Thursday, August 09, 2007

Shadows on the Rock

by Willa Cather

I can't tell you what a treat it has been for me to read this book. Having spent 6 years of my life in Lincoln, Nebraska I knew about Willa Cather. Or so I thought. Cather also lived in Nebraska. She attended the University of Nebraska and wrote books that took place in Nebraska and New Mexico. We were taught about her in English classes.

So imagine my shock when I asked for suggestions of books with settings in Canada and Qinsina suggested a book by Willa Cather. I called my mother who graduated from the University of Nebraska (while raising 7 children) as an English major. She was as surprised as I was that Cather had written a book set in Quebec City. Qinsina included a great website that featured a Quebec tour of the places talked about in the book. The tour was prepared by John J. Murphy of Brigham Young University. I added the tour to my Microsoft Streets and Trips map. I bookmooched a copy of the book and packed it for the trip.

I don't remember just where we were on our trip when I decided I just couldn't carry that heavy Devil in the White City around in my carry-all and put in instead, Shadows on the Rock. I only read 5-6 pages a day - very slow going. There were times when we just sat in a park or by a lake or the ocean, and even though I held my book in front of me I didn't read because I was just soaking in the environment. So I didn't finish the book before we reached Quebec City.

Shadows on the Rock is about an apothecary and his daughter, Cecile, who came to Quebec in the late 1600's with their patron, Count Frontenac. Cecile describes looking up from the front door of the apothecary to the Frontenac chateau. Below are a couple pictures we took looking up at the Frontenac Hotel from Old Town Quebec. Standing there and walking around the area gave me a real feel for Cather's descriptions.

Obviously, there are more people milling around than in the time of the book. Many of the buildings have been rebuilt on the original foundations, but a few of the buildings date back to the late 1600's. This next picture shows the little church that Cecile and her friend visited that was dedicated to the infant Jesus.

We have pictures of the basilica that Bishop Laval enlarged and also his seminary, but the quality is not so great. The basilica has had to be rebuilt after a couple of fires, but it is the first basilica in North America and Bishop Laval was the first bishop. In the book he is depicted as a kind, humble man.

One more note: Shadows on the Rock was in my big cloth carry-all the night we attended the International Fireworks Competition held at Montmorency Falls near Quebec City. We arrived a couple hours early. I thought I would read some. It poured until a few minutes after the fireworks started and my bag and everything in it was soaked, including my book. I had to use the hair dryer to try and dry it when we got back to the hotel. It still has the water stains along the bottom. Good memories!


Anonymous said...

Sounds like such a wonderful trip, particularly getting to experience the settings in the book in such an intimate manner!

Kailana said...

Well, I live in Canada and I didn't know that she wrote a book on it. I am going to have to add it to the list, I really enjoy books set in Canada. And you are so lucky to have seen Old Quebec City! It's one of the places that I most want to go because I have heard great things, but while I have drove through Quebec before, I have never stayed in the province.

jenclair said...

I love the image of you sitting in the park or by a lake (or one of the many lovely locations you visited) and pulling out your book for a few minutes of reading.

There is also such a special touch in seeing some of the locations in which the characters lived and interacted. Great photos...

maggie moran said...

Great mix of fiction and your real-life non-fiction. Thanks for the pics and sharing...

Gentle Reader said...

I didn't know Cather wrote anything about Quebec City, either. Sounds really interesting. And love your photos! I've never been there but now I'd like to go :)

Anonymous said...

Bummer about the rain but seeing places described in a book that's a previous home state author far from that home just sounds fabulous.

Anonymous said...

I live in Nebraska, but I have not read much by Willa Cather. She was sort of pushed down our throats when I was in H.S., and I think I sort of rebelled, but I would like to read more of her work now. I didn't realize that she wrote a book set in Quebec City either.

Framed said...

This looks like a book I should read. I'm planning on reading 'My Antonio" soon, then I'll have to check into this one.

tanabata said...

Thanks for sharing those pics. I've long wanted to visit Quebec City. Too bad about the rain but sounds like you had a good time anyway.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I might have to pick that one up. Quebec City is one of the spots in North America that I want to visit someday. A bit of the Old World in the New!

Les said...

I had no knowledge of this book either! I do know that she wrote one set in Canada, though. It's Alexander's Bridge (her debut novel). I read it when I was on my Cather kick, but don't remember too much about it. I don't think it was nearly as good as her later works. Here's a blurb from Amazon:

Engineer Bartley Alexander appears to have a happy life in Boston with a successful career and a beautiful wife. He has been commissioned to design the Moorlock Bridge in Canada, the most important project of his career. With the onset of middle age, however, he grows increasingly restless and discontented, so much so that while in London he recklessly reignites a love affair with the sweetheart of his youth, the Irish actress Hilda Borgoyne. Although the tryst allows Alexander to recapture an element that has been missing from his pedestrian life, the relationship torments his sense of morality and eventually proves disastrous. Alexander’s Bridge explores the demands of Gilded Age society on the individual, as well as the capacity of the individual to violate his own standards of integrity.

This Willa Cather Scholarly Edition provides an illuminating new framework for Cather’s debut novel. The novel is edited according to standards set by the Committee for Scholarly Editions of the Modern Language Association and presents the full range of biographical, historical, and textual information now available, complete with illustrations and maps.

By the way, Welcome Home!! I loved your travel blog. Great pics!

Melissa said...

I did not know that. I grew up in Western Kansas and have yet to read any of her work...shame on me.

Booklogged said...

Heather, It was great. To travel with book in hand, images in my mind and then see the almost real setting was amazing.

Kailana, I really hope you can make it there. It's absolutely wonderful.

Jenclair, I hope in your image of me I'm slender and beautiful like you. You can give me short grey hair if you want. There really is a slender person inside me, so it's not too far of a stretch to make. Okay, who am I kidding!

Maggie, everytime I see your name I remember the two mysteries from the south I need to get read by the end of Aug. I'm planning on success.

Gentle Reader, Aren't pictures wonderful? I love looking back through them even this early after the trip.

Booklogged said...

Carrie, it was too bad about the rain and the fireworks, but it did make for a memorable experience. And it's not even an unpleasant one.

Danielle, I rebelled, too. The first Cather I read was last summer for my book club.

Framed, I've only read The Professor's House. Didn't care for it, but someone with the Humanities Council came to our book club and made it a very interesting experience.

Tanabata, In all your travels I bet you will get there. And I'll bet you'll love it.

Lesley, I liked this one better than The Professor's House.

Les, thanks. I loved your travel blog, too. It's kind of hard to be home, back to the grindstone and roasting.

Me, your blogging name brings to mind Mary Englebriet.
She's an artist who signs her work ME.