Excavating the Expendable Working Classes in "The Imperialist"
You can’t get much more middle class than Sara Jeanette Duncan’s turn-of-the-century novel The Imperialist. Its middle-classness calls out from virtually every page and through almost every narrative technique the novelist employs from her choice of theme—the debate over imperial federation, conducted some hundred years ago primarily in elite political circles—to her setting—the social world of the commercial classes who live in a prosperous southern Ontario town (which she names Elgin but which most critics suspect is Duncans own hometown of Brantford in very thin disguise)—and finally to her protagonists, the Murchisons, whose middle-class values are proudly paraded at every opportunity and who are ultimately enshrined as a superior people, "too good for their environment" (34). Although The /mperialist criticizes certain kinds of middle-class behaviour, the Milbum variety, for example, it cautiously but warmly commemorates ano ther. Even Duncan's penetrating and clever irony does not Sat in the way of her fondness, or ours, for the Murchison family and their fundamentally intelligent, honourable ways.