Sara Jeannette Duncan was a Canadian author and journalist. She was called Sara Jeannette Cotes after her marriage to Everard Cotes in 1891, but is most often referred to by her maiden name.
Born in 1861 in Brantford, Ontario, Duncan first worked there as a schoolteacher before taking up writing journalism as a full-time occupation. Various freelancing gigs led to her taking her first job at the Washington Post in 1885.
In 1886, Duncan made history as the first woman to be hired as a professional journalist in Canada, taking a regular position at the Toronto Globe, now the Globe and Mail. She later moved to the Montreal Star, where she was the paper's Parliamentary correspondent.
Her first book, A Social Departure (1890), documented an around-the-world trip. On this trip, she met Everard Cotes, a journalist and museum curator based in Calcutta, whom she wed in 1891. After her marriage, Duncan moved from journalism to fiction.
Duncan is best known today for her 1904 novel The Imperialist, which tells the story of Lorne Murchison, a young lawyer in the fictional town of Elgin, Ontario who becomes an advocate of imperial preferential trade and unsuccessfully runs for Parliament for the Liberal party. The book has been widely praised by scholars as a sensitive and perceptive portrait of small-town Ontario at the turn of the twentieth century, and at the social mores of the time and place. While it has been lauded for its subtle grasp of women's place in society, it has also been criticized for focusing on upper-class and middle-class people over workers and the poor, and for its brutally racist depiction of Aboriginal people.
At the time of its publication, The Imperialist was not successful, but many of Duncan's other novels were. Most involved a character out of his or her national culture, and the tensions and complexities that resulted. Like Henry James, Duncan's literary world was Transatlantic. [Broadview Press] has republished The Imperialist, as well as two other Duncan novels, Set in Authority and The Pool in the Desert.
Duncan's writing is extremely mannered and ironic, and often difficult to get through. Her style is somewhat similar to Stephen Leacock's though less light-hearted. It is also reminiscent of Thomas Carlyle's though less brooding.
Sara Jeannette Duncan died in 1922 at Ashtead, Surrey, England.
- Sara Jeannette Duncan: Novelist of Empire by Thomas Tausky (Port Credit, Ontario: P. D. Meany, 1980)
- A Different Point of View: Sara Jeannette Duncan by Misao Dean (Montreal: McGill-Queen's, 1991)
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