British Settler Emigration in Print, 1832–1877 by Jude Piesse
by Jude Piesse; pp. 228. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. $115.50 cloth.
In her persuasively lucid monograph Settler Emigration in Print, 1832–1877, Jude Piesse quotes from George A. Sala’s sprightly account of emigrant embarkation: “They are all pressed for time, they are all going, cheerily, cheerily; they are all, if you will pardon me the expression, in such a devil of a hurry” (38). Amid the chaos of departure, journey, and settlement experienced by [End Page 150] large numbers during this period, the periodical press, Piesse argues, worked both to galvanize and mediate the spatial and temporal dislocations of emigration. Piesse builds on considerable scholarly interest in periodical print culture to rightly assert that such publications are essential to engaging the cultural dimensions of Victorian emigration. Unlike novels, personal letters, and “booster” literature, periodical emigration literature worked to imagine and contain a “potentially incendiary mass movement” by drawing upon the form’s own capacities for liberal circulation and editorial balance (39).
Emigration-themed Christmas stories shouldered considerable affective weight in working to create synchronicity between Britain and its colonies and, by emphasizing the domesticity of settlements abroad, contain anxieties about national depletion and emigrant mobility. Stories of Christmas in Australia were especially popular, and Piesse explores how titles such as “Christmas in Tropical Australia” (1876), “Christmas on the Australian Gold-Fields” (1870), and Anthony Trollope’s novella “Harry Heathcote of Gangoil: A Tale of Australian Bush Life” (1874) challenged but also affirmed an idea of English national coherence. Accompanying illustrations, reproduced here, reinforced the imaginary space of “home” shared by metropolitan and settler readers alike. Alongside the seasonal specificity of Christmas, serialized novels offered competing temporalities of “advance trajectory” and “continual and oscillating retrograde movement” as readers recalled earlier issues while awaiting a new one (91). Piesse argues that, as with the Christmas stories, serialized novels of emigration sought for composure and containment to counter the sense of longing and dislocation that threatened to destabilize settler narratives. Piesse’s analysis of Great Expectations (1861), in this context, offers an important new reading of the novel’s spatiotemporal disorientation and nostalgia.
Countercurrents to such mainstream narratives also flowed through the heterogeneous world of periodicals. Piesse traces feminist and radical imaginings of emigration to show the ungovernable possibilities afforded by the experience and its representation. Many women’s presses presented emigrant mobility as an entirely positive opportunity for transformation. Given the relatively small number of single middle-class women who experienced emigration, the significance of these writings, Piesse argues, lies in their formation of an imaginative space and the ways in which they overlap with the history of liberal feminism. Interesting, too, is the protofeminism underpinning the New Zealand-set novella “Lucy Dean: The Noble Needlewoman” (1850) by Eliza Meteyar, in which female power is realized through colonial motherhood. Such stories are “radically domestic” in investing traditional gender models with newly imagined possibilities (126).
More radical still was the description in other works of actual transatlantic journeys and arrivals that deployed none of the formal conventions of serialized settler narratives, thus offering a critique of the containment strategies of these dominant modes and restoring to the experience some [End Page 151] of its destabilizing chaos. Chartist newspapers such as the Northern Star, which typically opposed emigration as a form of coerced removal that did little to ameliorate unequal conditions in England, looked to America rather than the British colonies to project an “uneasy utoptianism” that had none of the sentimental domesticity of other settler narratives (143). Piesse makes the novel claim that American westerns—which depicted heroic men in conflict with wild animals, catastrophic weather, and violent natives—published in British periodicals were embedded within broader settler debates, and so may be viewed within the genre of emigration literature, a repositioning which displays this genre’s considerable mobility, particularly in destabilizing England as the imagined centre of this literary form.
Piesse deftly establishes a dominant model of emigrant periodical literature and then investigates important ways in which that model is resisted. As with any body of literature concerned with Britain’s colonial past, these texts often depict settler violence and racism, and Piesse is quick to declare such occurrences “now highly unpalatable” (139), even as the book maintains its focus on the emigrants and not the populations they encountered. British Settler Emigration in Print is a valuable contribution to the study of periodical print cultures, the history of feminist thought, emigration studies, and post-colonial studies more broadly. Piesse declares her hope that the book will be “part of a new wave of humanities scholarship” (14). She works to show how digital technologies can operate in conjunction with the traditional methodologies of literary studies. This book paves the way for future work to deploy similar methods and to build on the coherent theoretical model of containment and destabilization in emigrant literature established here.
richa dwor is an instructor in the English Department at Douglas College. Her monograph, Jewish Feeling: Difference and Affect in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Women’s Writing (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015) reads Grace Aguilar and Amy Levy alongside George Eliot and Henry James. She is the editor of the anthology Religious Feeling, forthcoming in the Routledge series Nineteenth-Century Literature, Religion and Society.