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Book Title: Shadows On The Rock|
The author of the book: Willa Cather
Edition: Virago Modern Classics
Date of issue: 1984
ISBN 13: 9780860683117
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 3.10 MB
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Reader ratings: 5.1
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Three and a half stars
This is the first work I have read by Willa Cather and it is a historical novel set in Quebec in 1687-8. It is told from the point of view of 12 year old Cecile Auclair and her father Euclid, an apothecary. It covers one year in the life of the city with an epilogue set 15 years later to tie up loose ends. Cecile’s mother has died two years previously and she now looks assists her father and keeps house. Euclid serves the aging Count and has followed him to Canada. The Catholic Church dominates the story and the structure of the year with a plethora of nuns, priests, bishops and stories of saints and martyrdom. There is no real plotline and the novel drifts along gently. The descriptive passages about the weather and the changing of the seasons are well written and easy to read.
Willa Cather herself is a bit of an enigma; she seems very conservative and traditional, in politics and writing; influenced by James, Dickens, Balzac, Flaubert, Thackeray et al and appearing to be somewhat critical of women writers. Yet all her significant relationships (apart from her brothers) were with women and she lived with the editor Edith Lewis from 1908 until her death in 1947. There has been debate about her sexual identity and sexuality with opposing scholarly camps seeing her work with entirely different lens.
The novel has some interesting points. Cather wrote this not long after the death of the father and the centre of the novel is the relationship between Cecile and her father, which is one of great respect. For an seventeenth century father Euclid is rather enlightened; tolerant of his daughter’s religious thoughts and expressions, adding a mildly sceptical note and pushing her to ask questions. Another theme is the idea of the civilising effect of the Catholic Church (this is not so long after the excesses of the Inquisition) and the Native American tribes are portrayed as savage and in need of the civilising influence of the Church.
In the midst of this there are also some strong female characters, especially some of the nuns who are far more formidable that most of the male characters and it is possible that Cather is seeing the Catholic Church as a female entity and there is a bringing of old gods to new places. Thrown into the mix is the character of the trapper Pierre Charron. It is certainly no coincidence that he shares a name with the sixteenth century French philosopher and friend of Montaigne. This Charron comes from a humanist and sceptical tradition.
If this review feels a little contradictory, it is because that is how I feel about the book. The writing and description is good and the portrayal of the everyday life of ordinary people is very perceptive, especially in relation to the minutiae. Yet there is a complete acceptance that Catholic culture should be the dominant culture and is a civilising culture; even if there is an a gentle questioning of that culture. I think I need to read more Cather and this may not have been a good place to start.
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Read information about the authorWilella Sibert Cather was born in Back Creek Valley (Gore), Virginia, in December 7, 1873. Her novels on frontier life brought her to national recognition. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, One of Ours (1922), set during World War I. She grew up in Virginia and Nebraska. She then attended the University of Nebraska, initially planning to become a physician, but after writing an article for the Nebraska State Journal, she became a regular contributor to this journal. Because of this, she changed her major and graduated with a bachelor's degree in English. After graduation in 1894, she worked in Pittsburgh as writer for various publications and as a school teacher for approximately 13 years, thereafter moving to New York City for the remainder of her life. She traveled widely and often spent summers in New Brunswick, Canada. In later life, she experienced much negative criticism for her conservative politics and became reclusive, burning some of her letters and personal papers, including her last manuscript. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1943. In 1944, Cather received the gold medal for fiction from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, an award given once a decade for an author's total accomplishments. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 73 in New York City.
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