Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Nature in March



Little glimpses of nature in my corner of the world, inspired by Edith Holden.









One might get the impression from these photos that spring arrived this month.  If only.  We have shovelled our front walk every single morning for a week.  We did have a reprieve earlier in the month when we saw some blue in the sky to relieve us of the incessant grey, and we did enjoy some chinooks that melted almost all the accumulated snow.

That's my great-grandmother in the white.
I've been working on a family history project which has reduced my reading time, but I have enjoyed a few good books this month.  I am very close to completing my first classic in quite some time - The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - an anomoly amongst all the uncharacteristic 21st century books.  This is my introduction to Edith Wharton and although it took me a little bit of time to get into the swing of it, I am thoroughly enjoying her wonderful character building, and the depictions of Old New York, and the struggle between individual desires and the sacrifice of self for the stability in the status quo.  Such impressive representations of women!

I finally read Lynn Coady this month (Saints of Big Harbour) and immediately got my hands on Hellgoing (most recent Giller winner) and Strange Heaven (her first novel).  I like her writing a lot, and having grown up in small town Nova Scotia I felt a real connection to the setting. 

One of the parts of parenting I enjoy is keeping current with what my daughters are reading, what they are discovering on their own, and having them recommend their favourites to me so we can discuss them.  Elizabeth is just dipping in to the YA-type books and I'm having a bit of trouble keeping up!  I made it through 2/3 of the Veronica Roth Divergent trilogy in time to see the movie with her.  While I cannot admit to enjoying the writing (each 500 page book could easily have been pruned down to 150 pages, and read like the first draft of a screenplay), the themes have served for terrific discussions.  She just finished The Fault in Our Stars, and is starting The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Such great catalyst for discussion!

Happy April everyone!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Nature in February

Inspired by Edith Holden
A sunny day amongst the evergreens.

Cotton Candy Snow at the front door.


Canada Goose

Friday, 28 February 2014

Monday, 24 February 2014

February Reading Week Three

Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers
"Sojourner" by Carson McCullers (1955)

Inspired by the comments on this post at Shelf Love (which refers to this post at Alex in Leeds) I created a Short Fiction Jar.  I filled little slips of paper with the names of all the stories I've always wanted to read but never have.  I enjoyed my introduction to Carson McCullers' writing. She captured the emotions of the characters in "Sojourner" in some mysterious and magical manner - the story is conveyed somehow between the actual words.



Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (2006)

I came to this book with very low expectations, and was pleasantly surprised.  It's funny how that happens, isn't it?  A love story set in a Depression-era American circus, the story is intertwined with the life of the protagonist as an old man infirm, confused, unloved and neglected in a nursing home.  I watched the film before reading the book - a sequence I almost always avoid, but it didn't seem to matter in this case: I wasn't all that concerned about ruining my enjoyment of the novel.  There were a few faltering moments when the dialogue failed to ring true (the use of words like "mercurial" and "vernacular" by uneducated and unsophisticated characters), but I did enjoy the author's ability to fully render a scene.  The smell of sweat and animal waste and hay seemed to fill my nose as I read.  I wouldn't highly recommend it, but it was an enjoyable reminder of my childhood visits to travelling circuses.



Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill (2006)

What a talent!  This is the story of Baby, a twelve-year old girl living with her heroin-addicted father in downtown Montreal.  If I had to find a comparison, it would be Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt for the gritty, poverty-hobbled story told through the eyes of a child who knows no other life and finds joy amongst the devastation of addiction and violence.  Normally, I stay well clear of grit and addiction and violence in my reading, but this is actually a surprisingly uplifting story of resilience and hope and inspiration that gently breaks your heart at the same time.

Also, bonus points for Heather O'Neill's clever inversion of Northrop Frye's theme of the "garrison mentality."



The Valley of Adventure by Enid Blyton (1947)

This was a fun little palate-cleanser after the emotional intensity of Lullabies.  One of my all-time favourites as a child, I must have read this story repeatedly for although I probably last read it when I was about twelve I remembered every plot twist, setting, and character quirk.  The Adventure series features four children and their pet parrot who, in typical Blyton style, end up in exotic locations uncovering international thieves and criminal masterminds.  On the island the children live in a cave (fostering years of dreams of cave-dwelling for me!): they deftly round up a posse of men profiting from the spoils of war.  What I hadn't remembered, or perhaps not noticed, was that the publication date of 1947 would have made the events of the second world war quite close to the original readers.  A fun adventure!


