The Imperialist is the only one of Sara Jeannette Duncan’s novels set in her native Canada. Although in her lifetime her other works, many of which are set in India, were well-known, her reputation rests primarily on The Imperialist. The novel chronicles life in the town of Elgin, Ontario, in the first decade of the twentieth century. Its central theme is the issue of whether Canada should have its own national identity or be part of a federation with Great Britain.
Lorne Murchison is a young man whose family has emigrated from Scotland to Elgin, where they have made their wealth and reputation over a period of thirty years. Lorne is talented and ambitious, and he becomes known as someone destined for great things in the future. He proposes marriage to a woman of inherited wealth, Dora Milburn, but their engagement must be kept secret because of Lorne’s background. Lorne’s sister Advena falls in love with Hugh Finlay, the recently installed assistant to the town’s longtime Presbyterian clergyman, Mr. Drummond. Finlay reveals he is engaged to another woman in his original home of Scotland.
A visit to England has made Lorne convinced of the necessity of imperial ties between Britain and its former colony, Canada. The novel uses the word “imperialist” in a special, limited sense: to refer to close relations between Canada and Great Britain. Lorne attempts to run for Parliament as a Liberal. Although he is a Canadian...
(The entire section is 431 words.)