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Fashioning the Colonial Girl: Femininity in the Imperial Archive



Associate Professor Cecily Devereux
Department of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta

If woman, as Simone de Beauvoir has famously suggested, is not born but made, the work of construction is arguably more rarely more evident than in the making of the colonial New Girl of the British Empire. Impetuous, adventurous, naturally inclined to mothering, nursing, teaching, and problem solving, plucky, chaste, and rosily Anglo-Saxon, the colonial New Girl sprang from the pages of novels, stories, magazines, catalogues, and Anglo-imperial emigrationist propaganda at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. In fiction and across cultural representations, the colonial New Girl was fashioned as a figure for young women to embody, her image and the ideology she staged in the things she did and the stuff she wore circulating in and through the paper that carried her around the empire. This paper considers the ways in which the colonial girl is made and mobilized in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century print culture, focusing in particular on fictional narratives of becoming through fashion and on the expanding imperial consumer culture that both opened and controlled the making of femininity by “girls” themselves.

Associate Professor Cecily Devereux is a specialist in English-Canadian literature and women's writing. She is the author of numerous articles and book chapters on imperial feminism, maternalism, white slavery, and eugenics. Her books include Growing a Race: Nellie L. McClung and the Fiction of Eugenic Feminism (MQUP 2005) and, as editor, Women and Empire, 1750-1939 (Routledge 2009) and Women Writing Home, 1700-1920 (Pickering and Chatto 2005).

Wednesday, 13 June | 6:00pm - 7:30pm

Theatre A
Elisabeth Murdoch Building
The University of Melbourne

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Last modified: 22 September 2011
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