- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (Sept. 26 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679764046
- ISBN-13: 978-0679764045
- Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.6 x 20.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 249 g
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #190,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Shadows on the Rock Paperback – Sep 26 1995
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About the Author
WILLA CATHER, author of twelve novels, including O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and Death Comes for the Archbishop, was born in Virginia in 1873 but grew up in Nebraska, where many of her novels are set. She died in 1947 in New York City.
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Cather's novel is set in the remote world of "New France", in French Quebec of 1697. The story tells of the early French settlers and of the reasons which impelled them to leave France in search of a new life in a difficult, harsh land. Located on a forbidding cliff on the St. Lawrence River, Quebec was inaccessible to incoming ships from France or elsewhere for all but the summer months.
The main characters in the novel are Cecile Aubade, a girl of twelve, and her father Euclide, an apothecary who came to Quebec together with its governor, Frontenac. Euclide's wife had died in Quebec two years before the story begins in 1697 and Cecile is showing as caring for her father, preparing his meals, cleaning the house, and tending the apothecary in has absence. The book is a coming-of-age story for Cecile, but it differs from the usual form of coming-of-age books in its quiet flow, stress on the ordinary world of everyday, and domesticity.
Cather gives the reader a picture of the life of old Quebec through the interactions of its people with Cecile and Euclide. We meet Frontenac and two rival bishops, the pious aged Bishop Laval, the much more worldy Bishop Saint-Vallier, and a host of clergy and nuns, some devoted to mysticism and solitude. Cather also shows the reader the more secular side of Quebec in many humble people, sellers at outdoor markets, sailors, refugees from France, and fur trappers, especially a man named Pierre Charron, whose heart was broken when his sweetheart took up the life of the cloister and rigorous spirituality. Cecile befriends a seven-year old boy named Jacques, the son of a prostitute. The friendship between Jacques and Cecile receives much attention in the book. Jacques is invited to the family's Christmas celebration and places a toy beaver, made for him by a sailor, in the family creche, symbolizing the coming of Christianity to the New World.
With the exception of a short epilogue, the book is told over the course of one year of Cecile's life in Quebec. This timeframe affords Cather the opportunity of describing Quebec and its environs in beautiful detail throughout the course of the year and to watch the maturation of Cecile and her increased devotion to Quebec. The story celebrates place, rootedness, religion, domesticity, and the value of living life in the everyday. Events in Quebec are contrasted with life in France with its wars and corruption. The even flow of Cather's book tends to mask some of the instances of torture and death practiced in the Old Regime that she describes.
This novel has always been recognized as static and unexciting. But Cather's recent biographer, Janis Stout, aptly describes the book as "luminous and significant." "Shadows on the Rock" was a best-seller when it appeared, even though the book received a poor critical reception. The critics found the book showed a tendency towards escapism from the modern world and its difficulties and an attitude of sentimentality and romanticism. The book has an underlying tone of irony. The world of old Quebec is portrayed with an aura of stability and permanence while the reader knows, as Cather knows, that fifty years after the time that the book ends, France will lose Quebec forever together with its possessions in the New World.
Although this book does not rank with Cather's best work, I was moved by it and found the criticisms overdone. In its emphasis on contentment, finding joy in the everyday, and the virtues of family life, "Shadows on the Rock" has something to teach today's world.
Probably, the people who found it boring had to read it for a class. That is a real problem. Even with a fine enthusiastic teacher, if you're forced to read a book, which you did not choose at that time, you are apt to find it boring. This is in fact a wonderful book.
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