Anna Jameson

Written by Barbara Legault

Writer, feminist and traveller. Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1794. Came to Upper Canada in 1836 to join her husband, Robert Sympson Jameson.

“Toronto is worse and better than other small communities… better because, besides being a small place, it is a young place; and in spite of this affectation of looking back instead of looking up, it must advance – it may become the thinking head and beating heart of a nation, great, wise and happy – who knows.”

Anna Jameson, Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada, 1838, published by New Canadian Library

Anna Jameson (Toronto Public Library)

Anna Brownell Jameson (Murphy) was a prominent author, feminist, travel writer, and art historian. She is best known in Canada for her detailed and witty portrayals of life in Upper Canada in the 1830s.

Jameson was born Anna Murphy in 1794. She developed an early interest in art and spent much time travelling through Europe as a governess and with her father, who was a miniatures painter. She published her first novel in 1825, the same year she married Robert Sympson Jameson. From the beginning, the two were unhappy in marriage. (1) Anna, already a budding writer, had ambitions of a career as an author, and aspirations of adventure and travel. In 1829 Robert became a judge in Dominica, and the couple separated.

In 1832 Anna wrote the book that would make her name in the Americas as well as in England, Characteristics of women, a discussion of Shakespeare’s heroines. The book also demonstrates an early feminist perspective. She, like many other women of her class and standing, were becoming increasingly vocal about the legal rights and opportunities for women. (2)

In 1833 Robert Jameson was appointed attorney general of Upper Canada and in 1836 he convinced Anna to join him there. By that time she was already an established author. While in Canada, she wrote an account of her 8-month stay in Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838). ‘Winter Studies’ is a frank (and somewhat uncomplimentary) portrayal of Toronto in the 1830s. ‘Summer Rambles’ is a much more enthusiastic account of Jameson’s trip throughout Southwestern Ontario, a description of the natural beauty of the landscape, and her experiences visiting Aboriginal communities near Lake Huron and Sault Ste. Marie. (3)

 

Indian Lodges of the Beach of the Island of Mackinac, 1837 by Anna Brownell Jameson (Toronto Public Library T 14975)

Jameson’s account provides insight into both ‘urban’ colonial society, and Aboriginal life and culture from the perspective of a European traveller. However, even more significant is that Winter Studies and Summer Rambles is a first person account of the period leading up to the 1837 Rebellion in Canada from the female perspective. Jameson’s distinctly female voice provides a contrast to the largely masculine historical record for this period.

Harbour view of Toronto, circa 1820 by Anna Jameson. Royal Ontario Museum ©ROM

Anna legally separated from her husband after her return to England in 1837, and began her masterpiece, Sacred and Legendary Art, a 6-volume series cataloguing Christian art.(4) She continued to write throughout her lifetime and maintained a close relationship with Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In her later years she also mentored the early feminist founders of The Englishwoman’s Journal and Girton College at Cambridge University. Anna Jameson died in London in March of 1860. (5) Her legacy lives on as Winter Studies and Summer Rambles remains a classic in early Canadian travel literature

Footnotes

(1) “Murphy, Anna Brownell (Jameson)” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Available online at: http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=4101. Accessed on March 13, 2011.
(2) Ibid.
(3) “Anna Brownell Jameson” Canadian Encyclopedia. Available online at:http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0…. Accessed on March 12, 2011.
(4) “Jameson, Anna [Brownell], née Anna Brownell Murphy” Dictionary of Art Historians. Available online at: http://www.dictionaryofarthistorians.org/jamesona.htm. Accessed March 14, 2011.
(5) “Murphy, Anna Brownell (Jameson)” Dictionary of Canadian Biography

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