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Edith Joan Lyttleton

Edith Joan Lyttleton:  author G.B.Lancaster


Edith Joan Lyttleton was the daughter of Westcote Mcnab Lyttleton and Emily Wood, and was born in Tasmania in 1873.  Her father was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, descendant of the Peter McNab line, who emigrated to Tasmania at the age of 21 years in 1864.  Eventually, he became manager of the Rokeby Sheep Station in New Zealand.  And this was the childhood environment of Edith, who grew up to be a successful author publishing under the pseudonym of G. B. Lancaster. Her success was such that some of her books were turned into film and indeed Philip Steer notes that she “ …was until the 1970’s New Zealand’s most successful popular fiction writer.” [1]


An article in the New Zealand Dictionary of Biography suggests that “Edith grew up in an atmosphere of leisured colonial gentility…” [2]and this influence is evident in her writing.  She suffered from attitudes toward women at that time, noting that her brothers received solid educations while she and her sister did not. Her choice of a neutral pseudonym under which to publish is symbolic of these attitudes.  In 1909, Edith and her sister accompanied her mother to England, having been told that they could not marry as they were obligated to be companions to their mother.  Edith had already begun to publish both short stories and novels. Themes in her writing, according to Sturm, included “…the nature of colonial character…conflict between desire and self-sacrifice.”[3]  The colonial world with which she was familiar often led to stories with Canadian, New Zealand, and Australian backdrops.   


In the years through World War I and beyond Edith was attracted to adventurous research for her writing, including visiting the war zone in France, and the Yukon to prepare for a northern Canada novel, The World is Yours. But this leads us to the novel of most interest to those with McNab connections: Grand Parade.  In 1938, Edith spent time in Halifax seeking information to flesh out the history of her McNab ancestors. The resulting novel  was published in 1943, and only two years later Edith Lyttleton died in London, England.  While Grand Parade is clearly a work of fiction, from her Halifax research or through family stories passed down through the McNab family to Lyttleton lines, the story centres on a Scottish “laird” and his Irish wife, portrayed as a strong woman but of lower class origins, living on an island in Halifax Harbour.  Edith does note, however, that her time in Halifax was challenged in attempts to get personal information from older contacts and came to a conclusion that “ladies” in Halifax were reluctant to share private thoughts and stories. [4]  Ultimately, Sturm focuses on the “sense of place” Edith is able to incorporate in the novel from the time she spent there.  


Grand Parade[5] includes an Apology after the dedication, with a disclaimer on the impossibility of representing Canada’s history in such a book, or as it is more eloquently put, “To try to put the beginnngs of Canada between the covers of one book is like trying to get an oak tree back into its acorn.” The author emphasises the imaginary character of all  inhabitants portrayed in the book, comparing to actual people of the time  “who had a far nobler and finer history than I have been able to give them.”[6]   The book, while suffering somewhat from the attempt to  cover Canada’s early history against a backdrop of conflict, immigrants, romance, military and the sometimes messy streets of 1700s Halifax, does give an image of the events and attitudes of the time, when the first Peter McNab and his wife Susannah Kuhn lived and were part of the history. 

[1] Steer, Philip. G.B.Lancaster (Edith Lyttleton), 1873 - 1945 in Kotare 7, no.1 (2007), p. 28 

[2] Sturm, Terry. Edith Joan Lyttleton. Te Ara: Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Accessed 22 February 2021 at: https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3l18/lyttleton-edith-joan

[4] Sturm, Terry (ed.). An Unsettled Spirit: The Life and Frontier Fiction of Edith Lyttleton (G.B.Lancaster). Calgary, AB: University of Calgary Press. 2003. 

[5] Lancaster, G.B. Grand Parade. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock. 1944

[6] The one exception to the fictional characters is several mentions of Joe Howe, the son of a Loyalist who became an influential newspaper editor and who married Catherine Susan McNab. See entry in Dictionary of Canadian Biography: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/howe_joseph_10E.html


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