Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Quebec City

*Quebec City. French settlement on the St. Lawrence River, in what is now Canada’s province of Quebec, that is the novel’s principal setting. The oldest section of the city is enclosed within walls. The lower city is at the level of the river, and the upper city stands on palisades several hundred feet higher. Steep steps connect the two parts.

As the novel opens, Euclide Auclair, a pharmacist, watches a ship depart for France, thinking that the river’s building ice floes will prevent any new ships from arriving from France for at least six months. He is not depressed by the physical isolation of the French immigrants from their native land. He and other colonists have attempted to recreate French culture in the harsh climate of Quebec and have also tried to coexist with Native Canadians, whom they do not truly understand. Missionaries, including the real historical figures of Bishop Laval and Sister Marie of the Incarnation, have built French schools and churches in Quebec. They have also introduced innovations that do not exist in France. In the quiet isolation of Quebec City, these two missionaries are adapting to their new country and introducing changes that enable French immigrants and Native Canadians to respect each other’s cultures.

As the French immigrants adapt to life in Canada, they eventually come to realize that they will never return to France. With Bishop’s Laval’s blessing, Father...

(The entire section is 519 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Carlin, Deborah. “Tales of Telling Fictions of History: Casting Shadows on the Rock.” In Cather, Canon, and the Politics of Reading. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. Reads the novel as a narrative instead of a history. Says the novel is about the trans-lation of French sensibility into Canadian character.

Greene, George. “A Colloquy with Clio: Willa Cather’s Shadows on the Rock.” Dalhousie Review 70 (Summer, 1990): 219-228. Praises Shadows on the Rock as one of Cather’s best works. Examines the treatment of the northeast wilderness and the Iroquois Indians.

Jacobs, Wilbur R. “Willa Cather and Francis Parkman: Novelistic Portrayals of Colonial New France.” In Willa Cather: Family, Community and History, edited by John J. Murphy et al. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Humanities Publications Center, 1990. Traces the influence of nineteenth century Canadian historian Francis Parkman on Cather.

Nelson, Robert James. Willa Cather and France. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1988. Discusses the fascination that Willa Cather had in writing about the French on both sides of the Atlantic. Deals with Cather’s tour of France and what influenced her to write about the people and their customs.

Stouck, David. “Willa Cather and the Indian Heritage.” Twentieth Century Literature 22 (December, 1976): 433-443. Claims Shadows on the Rock is a historical novel. Sees the Indians as a recurring theme in Cather’s novels.