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Alessa Johns

Explicating Cultural Transfer:
Anna Jameson’s Canadian Production and German Reception


In this paper I will discuss the work of Irish-born English writer Anna Jameson, focusing in particular on the unusual travel book Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838), to address the challenges of explicating European cultural transfer. As Stefanie Stockhorst has pointed out, cultural transfer often involves two-way exchange or even multilateral mutual impacts; it is therefore a less tidy phenomenon to describe than one-way influence or simple unilateral reception. The complexity of cultural transfer must be acknowledged and unpacked, I will argue, if the full meaning of women’s writing in the European context is to be understood. Anna Jameson’s work, popular in her time but until recently sidestepped by all but a few feminist scholars, has become newly significant not only because it is the production of a woman, but also because it derives from and endorses a mobile, transnational modernity. Moving beyond a focus on what constitutes Englishness and the national, scholars using postcolonial approaches to study imperialism and globalization have, I will argue, a new use for the peripatetic and progressive Jameson. She is an excellent subject for viewing cultural transfer.

My focus will be on the transnational production and reception of Jameson’s Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada.

First, its production involved German ideas — feminist impulses derived from her 1833 and 1834-36 travels and later developed by Jameson in the context of Native Americans on her visit among an Ojibwa family on the Canadian frontier. The upshot of this trans-Atlantic and cross-European cultural transfer was its expression in Jameson’s later, influential feminist polemics, which went on to have international repercussions in the movements of activists and suffragettes.

Second, I will consider the text’s contemporary German reception. Unlike the response to Jameson’s work in Britain, where her liberal views were criticized in conservative journals, the German reception of Winter Studies and Summer Rambles was uniformly positive and respectful. Amalie Winter, whom I have identified as the German translator of Jameson’s book (translation published 1839), makes clear that the value of Jameson’s work to German readers derived from its political engagement: “Through her position [as wife of the Vice-Chancellor of Upper Canada] she had the opportunity to get to know the Constitution and political organization of this young country, and to view its politics and party spirit more deeply than is granted other travelers. She appears to have made it her job to reveal weaknesses and abuses, and therefore there are those in her native country who have objected to and contradicted her work. In Germany, however, one will certainly know to appreciate her contribution.” Though she is often seen as a conservative writer, Anna Jameson moved in liberal circles in Germany, with connections to the Young Germany movement. Such information must be brought to bear on the overall interpretation of her work and career.

A study of Jameson’s Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada through the lens of cultural transfer therefore allows us to see the circulation of liberal ideas in Europe as well as the enactment of a practical, embodied cosmopolitanism that counters detached and transcendent notions of internationalism commonly associated with progressive thinkers in the first half of the nineteenth century. The impact of women’s writing and translation is shown to have gone beyond the literary and aesthetic; it informed the political and the social as well.

AsK, September 2012

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