Nellie McClung by Charlotte Gray (2008)

First wave feminist Nellie McClung (1873-1951) fought her whole life for the disenfranchised and those lacking power of all forms in Canada.  She lived a life dedicated to public service; she was an author, a public speaker, an activist, and an Alberta MLA.  A campaigner in the temperance movement, and one of The Famous Five who worked on the "Persons Case" to have women included in the definition of a "person," making it possible for women to serve as senators.  She was the subject of this Heritage Minute.  Written by professor and eminent historian/biographer Charlotte Gray, this book is part of the Extraordinary Canadians series.  I found the narrative well written and very readable, and it makes me very keen to read Nellie McClung's own work of fiction and memoir. 

Friday, 21 February 2014

February Reading Week Two

 Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery (1921)

I have read Anne of Green Gables too many times to recall, but I think this is perhaps only the third time for Rilla.  It challenges Anne as my favourite of the series, and I am not ashamed to say I cried on four separate occasions whilst reading it.  Set from 1914-1919, the immediacy of the events of the war makes this a fascinating record of life on the Canadian home front filtered through the lives of the Blythe family and their neighbours in the tiny village on Prince Edward Island.  There is a perfect blend of humour, romance, levity and predictability to counterbalance the very real suspense, terror and heartbreak experienced by the characters (and readers!).




Septimus Heap Book One: Magyk by Angie Sage (2005)

I was intrigued by the series when I read Samantha's review, and pulled it from my daughter's shelf.  I'd never paid much attention to it because of the flashy cover and the flimsy page quality, but I did enjoy this book a great deal.  The quality of writing is stronger than I had expected, the characters were well-drawn and interesting, and, like the Harry Potter series, the magic was an added feature in the fictional world rather than the sole point of the narrative.  The characters still had to work through their issues - a magic spell could not always conveniently solve their troubles.  Once again I have learned my lesson about judgements regarding covers, etc. and go read Samantha's review!  She does a wonderful job exploring its merits.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

February Reading Week One

A little update on this week's reading.

I know I said that I was going to try to write more this month, but I'm just not really feeling in the writing mood, you know?  So, rather than let another week go by without writing anything, here are some very quick thoughts on the four novels I finished this week:


The English version  - same cover
Génération Filles: Au-delà des limites par Melanie Stewart (1999) [French, originally published in English as Pushing the Limits, translated by Anne-Françoise Loiseau]

Trying to work on my long-neglected French reading skills.  I was half way through this one before I realised that the peripheral character named Barbie was that Barbie (it was her home town of Malibu that tipped me off, and the little pink B on the cover suddenly made sense).  I was pleased to make it through the whole book quite quickly since it's been a very long time since I've read anything in French.  While I certainly wouldn't highlight this as a great piece of writing, it gave me an appreciation for beginner chapter books.  This one perfectly suited my abilities at the moment in terms of vocabulary and grammar.



Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery (2000) [originally published in French as Une gourmandise, translated by Alison Anderson]

The premise of the book is far-fetched; a nasty food critic with 48 hours to live searches for a taste that has eluded him.  The descriptions of food preparation and consumption are guaranteed to elicit activation of the salivary glands. I found the succession of short, first-person narrations disorienting, and none of the voices interesting enough to really hold my attention.  I am unsure about whether this is a result of something crucial being lost in translation.  Perhaps if I continue to read more Barbie novels I will soon be able to tackle this in the original French.



Letters from a Lady Rancher by Monica Hopkins (1982)

This book is an absolute joy which should be celebrated along with all the classics of the pioneer experience.  Monica Hopkins was a young English woman who moved to a ranch near Priddis, Alberta after her marriage in 1909, and in letters to an Australian friend recorded the first 26 months of her experience.  Her attitude shines from the pages; she tackles the hardships and isolation and discomfort of life as a lady rancher with an enthusiastic sense of adventure, good humour and without any hint of complaint or self-pity.  She records the details of her daily life in the house and on the range, interactions with neighbours and trips to nearby towns (Calgary, Banff) with careful observation and a compelling writing style.  I highly recommend this book, originally published by the Glenbow Museum in Calgary in 1982.



