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From Cather Studies Volume 2

Cather's Use of Parkman's Histories in Shadows on the Rock

We've known since 1953, when Edith Lewis published Willa Cather Living, that Cather turned immediately to Francis Parkman when she fell in love with Quebec at first sight. In taking a new route to her Grand Manan retreat during the summer of 1927, she came, she saw, and she was conquered by "the Norman outlines of the town of Quebec" (Lewis 153). Immediately upon discovering this place that seemed miraculously preserved from another time, Cather wished to research Quebec's past; as immediately, she pounced on Parkman's histories, with which she was already familiar, that she found in the Hotel Frontenac library. Thus we've "always" known that Cather used Parkman when she began to construct a novel with a Quebec setting; Lewis even tells us why: "Willa Cather was always very painstaking about her facts-she intensely disliked being careless or inaccurate, and went to much trouble to verify them" (161).

Perhaps because this information seemed straightforward, few scholars have thoroughly investigated the Parkman connection. In the recent past, however, two articles have called attention to elements of Parkman's work that one can recognize in Shadows on the Rock.[1] This essay will offer new emphases on these facts that have recently been reconsidered. The full extent of Cather's reliance on Parkman's material has not yet been measured. Further, studying this source reveals a number of new and interesting insights about Cather. I will touch briefly on representative characters illustrating the connection, then identify representative incidents, images, and themes that Parkman furnished to Cather. Perhaps this sort of investigation about how Cather used one source will encourage further studies of Cather's use of sources generally, suggest some possible principles behind her selection of useful facts, posit a plausible guess about her patterns of rejection or denial of selected facts, and speculate on Cather's in receptivity to Parkman's asides and analogies.

The first caveat in this era of old and new historicisms, however, is that four historical periods must be held in mind simutaneously, if one is to do justice to Cather's novel. The first is the present of 1927-31, in which Cather first imagined and then researched and wrote her book. That present was deeply colored by the traumas of her father's and then her mother's death.[2] The second is the extended post-Civil War era from 1865 to 1893, during which Francis Parkman wrote his seven-volume France and England in North America. This present of Parkman's composing time colors that historian's perceptions as inevitably as any other era affects its published books. Thus, Parkman's presentations of Indian torture practices, which seem racist, exaggerated, or simplistic to a recent historian,[3] should probably be considered in light of the fascination with cannibalism in the late nineteenth century.[4] Parkman indeed reported, and Cather repeated, what the readers of his time were most interested in knowing.[5]

A third and crucial historical period is the present of the novel itself, 1697-98. Parkman comments that this year is a time of rare calm in the turbulent Quebec saga, a lull before the wars of the eighteenth century began: "The policy of the governor [as opposed to unwise orders from Louis XIV] prevailed; the colony returned [after a 1696 raid on the Onondagas led by Frontenac] to its normal methods of growth and so continued to the end" (Frontenac 302). Early in February 1698, word arrived that a peace treaty between France, Spain, England, and Holland had been signed in Europe. In Shadows on the Rock, before Frontenac dies, he even refers in passing to the Treaty of Rijswijk (239). Thus, for the principal year of this novel, there was documentably no dramatic strife in the history of Quebec, even with the colonies to the south of New France. The atmosphere of undisturbed peace was a crucial attracting agent for Cather in that time when she needed a "rock of refuge" (Robinson 258). Parkman supplies the essential facts to support Cather's symbolic use of this year, a time that is both peacefully static and also running out, when he remarks, "The scratch of a pen at Ryswick had ended the conflict in America, so far at least as concerned the civilized combatants" (Frontenac 303).

By August 1698, peace between Frontenac and the English was unraveling again. As Parkman paints the next scene, however, "The shadow of death was upon him [Frontenac]. Toils and years, passions and cares, had wasted his strength at last, and his fiery soul could bear him up no longer. A few weeks later he was lying calmly on his death-bed" (Frontenac 306-7). Cather could not follow Parkman's cues more precisely than she does, after he writes, "In November, when the last ship had gone, and Canada was sealed from the world for half a year, a mortal illness fell upon the Governor" (Frontenac 308). On November 22, Parkman relates, Frontenac dictated his will and bequeathed tokens to his friends. The much-loved governor died on November 28, fully lucid and composed, at age seventy-eight.

