Sara Jeannette Duncan’s The Imperialist (1904) is an important text for discussing Canada’s shifting cultural, colonial, and political status during a period of notable transition. Signs of this transition come through in Duncan’s descriptions of the Murchison house as a space of both distinction and encroaching dilapidation. In fact, her representation of the house as a site of architectural idiosyncrasy verging on ruination suggests that she may have envisioned it as a kind of folly—that is, as a purpose-built ruin of the sort that came to be a distinguishing feature of European landscape design in the eighteenth century. Although critics have long been interested in the role of the Murchison house within the novel, the notion of the house as a ruin has yet to be explored, despite Duncan’s careful attention to its picturesque qualities and its evident state of disrepair. By reading the Murchison house as an artificial ruin, this essay considers the novel’s subtle integration of British cultural tradition into a distinctly Canadian setting.
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