Bear by Marian Engel (1976)

Winner of the 1976 Governor General's Literary Award, Bear is the story of an archivist, Lou, who spends a transformational summer on an island in northern Ontario cataloguing the estate and library of Colonel John William Cary.* There she discovers that she is also responsible for an aged bear that has been held captive on the property.  I was apprehensive to read this classic of Canlit because it has had more than it's fair share of controversy, but I really enjoyed it!  Bear reminds me a great deal of Margaret Atwood's Surfacing as the protagonist enters a fantasy world (sort of) where she struggles through a personal identity crisis that very much reflects the gender inequities of the time.

*Interestingly, my three brothers are named John, William, and Cary :)

Saturday, 1 February 2014

February Intentions

My intentions for February are to share more thoughts on the books I read than I did in January, and to read from this stack:

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood (1988)
- Margaret Atwood's seventh novel and finalist for both the Governor General's Award and the Booker Prize.

Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery (2000)
- since I'm planning to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I thought I'd read Gourmet Rhapsody first since it is her first novel, and they share a setting. It is the only library book in my pile.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2006)
- recommended by Lucy (Tolstoy Therapy)  and Bellezza (Dolce Bellezza).  Thank you!

Bear by Marian Engel (1976)
- winner of the Governor General's Award, and a New Canadian Library title.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (2006)
- my Little Free Library Project find for February.

A Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay (2000)
- one of my favourite authors (Diane Schoemperlen) says: "Elizabeth Hay lays bare the perilous power of love and all that we prefer to keep hidden about ourselves.  Unsparing and unsettling, this exceptional first novel shines." Sounds too intriguing to leave on the shelf!

Letters from a Lady Rancher by Monica Hopkins (1982)
- letters home to England written from 1909-1911 by a young woman who married a rancher and started a new life as a homesteader in the foothills of southern Alberta (re-read)

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
- it's African-American Literature Month at the Classics Club, so I'm hoping to read this classic by Zora Zeale Hurston

Dust Tracks of a Road by Zora Neale Hurston (1942)
- autobiography of this Harlem Renaissance author.

The Stones of Florence by Mary McCarthy (1956)
- to satisfy the inevitable February wanderlust.

Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery (1920)
- Elizabeth and I have been working our way through the Anne series.  Rilla is next up, and perfect timing for contemplation of the centenary of the First World War.

Dear Life by Alice Munro (2012)
- I plan to read a short story collection each month this year.  This is my choice for February.

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill (2006)
- Canada Reads Winner 2007; I read a short biography of the author and am fascinated by her!

The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy (1945)
- winner of both the Governor General's Award and the Prix Femina of France, a New Canadian Library title, and Gabrielle Roy's first novel (I'd like to work through them in order).

Génération Filles: Au-delà des limites par Melanie Stewart (1999)
- I want to improve my reading in French so I'm starting easy.  Very easy.

Edited to add:
Magyk by Angie Sage (2005)
- recommended by Samantha (A Musical Feast) and already well underway!


I don't really expect to read all these books in one month, but I am really excited about each of them.  Have you read any of them?  Are there any you would suggest I bump to the top of the pile?  This is the first time that I have stated my reading intentions.  Usually, I decide what to read next as I finish my current book, so this is a bit of an experiment.  Do you set monthly intentions for your reading, or do you play it by ear? 

February 2014


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden (January)


Fleur Fisher, in her post about The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady at the end of December got me thinking.

I've loved this unique and inspiring book since I found my copy of it in a second-hand shop years ago.  When the girls were little we used to frequently head out with our sketchbooks to try to capture little items in nature - twigs, snowflakes, squirrel nests, flowers.  The impetus for these outings came from Edith Holden and our love of her delicate, intimate nature journal.  We would settle down on a blanket in a field or in the back garden or beside a mountain trail and try to capture on paper a little piece of the natural world.



If I were of an artistic bent I would get out the watercolours.  Alas... these days I have accepted my lack of abilities in that vane and the watercolours remain (thankfully) tucked away - but I do love photography.  I have decided to read along month-by-month in the Country Diary and find inspiration for seeking out the beauty in nature in my own corner of the world.  All the photos I will post will be my own, inspired in some way by this beautiful book.