The fourth historical epoch always present in Shadows on the Rock is the medieval period that seventeenth-century Quebec suggested first to Parkman and then to the receptive Willa Cather.[6] The association between the two epochs infuses the works of Parkman from first to last and clearly matched and confirmed Willa Cather's delighted perceptions. This essay recognizes the relevance of all four historical epochs in Cather's novel; it also acknowledges the equal relevance of Francis Parkman to all four historic levels of consciousness.

First it is important to note that Cather used substantial material from each of Parkman's first five volumes Pioneers of France in the New World, The Jesuits in North America, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, The Old Regime in Canada, and Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV. The most important volumes to her were the second and fourth, not the fifth volume, which concerns Frontenac. It is reasonable to assume she skipped over great swatches of material in these volumes, whenever her attention flagged. Further, one can find what severed her focus and sent her finger flipping past pages and chapters; often, gory violence, attention to the English, or any emphasis on fighting engaged in or physical hardship endured outside the Quebec sphere of influence.[7] Thus, one can see her tracks here and there in the volume on La Salle, but her passing references primarily acknowledge his importance as a heroic memory still cherished by Frontenac and by Pommier the cobbler (Shadows 83).

When Cather is absorbed in a page, she is a careful footnote reader, evidenced in the phrases and facts she later used, both in Parkman's main text and in his footnotes. The centennial two-volume Library of America edition of Parkman's France and England in North America (completed in 1893) is invaluable for the Cather scholar, because in it the footnotes that interested Cather are printed at the bottom of the page. In addition the chapter subtitles are supplied in the table of contents so that one can easily spot those names that reappear in Cather's novel-for example, Fathers Lalemont and Jogues, the Intendant Champigny, or the Carignan-Salieres regiment that brought drummer boy Giorgio's grandfather to New France.

Two linked names will illustrate Cather's inclusion and exclusion of Parkman material concerning specific characters.[8] Jacques Le Ber and his daughter Jeanne reveal important facts about Cather's choices as she surveyed her Parkman treasury. Jacques Le Ber captivated Parkman. Parkman returns to him repeatedly, apparently finding in this Montreal merchant one of the most intriguing personalities of New France. We meet Le Ber first as La Salle's host, where he is described as "one of the principal merchants and most influential inhabitants of the settlement," who was first an ally of La Salle and Frontenac and afterward, "one of their most determined opponents" (La Salle 786). In Parkman's initial descriptions Le Ber seems of a lower class and more petit bourgeois life-style than Cather's "rich merchant" (Shadows 56). Cather does not, in fact, pick up Parkman's subordinate details; for example, Le Ber "was accustomed to sell goods across his counter in person to white men and Indians, his wife taking his place when he was absent" (La Salle 786). In Parkman, Le Ber seem much nearer industrious Young Benjamin Franklin in spirit than he does to the lavishly hospitable plutocrat of Cather's pages. He appears in later Parkman pages (still espousing Franklinian common sense) to dispute the "pious falsehood" of a Sister Jumeau, who untruthfully confessed for herself peasant origins (Regime 1140). And finally, he seems a typical parvenu, as Parkman presents him: "Money smoothed the path to advancement, so far had the noblesse already fallen from its old estate. Thus Jacques Le Ber, the merchant, who had long kept a shop at Montreal, got himself made a gentleman for six thousand livres" (Regime 1282-83). Parkman's Le Ber is shrewd, politically flexible, enterprising, and willing to move with an eye to the main chance. He is too colorful for Cather's novel, especially since his Montreal base of operations threatens to deflect attention from Quebec, as Montreal in fact did in real life. Cather chooses to erase facts available about Le Ber and to render him only as a generic silhouette.

Jeanne Le Ber, conversely, is someone Parkman renders briefly, whom Cather appropriates whole, using almost all of the details Parkman presented. A first reference describes "the mediaeval pietism of Jeanne Le Ber, the venerated recluse of Montreal" (Regime 1350). Parkman then proceeds with a succinct, two-page description that furnishes all of the nuances Cather needed for her novel's most memorable character. I quote Parkman's pages, recommending particular attention to the phrase "cast a stolen glance at her," which may have triggered the incident Cather constructed in which Pierre Charron steals a forbidden midnight glance at La Recluse:

