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Adventurous girls of the empire : the pre-war novels of Bessie Marchant

journal contribution
posted on 2009-01-01, 00:00 authored by Michelle Smith
Historically, the genre of adventure fiction most readily recalls books for boys and male heroes rather than girl readers and protagonists. These include enduringly well-known works such as H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885) and She (1887), the early to mid-Victorian boys' stories of Frederick Marryat, W. H. G. Kingston, and R. M. Ballantyne and the late-Victorian G. A. Henty's tales (his more than one hundred adventure stories sold in excess of 25 million copies). The novel of adventure at the conclusion of the nineteenth century recounted tales of male exploration on land or sea, and quests or conquests in real or imagined lands removed from the gentility of civilized England. These generic features were aligned with masculine traits of activity and strength, and while girls could and did indeed read boys' adventure books, examples with female protagonists were uncommon in the Victorian period. Joseph Bristow argues that between 1870 and 1900, "narratives celebrating empire and techniques in teaching reading and writing gradually converged . . . [B]oth inside and outside the classroom, there was more and more emphasis on heroic adventure, and this involved a number of shifts in attitude towards juvenile publishing and curriculum design" (20–21). The works Bristow refers to were, of course, written by male authors about masculine adventurers.

The novels of Bessie Marchant—sometimes called "the girls' Henty" —began to be published as the nineteenth century drew to a close. Her girl heroines act independently in isolated areas in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, South America, India, South Africa, Siberia, and Central America. From 1894 until her death in 1941, Marchant wrote more than a 130 novels, many of which celebrated the capacity of British or colonial girls to rise to any challenge set before them in rugged.



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C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal; C Journal article

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2009, The Johns Hopkins University Press

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