Navigate: a reading group for the discussion of Travel Writing

Anna Brownell Jameson’s Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838)
facilitated by Honor Rieley, Oxford
Tuesday 28th Oct, 7:30-8:45pm
Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square

Please join us for the first 2014 meeting of Navigate: a reading group for the discussion of Travel Writing.

Selected passages of the book will be circulated online in advance. Please email to get a copy, or check the dandelion page at closer to the date.


Anna Brownell Jameson’s Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada, published in 1838, is part of a select group of female-authored portrayals of settler life which would go on to become foundation stones of the Canadian literary canon. However, unlike her contemporary Susanna Moodie, whose Roughing it in the Bush is the best-known of these works, Jameson did not stay in Canada permanently but wrote from the perspective of a well-to-do, unusually autonomous female traveller. She was already a successful professional author by the time she went to Canada, known for Characteristics of Women (about Shakespeare’s heroines), Memoirs of Celebrated Female Sovereigns, and a collection of writing about her European travels.

The passages we will focus on, which will be circulated in advance to participants, highlight the two features of Jameson’s narrative that set it apart from other Canadian travel books of its period. Firstly, in the course of her sightseeing trip west from Toronto to Sault Ste Marie, the author cultivates a friendship with three Ojibwe women and their extended family. This allows her to arrive at an appreciation of their culture which, while still shot through with ambivalence, is considerably more nuanced than the treatment of First Nations peoples in most other travel narratives, which may reproduce the conventional image of the ‘vanishing Indian’ with a certain amount of sympathy, but rarely if ever engage with their subjects as individuals.

Secondly, Jameson’s response to Canadian settler society is informed, very explicitly, by her concern with the unequal status of women. Instead of providing an account of the political upheaval that rocked the region around the time of her visit (which some puzzled contemporary reviewers clearly expected), Jameson’s criticisms of Canada’s relatively undeveloped state are made in terms of its lack of inducements for female settlers, and she uses her interest in the lives of First Nations women to highlight the hypocrisy of condemning one way of life as ‘savage’ while celebrating the ‘civilised’ nature of a system that keeps women in a state of legal and social subordination.

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