Mademoiselle Jeanne Le Ber belonged to none of these sisterhoods. She was the favorite daughter of the chief merchant of Montreal, the same who, with the help of his money, got himself ennobled. She seems to have been a girl of a fine and sensitive nature; ardent, affectionate, and extremely susceptible to religious impressions. Religion at last gained absolute sway over her. Nothing could appease her longings or content the demands of her excited conscience but an entire consecration of herself to heaven. Constituted as she was, the resolution must have cost her an agony of mental conflict. Her story is a strange, and, as many will think, a very sad one. She renounced her suitors, and wished to renounce her inheritance; but her spiritual directors, too far-sighted to permit such a sacrifice, persuaded her to hold fast to her claims, and content herself with what they called "poverty of heart." Her mother died, and her father, left with a family of young children, greatly needed her help; but she refused to leave her chamber where she had immured herself. Here she remained ten years, seeing nobody but her confessor and the girl who brought her food. Once only she emerged, and this was when her brother lay dead in the adjacent room, killed in a fight with the English. She suddenly appeared before her astonished sisters, stood for a moment in silent prayer by the body, and then vanished without uttering a word. "Such," says her modern biographer, "was the sublimity of her virtue and the grandeur of her soul." Not content with this domestic seclusion, she caused a cell to be made behind the altar in the newly built church of the Congregation, and here we will permit ourselves to cast a stolen glance at her through the narrow opening through which food was passed in to her. Her bed, a pile of straw which she never moved, lest it should become too soft, was so placed that her head could touch the partition, that alone separated it from the Host on the altar. Here she lay wrapped in a garment of coarse gray serge, worn, tattered, and unwashed. An old blanket, a stool, a spinning-wheel, a belt and shirt of haircloth, a scourge, and a pair of shoes made by herself of the husks of Indian-corn, appear to have formed the sum of her furniture and her wardrobe. Her employments were spinning and working embroidery for churches. She remained in this voluntary prison about twenty years; and the nun who brought her food testifies that she never omitted a mortification or a prayer, though commonly in a state of profound depression, and what her biographer calls "complete spiritual aridity."

When her mother died, she had refused to see her; and, long after, no prayer of her dying father could draw her from her cell. "In the person of this modest virgin," writes her reverend eulogist, "we see, with astonishment, the love of God triumphant over earthly affection for parents, and a complete victory of faith over reason and of grace over nature."

In 1711, Canada was threatened with an attack by the English; and she gave the nuns of the Congregation an image of the Virgin on which she had written a prayer to protect their granary from the invaders. Other persons, anxious for a similar protection, sent her images to write upon; but she declined the request. One of the disappointed applicants then stole the inscribed image from the granary of the Congregation, intending to place it on his own when the danger drew near. The English, however, did not come, their fleet having suffered a ruinous shipwreck ascribed to the prayers of Jeanne Le Ber. "It was," writes the Sulpitian Belmont, "the greatest miracle that ever happened since the days of Moses." Nor was this the only miracle of which she was the occasion. She herself declared that once when she had broken her spinning-wheel, an angel came and mended it for her. Angels also assisted in her embroidery, "no doubt," says Mother Juchereau, "taking great pleasure in the society of this angelic creature." In the church where she had secluded herself, an image of the Virgin continued after her death to heal the lame and cure the sick. (Regime 1351-53).

As the description of Jeanne Le Ber makes clear, Cather appropriates every aspect of this historical character, relying strongly on Parkman's interpretation; but she also mined his histories for images, seemingly incidental events, and themes. Parkman, for example, describes one miraculous conversion that Cécile Auclair later discusses with her father. According to Parkman, after one arrival of ships from France with many new settlers and replacements sent from the King, the hospitals were crowded with the sick, for the journey had been long and hard.

The priests were busied in converting the Huguenots, a number of whom were detected among the soldiers and emigrants. One of them proved refractory, declaring with oaths that he would never renounce his faith. Falling dangerously ill, he was carried to the hospital, where Mother Catherine de Saint-Augustin bethought her of a plan of conversion. She ground to powder a small piece of a bone of Father Brebeuf, the Jesuit martyr, and secretly mixed the sacred dust with the patient's gruel; whereupon, says Mother Juchereau, "this intractable man forthwith became gentle as an angel, begged to be inconstructed, embraced the faith, and abjured his errors publicly with an admirable fervor." (Regime 1232)

In like manner, we can read in Parkman of "Chabanel, once a professor of rhetoric in France, now a missionary, bound by a self-imposed vow to a life from which his nature recoiled" (Jesuits 657). Cather's versions of each of these incidents, however, elaborate on these facts. In her words:

