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No place where women are of such importance: Female Friendship, Empire, and Utopia in The History of Emily Montague

Jodi L. Wyett, Xavier University

Volume 16, no. 1, October 2003

©McMaster University, 2015. All articles published on the Eighteenth-Century Fiction website are protected by copyright held by Eighteenth-Century Fiction, a journal published by the Faculty of Humanities at McMaster University.


Frances Brooke’s second novel, The History of Emily Montague (1769), set largely in colonial Canada just after the end of the Seven Years War, marks a moment in literary history when a sentimental novel met a travel narrative. The text transgresses many boundaries — generic, geographic, and gendered — in its wide geographical scope, its uneasy negotiation of the colonial economy, and its potentially transgressive utopian possibilities for women within the bounds of conventional, English spaces. Emily Montague highlights many of the issues raised by British imperial and economic expansion in the latter eighteenth century, particularly the formation of English female subjectivity, imagined as socially and economically inseparable from male subjectivity. The patriarchal system of values inevitably defines woman in relation to man. Yet Emily Montague explores ways in which women relate to each other, ways that disrupt patriarchally inscribed notions. The novel favours the “free spirit of woman” over passivity and reveals a prioritization of female friendship through the characterization of two exemplary English women. This friendship is complicated by the setting of the novel within a colonial space, and at the end, Brooke replaces the messy colonial economy with an idealized English space in which women may read and think, sustained by bonds with each other and unimpeded by the politics of contemporary Britain or by interference from their benevolent husbands.

Other ECF articles on the topic of “Travel Narratives” include:

“Seeing something that was doing in the World”: The Form of History in Colonel Jack
by RUTH MACK (ECF 24.2, Winter 2011-12)

The Trans-National Dimensions of the Émigré Novel during the French Revolution
by KATHERINE ASTBURY (ECF 23.4, Summer 2011)

The Exchanged Portrait and the Lethal Picture: Visualization Techniques and Native Knowledge in Samuel Hearne’s Sketches from His Trek to the Arctic Ocean and John Webber’s Record of the Northern Pacific
by PHILIPPE DESPOIX (ECF 23.4, Summer 2011)

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