Coyote beside the road on the edge of town.
Hoar frost at my front door.
We call these "Magic Rowan Berries"

Prairie dog on high alert
Hoar frost in the neighbour's garden.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler


In my early 20s one of my absolutely favourite books was Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist.  The lure of Macon Leary's reclusive, idiosyncratic lifestyle contrasted with Muriel Pritchett's charming extroversion helped me figure out my own place in the world and where I wanted to fit, and who I wanted to be.  I identified so strongly with the characters in that book in all their diversity, yet had never read anything else by Anne Tyler until this month when I picked up Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.  I didn't know what to expect, but I don't think I was expecting it to be quite as bleak as it was.

The Tull family is a cautionary tale of bad parenting and communication failure.  Abandoned by her husband, Pearl Tull raises her three children on her own.  Each of the children is scarred in secret and unknown ways by this void as well as by their mother's emotionally closed off personality.

Anne Tyler

I found this story frustrating because of the lack of emotional resolution, and the blindness that each of the characters deals with and never overcomes.  Each is searching for a way to satisfy some deep need: one son is overwhelmed by his ambition for control, money and power, the daughter is incapable of being serious about anything or of maintaining a marriage, and the youngest son searches for a loving home life, first at the home of his friend, later in his creation of a home-style restaurant.

This book left me cold.  I didn't connect with any of the characters, even with the telling of the story from many different perspectives (which was stylistically very well done) I failed to really invest in the challenges or dramas.  I just found myself getting more and more frustrated that none of these characters would stand up for themselves - or take a stand about anything! The youngest son, Ezra, is so determined to have the whole family around the table together eating, yet his efforts are constantly belittled and undermined by every member of the family.  Still he never stands up for himself.  It made me wonder why they didn't all just cut their losses.

 I know that Anne Tyler is a well-loved author who has won the Pulitzer Prize and that her novels are included in countless syllabi in American secondary and post-secondary schools so clearly I am in the minority in my disappointment.  This was very easy reading and I did find the changing points of view refreshing but although the style allowed me to make it through to the end of the novel the content felt unresolved and contrived.  I often think of a quote I heard years ago: "If you can't be a shining example at least be a cautionary tale."  Clearly I enjoy books about shining examples much more than cautionary tales.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

To Everything a Season: A Year in Alberta Ranch Country by Marilyn Halvorson


Marilyn Halvorson lives on a cattle ranch near Sundre, Alberta.  She is a teacher, and the author of several well-known YA novels set in ranch country such as Cowboys Don't Cry, and Nobody Said It Would Be Easy.  This is a year long journal beginning in September 1989 in which the author documents her life on the land, her work as a cattle farmer, and (the focus of every farmer's life) the changing weather.

I really enjoyed the passages in which she shares her observations on the natural world.  There were moments of profound insight that had me appreciating her perspective:

Though nature can be cruel, she will not take without giving in return.  Hope walks hand in hand with despair.  I met it on the creek bank as well.  There stood a grove of young balsam poplars, shedding their coloured leaves and preparing for the death season ahead.  But as I looked more closely at the trees, I made a discovery.  Beside each dying, falling leaf was a leaf bud, sticky and tightly curled but as complete and perfect a leaf as it will be next May.  Surely this is hope - and faith.  A tree not yet stripped of this year's leaves, with eight months of fall and winter ahead of it, yet ready and waiting for that first warm week in May.

and:

While I am out poking around in the field I hear a sound far above.  I look up.  A long, ragged line of geese is plowing purposefully southeast across the heavy sky.  I count, surprised at how hard it is to keep up with the moving line.  There are ninety-five of them.  They disappear into the distance, still calling back ever-fainter farewells to the north.

But along with the inspiration and occasional wonderful descriptions of the nature world, there also seemed to be a cynical undertone that I found quite depressing.

The butterflies are out today in the hot Indian summer sun, orange and brown velvet ones.  Happy.  Unaware that, surely, in a few days they will be dead.  What does that matter?  That will be then.  Today the sun is shining.  The world is wonderful.

