On PAT ENDINGS AND NARRATIVES OF FAILED EMIGRATION, by Tamara Wagner

Victorian literature abounds with examples of the threats represented by immigrants to the British
society. Anxiety, fear of the Other, desperate attempts at maintaining racial superiority were chief issues
of the day. However, few scholars have pointed out that the emigration of British men and women to
the colonies just as much changed the dynamics of the society and culture.

In her quite interesting paper, Professor Wagner talks at length about the the 'systematic emigration' of
middle class women, who usually had limited means. The Female Middle Class Emigration Society, set
up in 1864, sought to ship young, mostly middle class women, abroad to colonies like Australia and New
Zealand in an attempt to address the problem of 'redundant women'- or superfluous women, who were
left with little marriage prospects following the migration of a large number of British men to the
colonies.

The emigration writings propelled in popular fiction harped on the promises of 'respectability, work and
independence' for these young emigrating women. This encountered a sharp backlash of anti-emigrant
writings. Wagner discussed Elizabeth Murray's novel Ella Norman- or A Woman's Perils at length to
demonstrate how different was the reality from the promises made by emigration societies and popular
culture. Young girls were even more susceptible to this false propaganda. Orphaned girls were the most
vulnerable. The protagonist, Ella's family is stricken with financial hardships after the death of her
father, throwing her life in chaos and uncertainty. Other characters mirror the unhappy circumstances,
harsh living conditions and terrible demise. The emigration to Australia did not prove to be good for
them. An interesting point made is the genre as well as the 'multilayered doubling' narrative allows
imagining worst case scenarios and navigating logical conclusions of the fate of the various characters.
The novel is replete with first hand knowledge as Elizabeth Murray followed her husband to Melbourne
with her five sons. Intensely dissatisfied with the city, she moved back to Britain later.

The process of emigration changed the politics of space prevalent in Victorian age. The domestic sphere
was relegated to women, while men inhabited the public sphere. Travelling abroad on ships and settling,
or failing to settle, in a foreign land- inevitably put men and women in close quarters in the public
sphere and changed gender dynamics in various ways. Professor Wagner also noted that emigrant's
preoccupation with gentility. However, for women faced with financial insecurity, gentility seemed to be
a far fetched notion. Further, the women abroad were expected to be the paragons of British culture,
morality and social values. While the 'morality' of single women was a pressing concern for most British
men, anti- emigration writings raised issues such as financial instability, limited career opportunities,
hostile living conditions abroad.

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