Unarrested Archives: Case Studies in Twentieth-Century Canadian Women's Authorship

By Ivanovici, Cristina | British Journal of Canadian Studies, July 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Unarrested Archives: Case Studies in Twentieth-Century Canadian Women's Authorship


Ivanovici, Cristina, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Linda M. Morra, Unarrested Archives: Case Studies in Twentieth-Century Canadian Women's Authorship (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), 256pp. Cased. $70. ISBN 978-1-4426-4881-4. Paper. £29.95. ISBN 978-1-4426-2642-3.

Based on an insightful examination of five case studies of twentieth-century EnglishCanadian women writers' intervention in the creation, disposition, and legitimation of their papers, this minutely researched and thoroughly engaging study expands scholarly understanding of how literary archives are shaped by national institutions, regulatory bodies, and writers' own agency. Drawing upon groundbreaking and recent archival, book history and celebrity studies approaches to colonial archives, trauma, and cultural history, Unarrested Archives investigates specific sociopolitical contexts and also personal and institutional decisions that determined what was allowed in, kept away and banned from institutional records. In theorising five modes of unarrested (free or mobilised) and arrested archives, Linda M. Morra interrogates by whom and for whom archival holdings are established.

The case studies illustrate accommodating and adverse circumstances which led to the preservation of women writers' records, and highlight that meaningful gaps in these archives are determined by reasons ranging 'from the record-keeping practices of institutions to decisions made about privacy' (p. 19). What first complicates the reading of Pauline Johnson's oral performances as 'a form of unarrested archive' (p. 24) is the fact that Johnson exploited representations of her public persona by stressing her heritage as both British and Mohawk. In focusing on 'A Cry from an Indian Wife' and analysing how Johnson 'intervened in the cultural construction of Indigenous woman as fantasy object' (p. 21), Morra demonstrates that Johnson's performances asserted self-agency and authorship, operated as 'a means of invoking cultural memory' (p. …

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