Chabanel had been a professor of rhetoric . . . [and] was fond of the decencies, the elegancies of life. From the beginning his life in Canada was one long humiliation and disappointment. . . . His humiliating inability to learn the language was only one of poor Chabanel's mortifications. He had no love for his converts. . . . On Corpus Christi Day, . . . he . . . overcame his temptation. . . . [H]e made a vow of perpetual stability (perpetuam stabilitatem) in the Huron missions. . . . Two years later he perished. (Shadows 150-54)

Beyond such incidents that give Shadows on the Rock its air of authenticity, Parkman also supplies images that Cather in turn develops into themes. La Salle, for example, is associated with feet that went "too far" (Shadows 82). Parkman's presentation explains the judgment, though his admiration for "the masculine form of Cavelier de la Salle" is very clear. Parkman describes La Salle, "with feet firm planted on the hard earth," as a man who "breathes the self-relying energies of modern practical enterprise" as "step by step he advanced towards his purpose." While his enemies "denounced and maligned him," we are told, he "dreamed of a western passage to China and nursed vague schemes of western discovery" (La Salle 777). Later, "when his earlier journeyings revealed to him the valley of the Ohio . . . his imagination took wing over the boundless prairies and forests. . . . His ambition had found its field. He would leave barren and frozen Canada behind, and lead France and civilization into the valley of the Mississippi" (La Salle 777).[9] Finally, of course, La Salle was murdered by one of his own men as his party made its way back to Canada from Texas, on foot.

La Salle's feet are present in Shadows on the Rock because the last for his shoes remains on display in Pommier's cobbler shop. The object, however, allows Cather not only to insert a plausible reference to one of Parkman's major heroes but also to expand the reference into a whole theme about feet and where they should go. To go anywhere, feet must be cared for; and caring for the feet of little Jacques Gaux unites the whole town: the governor pays for his shoes, the artisan makes his shoes well, the playmate Cécile knits his socks, and old Bishop Laval bathes and kisses his feet when Jacques is small and lost and crying.

Cather herself, of course, manufactures Frontenac's gift to little Jacques of a pair of shoes. Yet Frontenac appears in Parkman's histories, as well as in Cather's novel, to be most effective in his dealings with children and Indians. He always addresses Indians as children and says when he commends them, "You have done well, my children, to obey the command of your Father. Take courage: you will hear his word, which is full of peace and tenderness" (La Salle 782). Thus Parkman's portrait furnishes Cather with her theme of good fathers abounding in Quebec to watch over the settlement's children. By the end of Frontenac's life, Parkman tells us, he has projected the image of a good father so effectively that that the humbler citizens he governs well (as opposed to those nearer his equal, with whom he habitually quarrels), consider him the love and delight of New France" (Frontenac 308).

Parkman supplies images not only for Cather's heroes but also for her heroines. The first positive image of a mature woman in Shadows on the Rock is Mother Juchereau, who tells who tells Cécile stories while making artificial flowers. According to Parkman, "The nuns of the Hotel-Dieu made artificial flowers for altars and shrines, under the direction of Mother Juchereau" (Regime 1311-12.) The image assumes importance in the novel because it introduces the theme of the superiority of art and artifice over nature. The domestic and practical arts are especially celebrated in this novel, and Parkman also provides the symbols of such celebration. They come not only through Mother Juchereau's artificially lasting blooms or Frontenac's glass fruit but also through Cécile's artfully ordered kitchen.

Parkman stresses the importance this colony placed on domestic stability and order. Shiploads of "King's girls" were sent as brides for the settlers, and "Orders were issued, a little before the arrival of the yearly ships from France, that all single men should marry within a fortnight after the landing of the prospective brides" (Regime 1262); further, "Bounties were offered on children" (Regime 1263). The domestic arts in Canada were prized so highly that French opinion maintained "the advantage that women have in this place (Montreal) over men, for though the cold is very wholesome to both sexes, it is incomparable more so to the female, who is almost immortal here" (Regime 1264).

