Machar, Agnes Maule

Agnes Maule Machar, novelist, poet, historian (b at Kingston, Ont 23 Jan 1837; d there 24 Jan 1927). An important reformist and literary figure in Victorian Canada, she was a prolific writer who published poetry, several novels and volumes of history and biography. She also contributed regularly to leading periodicals of the day.

The daughter of Scottish immigrants, Machar grew up in an intellectual and religious environment; her father was a Presbyterian minister and principal of Queen's University from 1846-54. Her work is frequently didactic, advocating Christian service as a cure for social ills and often subordinating artistry to moral purpose. Her earliest publications were poems and instructional religious works. Her first novel, Katie Johnstone's Cross: A Canadian Tale (1870), describes the spiritual enlightenment of its female protagonist. This religious romance is characteristic of most of her subsequent fiction. Roland Graeme, Knight: A Novel of Our Time (1892), Machar's most important novel, examines the social and economic problems attendant to industrialization. As a solution to the conflict between workers and employers in an American mining town, Roland appeals to a spirit of Christian brotherhood and selflessness. For King and Country: A Story of 1812 (1874), Stories of New France (1890) and Heroes of Canada (1893) celebrate Canada's heritage; their historical anecdotes are intended to inspire patriotism in a young readership.

Machar's poetry, collected in Lays of the "True North" and Other Canadian Poems (1899), also explores the themes of Canadian history and landscape. Though her artistic weaknesses have led to the decline of Machar's literary reputation, her distinction among her contemporaries is significant, and her work reflects a popular social and religious sensibility in Victorian Canada.