"Knotted threads" of ambivalance: gender, narrative, and the cultural poetics of missionary experience in English-Canadian women's writing, 1833-1914

Doyle, Sherry Marie (2009) "Knotted threads" of ambivalance: gender, narrative, and the cultural poetics of missionary experience in English-Canadian women's writing, 1833-1914. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

[img] [English] PDF - Accepted Version
Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.

Download (32MB)


Missionary women were ambivalent figures of social and moral change in early Canada. Their gendered experiences in the mission fields produced a variety of textual and cultural scripts that were ordered and contained, yet fractured and contradictory; their efforts at textual self-representation produced texts that were unstable bearers of cultural, literary, and personal knowledge. In this dissertation, I will explore the intersections of the shifting material, ideological, and cultural frameworks generated by missionary culture with the narrative forms and the discursive rhetorics utilized by missionary women. These intersections both permitted and constrained the articulation and emergence of female subjectivity within the textual archive generated by missionary writing culture. This dissertation will offer close readings of four key bodies of texts written by Canadian female missionaries who represent a range of geographies and religious denominations and consider their engagement with discourses of gender, class, race, religion, nationhood and their reliance on the cultural narratives offered by imperialism, domesticity, heroism, and the civilizing mission. -- Chapter One examines the letters of the Irish religious congregation, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and analyzes how they structured female community in pre-Confederation Newfoundland using discourses of sacrifice and kinship. Chapter Two explores gender roles in the mission field and the construction of domestic life in the Canadian North through a focused examination of the writings of Anglican missionary Charlotte Selina Bompas. Chapter Three considers the mission experiences of Dr. Susie Carson Rijnhart in China and Tibet through a close reading of her book, With the Tibetans in Tent and Temple (1901), investigating her text's relationship with heroic discourse, genres such as the imperial adventure, and discourses such as salvation history. Chapter Four examines the emergence of the missionary as an imaginative category in the writings of Janey Canuck, particularly Seeds of Pine (1914), and considers how the figure and the voice of the missionary intertwined with ideas of social reform, cultural progress, and nationhood. Most research on Canadian female missionaries evaluates their writings from an historical perspective without offering close readings of individual narratives. Yet is very often within the act of self-representation that the tensions and contradictions that animated complex cultural practices such as missionary work reside, collide, and emerge. Female subjectivity, in particular, demonstrated the instability of missionary culture, capturing its contradictions and ambivalence, and hence became an important critical tool for solidifying and questioning cultural boundaries that always seemed to be in a state of flux.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/9221
Item ID: 9221
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 477-538)
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 2009
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Women missionaries--Canada--Biography; Women missionaries--Canada--History

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over the past year

View more statistics