Marilyn Halvorson comes across as a slightly cranky farmer, and a bit curmudgeonly living a life divided between the farm and her teaching (she rarely mentions that she is a writer).  Often the daily entries seemed like a few rushed words jotted down at the end of a busy day when summary of the weather and few incidents from the day come to mind.  There was not a lot of narrative flow, and not often did I find it was insightful or inspiring or even very elucidating.  Overall, I was disappointed by this journal, although there were some moments when she captured the reality of life on the land with clarity and precision.

Marilyn Halvorson

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Little Free Library #1: Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson

The Little Free Library Project

I decided at the beginning of 2014 that I would read exclusively from my own shelves for the first six months of the year: I have enough books to keep me busy for twice that amount of time without hardship, and until I clear some space on my shelves I really have nowhere to put any more books anyway.  However, I also decided to bend the rules for a once-a-month dip into one of the Little Free Libraries that have sprung up in my neighbourhood.  I was thrilled to find a copy of Hetty Dorval in a library decorated as a purple dinosaur, so I left a book from my own collection and happily headed home with my find.



Just like my favourite read of 2013 (Surfacing by Margaret Atwood) I immediately turned from the last page back to the first and re-read every word.  It is entirely possible that my second book of the year may well end up being my favourite - it was just that good!

Although Hetty Dorval earns the title of the novella, this is really the story of Frances "Frankie" Burnaby, and her coming-of-age teen years first in a village in British Columbia, and later in England and France.  In her first person narration Frankie reveals more to the reader than she realizes about herself, and her developing personality; we see how she grows into her place in society.  It is a tale not of Hetty Dorval, but of Frankie's reaction to the idea of Hetty Dorval.

There is ambiguity in Hetty's portrayal; we never really get to know her.  She desires isolation from the complications of deep personal interaction, and as a result is both unknown and unknowable to those around her.  Is this perniciously anti-social behaviour deserving of absolute rejection?  And how exactly is one to go about ostracising a recluse?  Is it even possible to cut oneself off from the rest of the world?  The recurring references to John Donne's "No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent..." inform one interpretation of Hetty's character.  There are groups of outsiders who populate the periphery of the story who demonstrate the socially acceptable ways of being separate:

The Indians, in small groups, moved always together, as by some inner self-protective compulsion, like certain birds, with their own particular kind of awareness.

Both the Indians of Lytton and the visiting circus folk keep together as a group even in their social isolation.  But what do we do with a single woman who breaks all the rules of acceptable behaviour without appearing to be in any way affected?  These are the questions this story raised for me, and continue to make me ponder.  The answers are not in the story but in our personal reaction to it, just as the novella is a document of Frankie's reaction to an alternate way of being in the world.

Hetty Dorval, the novella, is about the essential inscrutability of human nature.  Can we ever really know each other?  Can we ever really know ourselves?  Are we even aware of the prejudices and social customs that act upon us in ways that allow us to adopt specific and unbending beliefs and rules of behaviour?  Does Frankie realize that she is unquestioningly perpetuating the same narrow social parameters of her parents, and even allowing them to colour her younger, more honest perception of the world?

Like all great writers (and Ethel Wilson is most certainly one) there is enough ambiguity in the story for us to make up our own minds about the characters.  Do we believe Frankie's narration without question?  Is there room for other interpretations of the story she has told?  It is a reminder that we all go through life seeing the world through our own eyes, and this perspective can be too narrow to be the whole truth.  Opening our eyes to the possibility that there are other completely valid perspectives is the work of a great story.

Although this book is widely available in Canada, I suspect it would have been more difficult to find in other countries until Persephone Press reprinted it.  I believe Ethel Wilson is the only Canadian author represented in their catalogue.  I would highly recommend this book, and would love to discuss it!

Ethel Wilson

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather

I found another unfinished review from last month.  I am feeling well enough to read now that I no longer have to take pain killers that muddle my brain, but have not been able to sit at the computer for longer than a few minutes so things have been relatively quiet here.  I have given myself the grace of the month of January in which to rebuild my strength and health, and am very grateful that I am able to get out for walks around the neighbourhood between blizzards and record snowfall, icy sidewalks permitting.

I read Willa Cather's Shadows on the Rock at the end of November and enjoyed it so much that it made my list of favourites for the year.  I had a lot more to say about this fantastic book, but since I know that I will be returning to it again, I have decided to go ahead and post these rather abrupt thoughts.


