- From Colonial to Modern: Transnational Girlhood in Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Children’s Literature, 1840–1940 by Michelle J. Smith, Kristine Moruzi, and Clare Bradford
Michelle J. Smith, Kristine Moruzi, and Clare Bradford’s From Colonial to Modern sheds light on the development [End Page 124] of colonial girlhoods between 1840 and 1940 in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The authors’ argument centers on the notion of “transnational girlhood,” which offers a more flexible and inclusive way than does “imperial girlhood” of talking about the contemporary models of girlhood offered to both British and colonial girls through literature and periodicals. This approach allows “narratives from different nations [to be] placed alongside one another and examined both for their distinct depictions of colonial conditions for girls and for their similarities” (11), rather than focusing exclusively on texts from Britain. The authors “propose a model of transnationalism in which the production, distribution, and consumption of girls’ texts is situated within the global processes of print culture and book history” (13). This research will be of interest to scholars working in children’s literature, gender studies, and imperialism, as well as on Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand literature.
Chapter 1 serves as an introduction, outlining existing work on girlhood in the period, introducing the notion of “transnationalism,” and providing a summary of the following chapters, which are divided into three sections. The first, “Empire and Transnational Flows,” focuses on how a universalized model of girlhood emerged and what this model was. Section 2, “National and Transnational Dynamics,” examines the influence on this model of ideas about family, the environment, and race. Section 3, “Modernity and Transnational Femininities,” discusses how modern views on work, education, and the First World War affected notions of girlhood and literature for girls.
In the first section, chapter 2, “Colonial Girls’ Print Culture,” examines “how, when, and where books from British, American, and colonial writers were referenced—particularly in advertisements, book reviews, and correspondence columns” (23) to illustrate how texts were distributed in Britain and its colonies, and between the colonies themselves. Chapter 3, “Girlhood in the British Empire,” compares the representations of girls in texts produced in Britain with those written and published in the colonies. It concludes that while colonial publications demonstrate anxieties about the colonial girl’s future in terms of her femininity and how this might affect her ability to fulfill necessary roles, both British and colonial texts represent characters who see themselves as simultaneously colonial and imperial.
The second section opens with chapter 4, “The Colonial and Imperial Family,” which draws attention to the existence of two distinct plot types focused on family. Both involve (usually orphaned) girls moving either to or away from the imperial center. In doing so, they often form unconventional families, which allows family to function as a metaphor for colonialism itself. The colonial girls in these texts “operate much like paper dolls” (96), interchangeable with one another. Chapter 5, “Environment and the Natural World,” addresses the representation of girls’ relationships with the natural environments in the colonies, and how these attitudes changed between the late nineteenth [End Page 125] and early twentieth centuries. Early texts were written by English writers who had little or no familiarity with the landscapes of the colonies and presented them mostly as threatening and dangerous; however, the start of the twentieth century saw representations by writers who had grown up in the colonies and saw their surroundings as integral parts of their national identity, resulting in far more positive depictions. The final chapter of this section, “Race and Texts for Girls,” examines the incorporation—or lack thereof—of Indigenous girls into texts for girls. The transnational commonalities of colonial girls “are most evident in their treatment of white girls who act in quasi-maternal roles towards Indigenous girls, who are universally depicted as childlike, exemplifying the inferiority of non-white cultures” (143). The different colonial histories of each state contributed to these variations.