‘A Lady’s Influence’: the Gendering of Colonial/Settler Landscapes

  • Robert D. Grant


It is interesting that Barker should evince an Arnoldian definition of ‘refinement and culture’ in projecting her footsteps on a new soil. In some ways it represents an avowal of a distinctly manly idea of ‘high culture’, although it is undoubtedly appropriately and self-consciously serious enough for an upper-class woman in the wilds of New Zealand. For, those women who left for colonial destinations during the first half of the nineteenth-century would have been familiar with expectations of their metropolitan roles from contemporary women’s magazines, household guidebooks, etiquette primers, and journal and newspaper articles. Central to the great majority of these was the idea that women exerted a civilising influence over their male counterparts. In Margaret Brewster’s didactic fiction, Sunbeams in the Cottage, for example, the elderly spinster Mary Graham noiselessly weaves a spell over the ‘rough men’ of her village, as well as the local factory girls. In Brewster’s account, domestic happiness was almost wholly the product of women’s accomplishments, and it was their ‘failures of influence’ that caused their husbands to take to the tavern. Amongst the wealthy, a highly sentimentalised regard for woman-as-home-maker also prevailed. In Heath’s Book of Beauty, edited by the Countess of Blessington, several poems addressed to their eponymous, aristocratic portrait-sitters spoke of a commitment to what one writer characterised as ‘the happy home,/A woman’s brightest sphere’.


Domestic Sphere Woollen Yarn Male Emigrant Colonial World Household Word 
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© Robert Grant 2005

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  • Robert D. Grant

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