.W. Robinson. “I hoped to hear that you was the happy mother of a well child. But as our heavenly Father saw fit to take the dear one to himself. I rejoice to see you sensible, that a murmur does not become his dear children. . . . You spoke in your letter of Mrs. Sadler & her love for her infant & I have since been informed of its sickness and death. Perhaps it was becoming an idol & for that reason was removed. We know that these Providences are in perfect wisdom.”

Oct 17, 1834. TO MRS. DR. CALVIN MCQUESTEN (MARGARETTE B. LERNED) from her sister Louisa McAllaster. On the death of Dr. Calvin’s and Margarete’s firstborn son who lived only ten days. “Faith points upward where the saviour has taken your babe while spotless, to be an inhabitant of Heaven, taken him in the arms of his love & has a place reserved for the earthly parents who weep for their first-born.”

Mar 21, 1835. TO DR. CALVIN MCQUESTEN from his cousin Caleb E. Fisher. “Though you feel that you have been severely chastened yet doubtless you can look up to your Father with true submission and say He doeth all things well; knowing that whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.”

Aug 20, 1849. TO MARY ANN BAKER WILKES from her father Rev. Thomas Baker. Baker refuses to see his daughter on her deathbed because she disobeyed him and married her dead sister’s husband which was against the civil and scriptural law at that time. He is later slandered for his stand.



The will bequeaths a bedstead and two hundred dollars to each of the unmarried daughters, Margaret and Eliza, a room each and, “a privilege in the cellar necessary for their accommodation with the privilege of passing to and from the bed room above mentioned. Also a privilege of using the oven. . . . Also the privilege of drawing water from the well at all times, with the privilege of passing through that part of the house necessary in going to and from said well. . . also one good cow. . . the privilege of cutting and taking eight cords of fine wood yearly, . . . a chaise, . . . harness and horse, etc.”


TO DR. CALVIN MCQUESTEN from G. who congratulates him on his third marriage to Elizabeth Fuller. “I do most heartily congratulate you on your return to a pleasant happy home with the one you chose to share your love and cares, your smiles and happy hours.”

A Will and Deed of Trust was drawn up in secret, and kept secret from Elizabeth Fuller McQuesten, until Dr. Calvin McQuesten’s death in 1885.

Feb 17, 1874. TO DR. CALVIN BROOKS MCQUESTEN from his half-brother Isaac Baldwin McQuesten, about the secret will and deed. “As to acquainting the O.L. (Old Lady). . . . So you see that all has been pretty well arranged for our safety, and yet not to place father in any humiliating position. In the next place whether father’s property were irrevocably out of his hands or not, if she found out about this she would lead him a perfect dog’s life. She is … without reason, judgment or kindness. It is self, self, all over. . . .Threaten her, & she is ugly, Treat her kindly, & she is ugly, etc., etc.”


Isaac had been treated for mental illness. He was an alcoholic and insomniac and was taking various sleeping potions, and likely Paregoric and Calomel (opium and mercury) He died very suddenly and his death was accompanied by bankruptcy. He states: “Don't think I am making any mystery now. I am not. But I want you simply to be prepared, when such occasion may occur, to quietly & calmly use your best judgement; etc.” FOOTNOTE: Isaac's comments are difficult to interpret. We have discovered a rather poignant indication of Isaac's preoccupation with death and suicide in a book of his entitled Responsibility in Mental Illness (London, 1874). The book is neatly underlined, presumably by Isaac. One passage so highlighted reads, "let him then suppose it to be no dream, but conceive himself to be overwhelmed by the horrible nightmare day after day, and to be, as he surely would be, incapable of the hope of relief; what cry would then suffice to express his agony and despair save the cry of supreme agony, 'My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?' –what act save an act of suicide?" (240).




Aug 10, 1902. TO [REV.] CALVIN MCQUESTEN (in Montreal) from his mother, Mary Baker McQuesten. “My dear dear boy, It seems a very long time since I wrote you, when I did Ken [Trigge] was just here and his visit was the occasion of most trying experience for all concerned.” Ken had come to propose to Hilda and Mary found out that he was a travelling rep. and it was part of his job to drink and to “treat” his customers with alcohol. Mary objected to this and Hilda came to see the “sin” of this; she finally came to refuse Ken also. Unfortunately for Hilda, the Temperance referendum was being fought at the same time and the McQuesten family was very active in the fight. Also, alcoholism had been a major factor in Isaac’s life, his illness, bankruptcy and death.

Sep 24, 1902. TO CALVIN FROM HIS MOTHER. “So when I told her all that I had found out from Ken, she was thunderstruck & at once said “I would never do it!” and became at once just as determined as I was; so do not think I have coerced her, she entirely agreed with me, for she has an equal horror of these drinking men.”


Aug 20, 1906. TO REV. CALVIN FROM HIS MOTHER. “Would you believe it he had come to propose to Ruby. . . he is only 24 and three years younger than Ruby. . . .But it seems to me that Ruby ought to do better than this, she is very attractive and it has always been a grievous disappointment that she never seems to meet any one worth looking at . . . He is such a boy too and has a weak face sometimes I feel angry at his presumption. . . . it seems as if Ruby were fitted for a fine place in a higher sphere.” David Ross wanted to take Ruby out West and take a homestead and build a log cabin for his mother and sisters and another sister’s children. She demanded that they wait two years, for David to become established, however that is also exactly the length of time until Tom’s graduation, after which Ruby’s salary would no longer be needed for Tom.

