Antipodal England: Emigration, gender, and portable domesticity in Victorian literature and culture
Myers, Janet C.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation explores representations of nineteenth-century middle-class emigration from Britain to Australia, with particular attention to the gendered dynamics of displacement Building on the work of scholars who have theorized the performative aspects of national identity, I focus on practices of self maintenance that enable emigrants, with varying degrees of success, to retain their ties to Britain and the middle classes despite displacement. One such practice involves the performance of what I call "portable domesticity," or the transplantation of British national identity through the replication of British domestic values and practices aboard emigrant ships and in Australia. I argue that even as portable domesticity reinforces the values of British culture, it also subverts them since the domestic practices enabling emigrants to transplant their national identity also initiate the process of settlement that ultimately leads to Australian independence. I explore this paradox in novels by Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Catherine Helen Spence, and in cultural artifacts such as emigrant guides, memoirs, letters, and a narrative painting. My first chapter considers the centrality of domestic practices aboard emigrant ships, where family life is modeled in order to prepare individual emigrants for the roles they will subsequently adopt in the colony. The second chapter focuses on the extent to which performances of domesticity, leisure, and strategic amnesia enable female emigrants to maintain their affiliations with the British middle class both during the voyage out and in Australia. The third chapter analyzes representations of returned male emigrants and explores how they become embroiled in criminal plots at home that signify their divided allegiances in familial as well as national terms. The concluding chapter discusses the transplantation of genre as another manifestation of portable domesticity, demonstrating how the iconography of the domestic novel is transformed and adapted to a colonial setting. Together, these chapters highlight the paradoxical effects of portable domesticity in Australia and argue for the status of the British settler colonies as important sites for the exploration of various forms of postcolonial ambivalence.
Cultural anthropology; Women's studies; English literature