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Adèle: A Wilderness Bride. A Story of New France

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.

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Adèle: A Wilderness Bride – A Story of New France

Adele: Wilderness Bride – a novel of New France

In the 1660s, when illegitimate orphan Adele Dupuy leaves for New France aboard a ship of similarly-disadvantaged young women, she is known as une fille a marier, meaning a marriageable girl intended to increase the colony’s population. Two years later, when she seeks refuge in Quebec City after having escaped her brutish husband, she discovers the term for those of her kind, who now arrive regularly from overseas, has been changed to filles du roi (daughters of the king). Even then, politicians knew the value of a catchy slogan for a campaign.

Author Illing has done a profound job of research into this rarely-written historical episode, and Adele: Wilderness Bride can serve as a valuable resource for anyone interested in this period. But as fiction? Although the characters are realistic enough, they are not presented in scenes. I sorely missed having a sense of place for each conversation, nor am I a fan of removing commas from long compound sentences and of dispensing with indentations in dialogue. For the most part, though, Adele was a compelling read but at arm’s length only.

Adele: Wilderness Bride – a novel of New France

Adéle: Wilderness Bride, a Story of New France by Thora Kerr Illing

Review by KS Schmitt
Marie Lacoste Gerin Lajoie

Adele is a young French woman, the illegitimate child of a nobleman who has seen to her care since she was born and has a plan to marry her to a merchant class man in Quebec. His plan was to allow her to choose the young man; it would not be an arranged contract. Unfortunately, the nobleman dies before he can put the plan into action, and his wife, jealous of Adele’s mother, arranges a marriage with a farmer in a remote area where there are few neighbours. The husband turns out to be less than what Adele might have hoped, and the situation also, but she tries to do her best under the circumstances. Eventually, she finds her circumstances intolerable and has to make some frightening choices, but she is a young woman confident in her own abilities and moves ahead.

This is the story of a young woman’s journey in the latter 1600s, but also the story of a young nation and the attempts of the French government to populate the colony through a program of sending brides – young women from orphanages and other situations in France who could have the chance to play an important role in the building of New France. Illing tells Adele’s story with interesting detail true to the historical era and with the emotional connection to the characters that allows the reader to share the characters’ fortunes and misfortunes. Reading Adele is a wonderful way to learn about what life in early Quebec was like, and to gain a strong sense of this aspect of Canada’s history.

Thora Illing writes with clarity and style. Her characters are believable and well-drawn.

I highly recommend that you read this book for the enjoyment of the story, to understand the difficulties of women of the time period and to grow in understanding about Canada’s beginnings.