Mary was disgusted at David for being irresponsible since his widowed mother and his sisters were all working and he had not yet been able to look after them. No doubt this was a veiled comment to her own sons about their responsibility to their mother and sisters before considering taking a wife. This likely worked on Tom when he considered getting married. When Ruby was being treated for consumption out West, the romance was finally terminated and Ruby states that she burned all of David’s letters and that the affair was finally over. Her health was already failing at that time.


At Tom’s graduation in 1907, Mary (mother) heard that he was engaged but did not know to whom.

Isabel Elliot tried to gain Mary’s favour by having a miniature painted of her, but she was repeatedly not satisfied with it and finally told Tom to tell Isabel that he was not yet pleased with it. Tom finally broke off with Isabel Elliott and there is no other evidence that he ever considered another engagement. He went on to devote himself to the “City Beautiful” and the “Social Gospel” movements and fulfilled himself in that way. . It is said of Tom that “his bride is the parks’ system.”


Nov 16, 1900. Ruby is sending money to Tom and he is not replying. There are many other letters in which Ruby is sending money to Tom. She also sent money home for a new sewing machine.

May 22, 1908. Letter stating that the doctor says that Ruby’s illness is just bronchitis, and Mary is relieved, but this is not the case.


Sep 17, 1906. MOTHER TO CALVIN: “You say you have worried often about the girls, and I have too. Though I know it has been very wrong, for I feel that if I had attained to the perfect condition of Christian faith, I should feel quite at rest, believing that God plans all things for us with Divine wisdom. I confess that having brought up the family as nearly as possible to the way I thought pleasing to Him, I had fully anticipated that He would provide for them. Well, when I come to think it over, there has been much of self-seeking in my service, I am afraid, and most certainly, we do not know what is really best for us. Hilda says from what she has seen of her friends' married life, she would not be married for anything. I am afraid M.[Mary] is not fitted for it at all, she has not head enough and there would be trouble. Altogether it does not do for one to plan or worry, for we do not know what may come. It does seem sometimes, as if it had been a great cross to have been burdened with this property during the best years of our lives, and just when we seem most to need money, but then we do not know..”


Jul 11, 1947. Tom as Christopher Wren from Rev. Ketchen. “Very few men can point to so many public benefits of enduring value. Like Christopher Wren's, your monuments are beauty spots.”

Feb 27, 1948. Tom as RBG founder and first President, from Dr. Laking to Rev. Calvin. "The death of Dr. T.B. McQuesten, K.C.,LL.D., in January, has removed from this Board the one member whose name has been practically synonymous with its work from the beginning. At this first Board meeting since his death we desire therefore to place on the minutes some formal expression of our sense of loss and of our appreciation of the fact that the Royal Botanical Gardens can never outlive the debt owed to him who was both founder and first president. Our late president's intense love for this city and its surrounding district, and his concern for the protection and enlargement of the Gardens property, are largely responsible for the existence and progress of the Gardens. His personal friendship and personal loyalty have been known to and valued by all who have worked with him. We who were his friends and who now must continue to administer the vast properties accumulated under his leadership wish to pay this tribute of personal affection and corporate gratitude."

Mar 6, 1906. Tom’s letter to mother giving her credit for his character. Mary has written on the envelope, "A very precious letter." Tom wrote: "Surely a man was never blessed with a better mother in every way. . . .You seem to demand the best of a man. . . . we know distinctly the difference between right and wrong, and I don't know that any mother can achieve a much higher result . . . . You were always thoroughly consistent. . . . I have seen you actually stinting yourself so that we could have more. . . . I do know my dear mother that if I am going to achieve anything and come to you for commendation, I must come with clean hands."


Dec 7, 1934. SHE LOVED BEAUTY: “When beauty is created, its author is entitled to gratitude and so is a person who inspired it. The late Mrs. M. B. McQuesten, who died this morning, was the inspiration behind many of Hamilton's most treasured beauty spots — spots that are the basis for a large part of our civic pride. True, it was her son, Hon. T. B. McQuesten, who played a leading part in bringing whose places of beauty into being. But Mr. McQuesten himself has told of the large part his mother played in molding his tastes, his standards and his plan of life. Not the least of her contributions to him was to give him love for beauty that was large enough to spread out and influence the appearance of a great city. Mrs. McQuesten was well-loved within her immediate circle of friend. She loved flowers. About her she gathered possessions that were rich in charm and character. And so even those who did not know her very well have reason for regret at her passing. Large areas of Hamilton are, in the last analysis, a reflection of her love for beauty.”

Jul 7, 1923. To Rev. J. W. MacNamara from Thomas B. McQuesten. Tom’s letter objects to women as organizers. In the letter, Tom strongly objects to the appointment of a woman in the role of organizer. This statement is rather astounding in light of his statements about his mother, his indebtedness to his sister, Ruby, and the fact that his mother was a great organizer both with her family and with the Women’s Missionary Societies, in which she was president for most of her adult life. Also, letters about the WFMS and “Gender Conflict” demonstrate that the women were excellent organizers and fund raisers. When the men saw how successful the women were, they wanted control over the funds; although the women resisted, they were finally coerced into complying.

more PROSE about Poetry . . .