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UBC Theses and Dissertations

True wayfaring Christians: form and meaning in the Overlander narratives Sawadsky, Joanne Marie


The basic contention of this thesis is that the journals and memoirs of a famous Canadian expedition—that of the "Overlanders" to the Cariboo gold fields in 1862—have literary as well as historical value. The accounts may be read as autobiographies, or as classic adventure stories (romances). The first chapter seeks to define the criteria by which we "judge literary worth in these two forms, and indicate in;: general terms how the Overlander narratives fit into both genres. The second chapter is concerned with dramatic structure in the narratives. The plot, reduced to its simplest form, is seen to be essentially that of the traditional folk tale ("naive" romance), in which heroes ride off in search of fabulous treasure, and on the way must overcome a variety of staggering difficulties. Although the outline of the plot in the Overlander accounts was supplied by actual events, the authors' ability to recognize the drama and reproduce it effectively is evidence of their creative power. The third chapter examines the diction, sentence structure, and imagery of each of the narrators. Their artistry and originality is perhaps more apparent in their style than in any other aspect of their writing. The fourth and fifth chapters concentrate on autobiographical meaning in the accounts. This meaning is developed as the travellers are shown striving to maintain harmony among themselves, and struggling to make progress in a sometimes hostile wilderness. All the narrators were Christian believers. Their religious vision was reaffirmed in the course of the trek, and broadened and deepened by their experiences. This vision and the process of its expansion, re-created by the authors, provide unity and a sense of progression for their works. In the final chapter, an attempt has been made to place the Overlander narratives in the context of the Canadian literary tradition. They belong to a large body of early travellers' and explorers' narratives which are full of fascinating details and curious anecdotes, and possess drama, poetry, and psychological interest, but which are just beginning to be recognized as genuine and valuable imaginative literature. Even after the fairly extensive analysis which can be made in a study of this length, it does not seem possible to state exactly how much literary value exists in works which are as little known as these, especially since what is true . of one or several may not be true of all the narratives. This examination does indicate, however, that these accounts taken as a whole possess both form and meaning and will give almost any reader pleasure on many levels.

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