The dominant form of the nineteenth-century novel was the Bildungsroman, a story of an individual’s development that came to speak more widely of the aspirations of nineteenth-century British society. Some of the most famous examples — David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Jane Eyre — validated the world from which they sprang, in which even orphans could successfully make their way.
Empire Girls: the colonial heroine comes of age is a critical examination of three novels by writers from different regions of the British Empire: Olive Schreiner’s The Story of An African Farm (South Africa), Sara Jeannette Duncan’s A Daughter of Today (Canada) and Henry Handel Richardson’s The Getting of Wisdom (Australia). All three novels commence as conventional Bildungsromane, yet the plots of all diverge from the usual narrative structure, as a result of both their colonial origins and the clash between their aspirational heroines and the plots available to them. In an analysis including gender, empire, nation and race, Empire Girls provides new critical perspectives on the ways in which this dominant narrative form performs very differently when taken out of its metropolitan setting.
About the author
Mandy Treagus is Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide, where she teaches nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature and culture, and film. She researches Victorian, Australian and Pacific literature, film, and cultural history. She is the author of numerous articles, recently appearing in JASAL, Australian Humanities Review and the Journal of Postcolonial Writing. She is a member of the Fay Gale Centre for Research on Gender.
'Treagus’s incisive interrogation of the limitations of the Bildungsroman will be valuable for all scholars of empire and culture, and particularly for those with an interest in the complex, multilayered relationship between gender and empire. In keeping with trends in recent scholarship on empire, one of the broad strengths of Treagus’s approach is her widening of the focus from the established metropolitan-peripheral axis to compare colony with colony—to examine the “common experience of being ‘in empire,’” as Ross G. Forman advocates in his recent groundbreaking work on the relationship between the British and Chinese Empires (China and the Victorian Imagination, 2014). More specifically, Treagus brings much needed scrutiny to bear on white colonial authors, whose literary negotiation of the imperial experience has been overlooked until relatively recently in postcolonial studies; and further, Treagus has turned the spotlight upon the works of female white colonial authors, a still more neglected subgroup.' (emphasis in the original)
Ailise Bulfin, English Literature in Transition 1880–1920, Volume 59 Number 1 (2016).
'By bringing together these three colonial writers [Olive Schreiner, Sara Jeannette Duncan and Henry Handel Richardson] and discussing their work in well-written jargon-free prose, Treagus places their work in a larger context, beyond nationalities. Treagus’s uncovering of what they have in common makes for interesting reading, should one be a fan of fiction of this period.'
Debra Martens, 'Not Getting Married', Canadian Writers Abroad, 8 March 2016