Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Facing up to Proulx's New France

I liked The Shipping News, both novel and film, but then I'm not a historian of Newfoundland much. I have been a historian of New France in my time, and the news that one of the anticipated fiction titles of 2016, Annie Proulx's new novel Barkskins, to be published next June, will be set in New France, gives me a certain queasy feeling.  Hey, maybe it will be good and bring interest to early Canadian history. But I can't help thinking that from now on all anyone will know of New France is what they read in Barkskins, taken as canonical because fiction is automatically true, isn't it?
In the late seventeenth century two illiterate woodsmen, Rene Sel and Charles Duquet, make their way from Northern France to New France to seek a living. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they suffer extraordinary hardship, always in awe of the forest they are charged with clearing, sometimes brimming with dreams of its commercial potential. Rene marries an Indian healer, and they have children, mixing the blood of two cultures.  (from the publisher's announcement)
Actually, judging by an excerpt published in the New Yorker a few years ago, a fair amount of the novel will be set in New England, home of her Proulx family.  And I'm not a historian of New England either.  Maybe it will turn out all right.
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