Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Foundlings and Water-Babies: Mothers, Daughters and Imperialism in Audrey Thomas's Graven Images

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Foundlings and Water-Babies: Mothers, Daughters and Imperialism in Audrey Thomas's Graven Images

Article excerpt

This article examines the representation of maternal experience, and the ways in which the relationship between mothers and daughters is inflected by imperial, colonial and postcolonial histories of maternity and childhood in Audrey Thomas's novel Graven Images. The article is informed by postcolonial and feminist theorisations of female settler identity.

AUDREY THOMAS HAS EXPLORED maternal experience and relationships between mothers and daughters in a great deal of her fiction, including Songs My Mother Taught Me, Mrs. Blood, Blown Figures, Real Mothers, Intertidal Life, Graven Images and Isobel Gunn. Maternity, miscarriage, abortion, orphans and lost children are common images in her writing and, in many instances, these figures are complicated by colonial or postcolonial settings, thereby foregrounding politics of gender and empire, or more specifically maternity and imperialism. Mrs. Blood, for example, recounts the fractured protagonist's miscarriage in an African hospital; Intertidal Life links Alice Hoyle's post-divorce reassessment of both her identity as a mother and her relationship with her daughter to the exploration narrative A Spanish Voyage to Vancouver; Isobel Gunn recounts the birth and surrender of Isobel's child in Rupert's Land, where, disguised as a man, she joins the fur traders and adventurers of the Hudson's Bay Company. This article focuses on Graven Images, which revisits and attempts to resolve many of the conflicts that resonate through - out Thomas's work: mother/daughter conflict, daughterly ambivalence, female subject development within ambivalent mother/daughter relationships, historical journeys to an English past or heritage, and the female postcolonial subject's relationship with her country.

The analysis of Graven Images is informed by the postcolonial settler theories of Alan Lawson and Stephen Slemon, and focuses on the ambivalence of settler subject identity and identity formation. As both Slemon and Lawson have argued extensively, the relations between the settler colony and the imperial centre are characterised by simultaneous settler colonial desires for autonomy and for maintaining imperial ties. This ambivalence will be considered in conjunction with colonial discursive figurations of the imperial centre as Mother Country, which positions her colonies as children, often daughters. Familial metaphors are pervasive in colonial and postcolonial discourses, and these metaphors surrounding the mother country and her daughter colonies are important in inscribing imperial authority. Given that parent-child metaphors always privilege the imperial and subordinate the colonial (Lawson 1991: 3), it is also essential to consider the way the figure of 'the child' circulates alongside the figure of 'the mother'. Examining the protagonist's relationship with her mother, which is a catalyst for the recovery and interrogation of individual memories and familial colonial history, suggests that the complex psychodynamics of the relationship between Empire and colony are symbolised in the representations of mothers, daughters and the relationships between mothers and daughters in Thomas's novel.

Graven Images interrogates the tensions that exist between mothers and daughters through the relationship between Charlotte Tipping and her mother, Frances Callahan. Graven Images opens with the narrating daughter in England seeking her roots as a means of resolving the conflict that exists between herself and her mother. Frances Callahan exhibits anger, misery and madness in her rage-filled, accusatory letters to her daughter, and Frances is equally misunderstood by her daughter. Charlotte, recalling her childhood, 'wanted so badly to get away' (p. 51) from the 'burden of my parents' misery' (p. 56). For Charlotte, identification with and struggle for autonomy from her mother is symbolic of the settler colony's identification with and struggle for autonomy from an imperial Mother Country. …

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