Review by AngloStore manageress, Susan Stewart.
This book appeared on our door step in June, sent to us from the author’s home in Victoria, British Columbia. A few years ago, Ms Illing was intrigued to learn that two-thirds of the approximately seven million Canadians who today speak French as their mother tongue can claim they are descendants of the 3,300 French immigrants who settled the town of Quebec and the St. Lawrence River valley before 1680. This self-published novel grew from her research into the period.
In 1663, King Louis XIV of France began to sponsor the passage of young women to the colony in northern America – New France. Most were orphans and they were to balance the population that was predominantly male and to increase the size of the colony by marrying and having families. These became known as “les filles du roi”. The programme lasted almost 10 years and more than 800 women became the wives of soldiers and colonists. By 1673 the population had doubled from 3215 to 6700.
The following summary is from the author’s book descriptions.
Adèle was among the young women sent from France with les filles du roi . She was literate, unlike most of the women, and should have married an officer or a merchant. Fate trapped her in a brutal marriage on a wilderness farm with an abusive husband. She was helped to escape to Quebec City by a coureur-de-bois and there rebuilt her life, claiming to be a widow.
The daily life of the early colonists is hard to imagine by those of us living in 21st century Canada.
Those young women, most still in their teens, must have worked from dawn to dusk grinding corn, cooking, washing clothes, tending animals and labouring in the fields alongside their husbands, and of course bearing and caring for their numerous children.
I found that Ms Illing’s career as a journalist and librarian, enabled her to research and create a plausible and accurate background for this story. I was able to imagine myself in that period of time. Like her heroine, Ms. Illing is also an immigrant, having come to Canada as a young woman. This insight helped to her to develop Adèle’s character. I think that her training is also a hindrance to a smooth narrative; at times the story felt as if it was there to “dress up” the historical facts being presented. Aside from Adèle, many of the other characters were not really fleshed out; I kept hoping to learn more about the other people in this story and was disappointed. The promised romance came almost at the end of the story, and felt a little awkward.
This book would interest someone wanting to learn more about the beginnings of the European colonisation of this continent without having to consult a formal history of the time period.