Canadian Girls in London: Negotiating Home and Away in the British World at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Type of resource
Canadian Girls in London: Negotiating Home and Away in the British World at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
The author examines the ways in which Canadian women artists who lived as expatriates in Britain managed multiple and often competing ideas about home in their writing and artwork in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her focus is on a small group of professional, white, English-Canadian painters, including Emily Carr (1871-1945), Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes (1859-1912), Frances Jones (1855-1944), Mary Alexandra Bell Eastlake (1864-1951) and Helen McNicoll (1879-1915). Both Eastlake and McNicoll studied at the Art Association of Montreal. The author examines the links that these women held between Canada and the greater British Empire that have tended to be lost in nationalist art history narratives. Though well-known and respected during their lifetimes as successful professional artists who pursued international careers, Canadian women of the pre-First World War period have since been almost exclusively studied through the narrow lens of the ideology of separate spheres. Without dismissing the very real restrictions that women did face because of their gender, the author maintains that this distinction between public and private neglects the colonial context in which white Canadian women lived and worked. She argues that the nineteenth-century cult of middle-class domesticity and the era of high imperialism went hand in hand: "home," the personal space of the family, and "home," the social space of a nation, were twinned in the discourse of empire, both signifying a bounded, secure, and racialized space of belonging, safely separate from the outside world. She points out that the maintenance of this strict division between "home" and "away" was one of the structuring fictions of imperialism. By insisting on the importance of a consideration of the specificity of the experience of artists like Carr, Forbes, Eastlake, McNicoll and Jones as not just women, but as white women, and even more specifically, as white women working within the context of British imperialism, the author pushes at the boundaries of the now well-established framework of white feminist art history, which has overwhelmingly tended to shy away from questions of race and empire. Through an examination of primary sources such as letters, travel diaries, autobiographies, and sketchbooks, and a close analysis of visual representations of motherhood, domestic interiors, and literary and historical subjects, the author argues that both senses of "home" were met with a deep ambivalence, that the boundaries between home and away were permeable, and that the global public and domestic private were, in fact, intertwined and mutually constitutive. By dismantling these boundaries and examining the networks that stretched across the Atlantic and throughout the English-speaking world, the author situates Carr, Forbes, Eastlake, McNicoll, and Jones within the context of what has come to be called the "British World."
PhD dissertation
McGill University
# of Pages
Burton, Samantha. “Canadian Girls in London: Negotiating Home and Away in the British World at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” PhD dissertation, McGill University, 2011. http://digitool.Library.McGill.CA:80/R/-?func=dbin-jump-full&object_id=107634&silo_library=GEN01.
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