The need for an epilogue stressing Cécile's growing family is partially explained by Parkman's facts that bounties were given to each girl who married before the age of sixteen (Regime 1261) and that fathers whose daughters reached sixteen and were still unmarried were fined (Regime 1262). Parkman also supplies this nformation about the women of Quebec: "They have wit, . . . delicacy, good voices, and a great fondness for dancing. They are discreet, and not much given to flirting; but when they undertake to catch a lover it is not easy for him to escape the bonds of Hymen" (Regime 1371). Quebec girls, Parkman informs us, were said to get husbands faster than Montreal girls because the ships from France landed first at Quebec (Regime 1374). With al this information supplied by Parkman, it is no surprise that Cather could not end her novel until Cécile was fully engaged in "bringing up four little boys, the Canadians of the future" (Shadows 278).

While her novel ends by referring to a happy home, however, Cather's novel begins as ships leave. Implicit in all the images of ships leaving or time running out is a fear of abandonment and loss. As Cather's novel recognizes, the colony needed reassuring objects or arts to make a dark, cold place feel less like exile and more like home. The isolation of Quebec and the tenuous link to France maintained only by vulnerable ships is also an explicit theme in Parkman:

On the Lower St. Lawrence, where it widens to an estuary, . . . a ship from France, the last of the season, holds her way for Quebec, laden with stores and clothing, household utensils, goods for Indian trade, the newest court fashions, wine, brandy, tobacco, and the king's orders from Versailles. Swelling her patched and dingy sails, she glides through the wildness and the solitude where there is nothing but her to remind you of the great troubled world behind and the little troubled world before. (Regime 1340)

Especially remarkable among the links between Parkman and Cather, in fact, is Cather's use of Parkman's moving end to chapter 23 in The Old Regime in Canada. Here the history provides an overture containing Cather's future motifs already elaborated for her. She will later orchestrate them for her book's central arias, merely using Parkman's end as her beginning:

And now we, too, will leave Canada. Winter draws near, and the first patch of snow lies gleaming on the distant mountain of Cape Tourmente. The sun has set in chill and autumnal beauty, and the sharp spires of fir-trees on the heights of Sillery stand stiff and black against the pure cold amber of the fading west. The ship sails in the morning; and, before the old towers of Rochelle rise in sight, there will be time to smoke many a pipe, and ponder what we have seen on the banks of the St. Lawrence. (Regime 1376)

After the many other symbols, images, themes, incidents, and characters have been mentioned, however, the two overriding themes in Shadows on the Rock are the association of late seventeenth-century Quebec with the Middle Ages and the assertion that the life lived in Quebec was suffused by a sense of miracle. Both themes are dominant in Parkman's histories, as several quotations above have already indicated. For example, Indians, seeing La Salle as a champion who will protect them against the Iroquois, are said to have "gathered around his stronghold like the timorous peasantry of the middle ages around the rock-built castle of their feudal lord" (La Salle 934). Speaking later of French quarrels, Parkman says, "An obscure corner of the vast regions in dispute became the scene of an intestine strife like the bloody conflicts of two feudal chiefs in the depths of the middle ages" (Regime 1072). The "scene for an artist" supplied by the fort named Port Royal is further sketched as "mediaevalism married to primeval savagery" (Regime 1077). And later still, Parkman comments, "The great difference between the position of the Canadian seignior and that of the vassal proprietor of the Middle Ages lay in the extent and nature of the control which the Crown and its officers held over him" (Regime 1277). For one such as Cather, who was predisposed to favor the symbols, signs, and sites of medieval Normandy, Quebec furnished not only the vista reminiscent of those she admired but also a history to confirm her impression. Parkman made the pleasing analogy first; it is no wonder that she accepted his authority in order to anchor her facts accurately.

She also found in Parkman a mind as willing as she was to circle skeptically, with distancing irony, around the concept of miracle. Just as she had been exploring the idea throughout her three previous novels, so he had also kept the idea in sight throughout his maturity as he sketched the history of New France. One plausible explanation for Cather's heavy reliance on Parkman's works, in fact, is that through their repeated use of those key words that she had repeatedly explored for several previous years and volumes, Parkman seemed uncannily to be speaking in her vocabulary and to her immediate concerns. For example, he describes one early missionary as "the fanatical Chaumonot, whose character savored of his peasant birth,-for the grossest fungus of superstition that ever grew under the shadow of Rome was not too much for his omnivorous credulity, and miracles and mysteries were his daily food; yet, such as his faith was, he was ready to die for it" (Jesuits 657). Though Parkman sounds sarcastic as Cather did not, Chaumonot's world view is not dissimilar to Augusta's in The Professor's House or to Joseph Vaillant's in Death Comes for the Archbishop.

