Backgrounder Article from  Parks Canada

Sara Jeannette Duncan (1861-1922)

Sara Jeannette Duncan had a remarkable career as a journalist and author. As a pioneering woman journalist from 1884 to 1890, Duncan challenged social and political conventions by examining women’s changing place in society, the need for a national culture, and Canadian politics. Her witty and ironic style set her apart from her peers.

Following her journalism career, Duncan turned to writing fiction. A prolific and popular novelist from 1890 to 1922, her novels of social manners adopted a distinctive voice through the use of literary realism, irony, and astute social observation, and presented to readers independent female protagonists and realistic depictions of turn-of-the-century life in Canada, England and India. Among her works, her best-known novel is The Imperialist (1904). This novel provided a cogent and complex portrayal of the political situation in late 19th century Canada, and today is considered a classic of Canadian literature.

Duncan was born in Brantford, Ontario, and began to be noticed as a writer in her early twenties. In 1884, she abandoned her career as a teacher and embarked on what would become a noteworthy career in journalism. Two years later, she took over the “Women’s World” section of the Toronto Globe, making her the first full-time female writer for the paper. Her column dealt with a wide range of topics, from household advice to interviews with important Canadian women to discussions of controversial political issues such as female suffrage. Later, she moved to Ottawa as a parliamentary reporter for the Montreal Star and was only one of two women in the press gallery.

Duncan next challenged societal norms when she and fellow journalist Lily Lewis set off on an unescorted world tour, submitting dispatches of their adventures to Canadian newspapers on their way. This was the basis for her first book, A Social Departure: How Orthodocia and I Went Around the World by Ourselves (1890), which was a success with both readers and critics.

In 1890, Duncan married Everard Cotes, a British civil servant who she met on her world tour, and moved to India. Over the next thirty years, she published 21 additional books. A respected novelist in her time, Duncan’s work was popular with the public and predominantly well-reviewed by critics. In 1915, Duncan permanently left India for England, where she died in 1922. Her novel, The Imperialist, continues to be the subject of literary criticism today.



Source of the Image: Collections Canada, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3531454

Image Titled: Sara Jeannette Duncan, a pioneering woman journalist and a prolific writer of fiction.
Copyright:  Collections Canada, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3531454

Search for related information by keyword

Hon. Catherine McKenna Parks Canada History and Archaeology

Date modified: