Shadows on the Rock
This gratifying novel sprang from Willa Cather’s enraptured discovery of Québec City in 1928 during an unexpected stopover with her companion, Edith Lewis. The story chronicles 17th century French apothecary Euclide Auclair and his daughter, Cécile, as they minister to missionaries, trappers, and homesick French immigrants seeking cures but craving the French ambiance of Auclair’s shop. Before her early death, Cécile’s mother instructed her daughter in the “French way” of homemaking, re-creating a civilized environment for her father. Canadian-born Cécile, educated by the stalwart Ursuline sisters followed the rules of her Catholic religion which is deeply woven into the settlement of what the Indians named “Kebec”— “a beautiful town in rising tiers on a splendid lonely rock.” In October, the last ships from France arrived with replenishments and mail for the colonists before they settled in for the long hard winter. One such winter, Euclide’s good friend, the intrepid and driven Pierre Charron arrives, regaling Cécile with his trapping adventures and influencing both their lives.
These rough early days in Canada are portrayed vividly and sensitively by Cather with a true French Catholic atmosphere. Her accurate portrayal of the French experience won her praise when a French reviewer commended her uniqueness as “a deeply rooted American able to glorify France.” The explanatory notes provide translations of the occasional French peppered throughout the pages, and a brilliant historical essay enriches the reader’s understanding of the period. Photographs of Cather and the actual historical characters embellish this richly readable, MLA-approved edition of one of Cather’s finer novels.