Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The purpose of this thesis is to consider the Canadian wilderness as an actual and a mythological site for discursive change. Part One analyses five pioneer journal/handbooks, and Part Two examines four contemporary texts which focus on the pioneer experience.;Chapters One to Three explore the extent to which the disruption of their political and social assumptions caused the female pioneers to explore alternative constructions of gender. These chapters illustrate that the women do indeed see the potential in the wilderness for redefining themselves, for shifting away from the restrictive nineteenth-century construction of women. This shift comes in part from their active relationship with the landscape, and in part through their representation of the indigenous women, a representation which is at once feminist and imperialist. They image the indigenous women as being far more "masculine" than themselves; the language with which they describe these women reveals both their admiration for them and a characteristic nineteenth-century dismissal of them as an inferior race.;Chapters Four and Five argue that, given their culturally central position, the male writers do not show the same desire for a change of identity as the women do. Their primary concern is civilizing the wilderness, and they represent themselves as being central to that civilizing process.;Part Two examines four contemporary texts which focus on the nineteenth-century pioneer experience. All four of these texts foreground the constructedness of our received historical narratives and offer alternative narratives. The women writers see an important link between the lives of pioneer women and the continuing marginalization of contemporary women. They are attracted to the potential for transformation offered by the wilderness, but emphasize that that potential has been unrealized. All of the authors propose a more fragmented, less linear conception of history and identity than does traditional Western culture.;The thesis concludes that the women writers in both centuries are attracted to the liberating potential of the wilderness. It also concludes that the tension between feminist and imperialist impulses exists, to some extent, in the contemporary texts as well as in the early ones.



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