I have come to the writing of Willa Cather quite late.  Her writing was never assigned to me in school, even in the American Literature class I took in university, and until I found a copy of My Ántonia in a charity shop I knew very little about her writing.  I enjoyed My Ántonia - the first book of 2013 for me.  When I was looking through the appendices of Janet Friskney's New Canadian Library I was surprised to see Shadows on the Rock in the list of titles considered but never included in the series.  Why would a writer so American as Willa Cather be considered for this series of books that are historically significant to Canada?  I took myself to the library and found a beautiful Vintage Classic copy (the cover above) and devoured the work during one chilly Saturday.

This is a work of historical fiction set during one year (which begins in October, 1697) in colonial New France.  It is the story of twelve year-old Cecile Auclair, who, along with her apothecary father Euclide Auclair is just as transparent and open as their name suggests. This is a quiet novel in which the focus is on the small events, the everyday occurrences of relatively unimportant people living in exile from the rest of the world in the isolated colony.  The story is episodic rather than plot-driven, and begins with the return of the last ships to France in preparation for the long winter of seclusion that is to come.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the novel is the theme of the immigrant never quite belonging to the culture from which they come, or to the one in which they live.  Although I have always lived in Canada, and never been an international "immigrant," I have lived in twenty-two houses in five provinces in my lifetime, and strongly identify with the immigrant's quest for "home."  My daughters have lived in the same home in Alberta their whole lives, while my husband and I consider Kingston, Ontario - 4000 km away - to be our emotional centre. This leads to frequent discussions about home in our house!  When I was a girl, I felt much like Cecile for whom Quebec is home even though for her father, France is home and Quebec is a temporary place to stay.

She put the sled-rope under her arms, gave her weight to it, and began to climb. A feeling came over her that there would never be anything better in the world for her than this; to be pulling Jacques on her sled, with the tender, burning sky before her, and on each side, in the dusk, the kindly lights from neighbours’ houses. If the Count should go back with the ships next summer, and her father with him, how could she bear it, she wondered. On a foreign shore, in a foreign city (yes, for her a foreign shore), would not her heart break for just this? For this rock and this winter, this feeling of being in one’s own place, for the soft content of pulling Jacques up Holy Family Hill into paler and paler levels of blue air, like a diver coming up from the deep sea.

This is the story of how the French colonists became Canadian.  Cecile becomes like Maria Chapdelaine, the Mother of the Canadians.  Generally speaking, psychological development of the characters is minimal, although the depth of Cecile's fears of upheaval in the impending return to France are vividly realised.  I think this book would deeply resonate with immigrants of all kinds (international, or interprovincial!).  It is about making "a place to stay" into a home, and the use of story to do that.  Stories that are told become the history of the community, and the way of knowing about one's past, one's surroundings and one's place.  We are grounded and rooted through the emotional links we create to the land, to our neighbours, to our institutions.  Willa Cather has given us a sense of the creation of home in Quebec through the stories she includes.

Now that I have read it, it is less surprising to me that this novel was considered for the New Canadian Library series than that it was rejected (this decision may have been a matter of copyright logistics rather than content) for Cather did not just set her novel in what became French Canada, but just as significantly, adopted many of the prevailing themes of the literature of Canada.  We see Northrop Frye's "garrison mentality" at play (Quebec is a refuge in the wilderness), and we see the theme of "home" and stasis explored (as opposed to the expansionist and movement-prone themes in American literature).  I am looking forward to reading Death Comes for the Archbishop to see if she is able to achieve the same thematic sympathy with the New Mexico Territory that she does with seventeenth-century New France.

Although this novel must have taken an astounding amount of research, Willa Cather never turns it into a history lesson.  The intimacy of the setting and the characters gives this novel a human scale which is its true charm.

Here are some images of some of the real characters found in Shadows on the Rock:

Frontenac: "The Fighting Governor"

Bishop Laval

Jeanne-Le Ber by Bottoni, 1908
Jeanne-Le Ber website

Mother Juschereau de Saint-Ignace
Mother Juschereau de Saint-Ignace website

You can read the entire text of Shadows on the Rock at the Gutenberg site online.
I highly recommend it!

Willa Cather