Parkman also gives Cather the cue for her heavy emphasis on Christmas, the time she most emphatically associated with miracles. For example, "Christmas came, and was solemnly observed. There was a midnight Mass in the chapel. . . . And as Membre elevated the consecrated wafer, and the lamps burned dim through the clouds of incense, the kneeling group drew from the daily miracle such consolation as true Catholics alone can know" (La Salle 1003). Interestingly, however, Parkman goes on at this point to describe the Twelfth Night celebration that followed; Protestant Cather contained her miracle within the more familiar and widely celebrated Christmas holiday.

Throughout Parkman's accounts, miracles abound. Montreal is said "to exist only by a continuous miracle" (Regime 1107), to be a site, in fact, in which "the intercession of the Virgin wrought new marvels" in events witnessing to "the manifest hand of Heaven," which Parkman points out "can be explained without a miracle" (Regime 1108). The Ursulines see miracles everywhere, take joy in their work because of them, and report a beau miracle with some regularity (Regime 1234). One Indian chief is taken prisoner "On the day of the Visitation of the Holy Virgin" (Regime 1109), and Parkman summarizes, "This incessant supernaturalism is the key to the early history of New France" (Regime 1112). In fact, the miracles associated with the shrine of Saint Anne du Petit Cap "continued more than two centuries. . . . The devotion to Saint Anne became a distinguishing feature of Canadian Catholicity . . . and marvellous cures were wrought unceasingly" (Regime 1356).

In this constant refrain, I believe, Parkman prodded Cather to create what she described to Governor Cross as "a kind of feeling about life and human fate that I could not accept, wholly, but which I could not but admire" (On Writing 15). Parkman provided the details that permitted Cather to create the miraculous space she needed to dwell in imaginatively, during her intensely perilous years. It was the fortunate union of Parkman's passion with Cather's genius that flowered into the fulfillment of her desire


 1. See Jacobs 253-61; and Brienzo (to be published in a volume from this conference edited by Barbara Meldrum, University of Idaho Press). (Go back.)
 2. For a more detailed discussion of Cather's emotional state and its influence on this novel see Skaggs, 128-32. (Go back.)
 3. Wilbur R. Jacobs makes such charges in his article. He faults Cather for not consulting contemporary and available anthropologists, who were more sophisticated about Woodlands Indians than Parkman seems after a century. Actually, what Cather seems to suggest in her novel is that French prison tortures of the time were more barbaric than Indian customs, since the French, as Cécile's mother insists, "are called the most civilized people in Europe" (Shadows 25). Blinker is terrified of the Indians in the forest because he has firsthand knowledge of torture. Conversely, it is partially knowledge of the results of French tortures that propels the Auclair family to accompany Frontenac to the wilderness of Quebec. As a child Cécile enjoys thinking of French martyrs among the Indians since she associates their stories with heroism and fearlessness (Shadows 234). (Go back.)
 4. This strain in Victorian and late nineteenth-century literature was called to my attention by Sylvia M. Skaggs of Temple University, in an unpublished essay. Among other sources, she cites Christine Bolt, Victorian Attitudes to Race (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1971); James Bowker and John Beddoe, "The Cave Cannibals of South Africa," Anthropological Review, v. 7, pp. 121-28; "A Cruise Among the Cannibals," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, v. 7, p. 455; "Cannibalism," "The London Review," Living Age, v. 75, pp. 123-25. (Go back.)
 5. There are in Parkman many references and detailed descriptions of Indian tortures of prisoners and subsequent cannibalistic rites and practices. Yet Jacobs particularly worries the absence of an exact source for Cather's "severed hand" incident. Cather may have spotted in Parkman's footnote this sentence: "It was this chief whose severed hand was thrown to the Jesuits" (The Jesuits in North America, reprinted in France and England in North America 1:636n1. Hereafter the works contained within this volume will be cited as Pioneers for Pioneers of France in the New World; Jesuits for The Jesuits in North America; La Salle for La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West; Regime for The Old Regime in Canada. In volume 2 of the same edition, Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV will be cited as Frontenac.) (Go back.)
 6. For an extended treatment of this theme in the novel, see Skaggs 21-24. (Go back.)

