Sara Jeannette Duncan

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Sara Jeannette Duncan
Sara Jeannette Duncan in her youth.

Sara Jeannette Duncan, (22 December 1861 – 22 July 1922), was a Canadian author and journalist. She was the daughter of Charles Duncan of Brantford, Ontario. She was born in Brantford, Ontario in 1862. She was educated at the Collegiate Institute in Brantford, Ontario. Duncan first worked there as a schoolteacher before taking up writing journalism as a full-time occupation.

In 1883, Duncan made history as the first woman to be hired as a professional journalist in Canada, taking a regular position at the Toronto Globe, now the Globe and Mail. At the Globe, as Garth Grafton, she interviewed Emily Pauline Johnson, a former schoolmate from Brantford.

She took her first position as a member of the editorial staff at the Washington Post in 1885. On her return to Canada she became the parliamentary correspondent in Ottawa, Ontario of the Montreal Star.[1]

She wrote essays known as Saunterings for The Week. Her column at the Toronto Globe and other publications, was under the pseudonym Garth and pen name, Garth Grafton.

Duncan's mannered and ironic writing style can be compared to contemporary satirists such as Stephen Leacock and Thomas Carlyle.

She was called Sara Jeannette Cotes after her marriage to Everard Cotes M.A., of the Indian Civil Service, in Calcutta, on 6 December 1890, but is most often referred to by her maiden name (although a number of her texts were published with "Mrs. Everard Cotes" embossed on the covers). Everard Cotes later became editor of a Calcutta newspaper.

Sara Jeannette Duncan died in 1922 at Ashtead, Surrey, England.


Sara Jeannette Duncan published 22 books, including two volumes of personal sketches and a collection of short stories. One of her most famous sayings is "One loses many laughs by not laughing at oneself." She was a very lively person and loved to laugh.

Her first book, A social departure: how Orthodocia and I went around the world by ourselves, published in London by Chatto and Windus in 1890 documented an around-the-world trip in company with Miss Lily Lewis. On this trip, she met Everard Cotes, a journalist and museum curator based in Calcutta, whom she wed in 1891. After her marriage, Duncan moved from journalism to fiction.

Duncan is best known today for her 1904 novel The Imperialist, which tells the story of Lorne Murchison, a young lawyer in the fictional town of Elgin, Ontario who becomes an advocate of imperial preferential trade and unsuccessfully runs for the Parliament of Canada for the Liberal Party. The book has been widely praised by scholars as a sensitive and perceptive portrait of small-town Ontario at the turn of the twentieth century, and at the social mores of the time and place. While it has been lauded for its subtle grasp of women's place in society, it has also been criticized for focusing on upper-class and middle-class people over workers and the poor, and for its brutally racist depiction of Aboriginal people.

At the time of its publication, The Imperialist was not successful, but many of Duncan's other novels were. Most involved a character out of his or her national culture, and the tensions and complexities that resulted. Like Henry James, Duncan's literary world was Transatlantic. [Broadview Press] has republished The Imperialist, as well as two other Duncan novels, Set in Authority and The Pool in the Desert. Project Gutenberg has republished 'A Daughter of To-Day'; 'Hilda A Story of Calcutta'; 'The Imperialist'; 'The Path of a Star'; 'The Pool in the Desert'; 'The Story of Sonny Sahib' and 'A Voyage of Consolation.'

Sara Jeanette Duncan's "Cousin Cinderella: a Canadian girl in London (by Macmillan in New York and Methuen in London, 1908) features Graham, a Royal Military College of Canada graduate, and his sister Mary Trent. Graham and Mary's father, Senator Trent has earned a fortune in the family lumber business. After serving in South Africa and entering the family lumber business Graham Trent travels with his sister Mary from Minnebiac, a fictional small town in Ontario to England. There, Graham Trent becomes engaged to Barbara Pavisay, a member of a proud old English family whose line extends back to the Tudors. When Barbara Pavisay breaks off the engagement to Graham, his sister Mary becomes engaged to Barbara's brother Lord Pavisay. It is assumed that Graham Trent will return to Canada, continue in the family business and take up his seat in the Canadian Parliament. "A Voyage of Consolation" is a sequel to the experiences of "An American girl in London". [2]

Selected bibliography[edit]

Her novels include:

  • A Social Departure (1890)
  • The simple Adventures of a Memsahib (1893) London and New York
  • An American Girl in London (1891)
  • The Story of Sonny Sahib (1894)
  • A daughter of to-day (1894) London and New York
  • A Voyage of Consolation (1897)
  • Hilda (1898)
  • The Path of a Star (1899)
  • On the other side of the latch (1901) London
  • The Imperialist (1904)
  • Set in authority (1906) London and New York
  • Cousin Cinderella: a Canadian girl in London (1908) New York
  • The burnt offering (1909) London
  • His Royal Happiness (1914) Toronto and New York
  • His Honour and a Lady
  • Vernon's Aunt
  • On the Other Side of the Latch
  • Those Delightful Americans
  • The Crow's Nest
  • The Little Widows of a Dynasty
  • Hilda: A Story of Calcutta
  • The Path of a Star

Her collection of novellas, 'The pool in the desert' (New York, 1903).

Sara Jeannette Duncan authored 'Two girls on a barge', (London and New York, 1891), under the pseudonym V. Cecil Cotes, and 'Two in a flat' (London, [1908?]), under the pseudonym Jane Wintergreen.


  1. ^ Morgan, Henry James Types of Canadian women and of women who are or have been connected with Canada : (Toronto, 1903) [1]
  2. ^ Studies in Canadian Literature at
  • Sara Jeannette Duncan: Novelist of Empire by Thomas Tausky (Port Credit, Ontario: P. D. Meany, 1980)
  • A Different Point of View: Sara Jeannette Duncan by Misao Dean (Montreal: McGill-Queen's, 1991)

External links[edit]