There are a number of phrases in Parkman that are very similar to those she wove into her account, then a long hiatus during which Parkman's material seems to have no relation to the novel, then a return of the Cather trail after the Parkman gore or defection to the English has subsided.

For example, Cather seems to "come in" to Pioneers of France in the New World, Parkman's first volume, only at chapter 9, entitled "Champlain at Quebec." Immediately, however, one spots details Cather will use later. The first sentence reads, "A lonely ship sailed up the St. Lawrence"; the first paragraph ends, "The ship was from Honfleur, and was commanded by Samuel de Champlain. He was the Aeneas of a destined people, and in her womb lay the embryo life of Canada" (241). Here we spot Cather's emphasis on the loneliness of the setting, its links to Europe through ships alone, the sense of destiny in the place and its enterprise, the reference to The Aeneid and its images of explorer-settlers who carry their gods with them into a new country. Champlain is shortly after quoted as saying "that the saving of a soul was worth more than the conquest of an empire-countless savage tribes, in the bondage of Satan, might by the same avenues be reached and redeemed" (242). Here we spot one origin of those negative phrases about Indians in Shadows, that are so troublesome to Jacobs.

After two more paragraphs comes a description of La Pointe de Tous les Diables (242) and the symbolic names in the landscape that Cather will later use as polarities in her novel: Cap Diamont and Cap Tourmente. Cape Diamond is "held up" by Parkman almost immediately, in fact (245), as is the remarkable geography of Quebec-particularly its Lower Town with market place, soon to be balanced by the Upper Town of churches and chateaux. In fact, in these first Parkman pages on which I am sure Cather's eye fell, we spot one of the strongest links between the two writers: the association of Quebec with the Middle Ages. Parkman writes, "On the strand between the water and the cliffs Champlain's axemen fell to their work. They were pioneers of an advancing host, -advancing, it is true, with feeble and uncertain progress: priests, soldiers, peasants, feudal scutcheons, royal insignia. Not the Middle Ages, but engendered of it by the stronger life of modern centralization; sharply stamped with a parental likeness; heir to parental weakness and parental force" (245).

The familiar strains continue throughout this chapter, only to fall silent when the following chapter ("Lake Champlain") promises to describe a war party, an Indian battle, and a panic of victors. Cather enjoys neither war parties nor panic, I surmise, since she seems to have skipped over the whole chapter.

My Cather doesn't reappear as ghostly reader again until chapter 17, "The Death of Champlain." At this point, once again, her presence is on every page, assimilating such passages as, "That wilderness of woods and savages had been ruinous to nearly all connected with it" (325); or, "The character of Champlain belonged rather to the Middle Age than to the seventeenth century. . . . In his mind, patriotism and religion were inseparably linked" (326). This last chapter concludes Parkman's first book and allows a big skip to the middle of the second, where we suddenly spot Brebeuf in the table of contents (chapter 6, 9), Chabanel (p. 473), and Miracles, as well as the Ursulines and their dominant personalities (chapter 14). Letters of Marie de l'Incarnation, written from Quebec to her son, are so amply quoted in text and footnotes that Cather would not have needed another source to know them well. They include such details as the miraculous properties of Father Brebeuf's skull, which was preserved as a relic (672-73).

(Go back.)
 8. Brienzo has recently discussed the Frontenacs, Lavals, and Charrons of Parkman and Cather. (Go back.)
 9. One notices that all of these lines and phrases containing references to La Salle's feet occur in the first paragraph of a chapter entitled "La Salle and Frontenac." The page is one Cather would certainly read if she picked the book up at all. (Go back.)


Brienzo, Gary. "Willa Cather's Transplanted Frontiers." 24th Western American Literature Conference. Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Cather, Willa. Willa Cather on Writing: Critical Studies on Writing as an Art. Foreword Stephen Tennant. Lincoln: U Nebraska P, 1949.
——.Shadows on the Rock. New York: Knopf, 1931.
Jacobs, Wilbur R. "Willa Cather and Francis Parkman: Novelistic Portrayals of Colonial New France." Willa Cather: Family, Community, and History (the BYU Symposium). Ed. John J. Murphy. Provo: BYU Humanities Publications Center, 1990.
Lewis, Edith. Willa Cather Living: A Personal Record. New York: Knopf, 1953.
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——."Shadows on the Rock: Cather's Miracle Play." WCPM Newsletter 34 (1990):21-24.