ENG353Y1 Lecture Notes - Frances Brooke, Seeking Refuge, Canadian Literature
English 353: Canadian Fiction
General Introduction to the Course:
Office hours: Monday to Wednesday from 1 P.M. – 3 P.M. (or by appointment).
An idea and its expression are inextricably bound.
o Improving your writing then is improving your communication (e.g., knowing and
choosing the right words, proper semi-colon use, clearly communicating your thesis, not
using confusing and deadweight words that mean nothing but sound witty. For example
a recent politician said in an interview, “batting your weight,” in regard to the current
status of Canada’s economy. When considering what the meaning of his words there is a
colloquial pretence to it, however the meaning expressed by the phrase is ambiguous
and begs the question: Does this mean something good or bad about the given subject?
Note: The professor reads the Globe and Mail, and apparently has taking a liking to the author
When reading through the course material you will want to think about these questions:
o Where is there evidence colonial themes in the text if any such examples exist?
o What is the state of Canada’s identity in the text, given that we are considering this text
a piece of distinctly Canadian fiction?
o What is the significance of the literary form of the text?
Canadian nationalism has tried to bring Canadian fiction and literature into the limelight rather
than distinctly British literature that is linked to Canada because of its status as a former British
colony. One may consider whether or not British literature or its elements, are in fact an
essential part of our identity as a former colony, or whether the Canadian identity is far-
removed from British influence.
Furthermore, we may consider whether or not Canadian Fiction is a region-based literature.
o E.g., Perhaps Canadian literature is necessitates a setting that is distinctly Canadian such
as Nova Scotia or P.E.I. where the cultural mosaic is less prominent given their more
distinctly Canadian traditions and circumstances. Perhaps the native of Canada is a
better suited character to uphold the title of “truly Canadian,” and that those in P.E.I.
and Nova Scotia are merely misguided Europeans.
In considering the regional-basis of Canadian Fiction, should Canadians view foreign writers who
have emigrated to Canada as indeed Canadian writers that represent the country?
More broadly we are concerned with the question: What truly is Canadian Fiction? What are the
essential qualities – of its authors, themes, settings, forms, movements, and so forth, that make
The History of Emily Montague
The book is set in the aftermath of the fall of the French in newly established Canada.
Writing about animals in the text connects to topics such as: animal consciousness, Darwinism,
and human-animal relations.
Canadian literature is filled with animals (e.g., the survival theme that is essential to the genre as
per Atwood’s prescription).
Recalling that the book begins in the wake of Seven Year War between England and France it is
understood that the war influenced her writing a great deal. The French in this war were
defeated by the British army at Quebec -- which Brooke uses as her setting. Moreover, Brooke’s
central male character Ed Rivers falls in love with the most irresistible French woman in the
world whose name becomes the title of the book.
o Note: It is interesting that she uses the name Montague of all names for her central
female character because of its relation to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Being from
England herself she must have read or seen the play, and therefore we can assume that
she meant to take the role of Romeo, who is of the House of Montague, and invert the
gender such that the female character in her play has a masculine quality. A masculine
quality which although is not understood in her imagery, is rather noticed in her
thoughts and actions that embody Brooke’s progressive views on gender equality.
Regarding her personal life, Frances Brooke joined her husband in Canada after the war had
ended and the treaty of Paris was signed which hailed the end of the war.
Frances Brooke, using her characters as a mouth-piece, expresses her progressive political views
on gender quality which were also present in other pieces written by her. She wrote, under the
name Mary Singleton, articles in the Old Maid wherein she voiced her views.
o These views come out in The History of Emily Montague as nonchalant remarks by
characters which seemingly had a comic quality masking their radically different
implications within the circumstances they were presented.
Such an example is the view that women should run elections because they are
the best judges of male character. Taken as a prescription for social attitude it is
radically different from the times in which it was written, however, it is masked
by the comical circumstance in which it is uttered, that is – between two men on
the topic of the difference between conduct by Englishmen and savages in the
institution of marriage, arguing that the savage is more refined than the
Englishmen creating an ironic juxtaposition that overshadows the implied
The book is structured around pairings that reflect particular Greek forms being the pair of
lovers that are same-sex and opposite-sex – both bound by the intimacy of their friendships.
The form of the writing taken by Frances Brooke emerges from the French “sensibility novel,”
that is at the same time a travel log.
o It also has a didactic purpose whereby it means to instruct young women and men how
to conduct themselves in friendships that grow into the institution of marriage leading
to true happiness; knowledge that Ed Rivers seems to be the sole proprietor.
Landscape plays an important role in the way that it is the external world that is mediated by
human subjectivity which distinguishes person’s by class, refinement, and most importantly
sensibility. It is by these differences in characterization that we can understand two juxtaposed
characters more completely by their antithetical characterizations, or their similarities.
o Landscape also creates a symbolic topographia (enargia) wherein elements of the
topographia symbolize social hierarchy hence representing such individuals as the
sublime when referring to wild or astonishing and less refined aspects of nature (e.g.,
the bottom of the falls, less noble and majestic – likened to the peasants).
o Also, recall how Rivers complains to Temple that the man who is to marry the girl of his
dreams, Emily Montague, looks on a picturesque landscape and gives no reaction, no
thought. Other times he looks on beautiful women only to retire to his chambers for
lack of sustained interest in the beautiful.
Note: The sublime, beautiful, and picturesque were important to landscape painters of the time,
so when Brooke writes, “paint to yourself a stupendous rock, burst as it were in sunder by the
hands of nature,” she is alluding to the tradition of painting the picturesque landscape as
o Furthermore, on the subject of the sublime recall that Fermor says of Canada, “the day
is plain, but the night, the night is truly Canada’s redeeming quality *paraphrased+.” She
thereby invokes the language of the sublime and the idea of the night as boundless and
better suited to the description of the sublime than the day; an idea Frances Brooke
borrows from Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the
Sublime and Beautiful, which was published in 1757 predating the publication of The
History of Emily Montague later in 1769.
o The sublime is emphasized throughout the text and also in the “vastness” of Canada
which relates to stance Atwood take’s on Canada’s nature as dangerous, and how a
main feature of the wilderness and what makes a novel Canadian is the theme of
survival which comes from the “vastness” and inescapability of Canada’s nature.
However , her negative portrayal may not be entirely accurate, but it does appreciate a
Romantic view of nature as astonishing and fearful – briefly, its sublime qualities. The
portrayal of Canada’s subjective experience as being particularly sublime appeals to the
sensible person, the poet if we follow Woodsworth. However, in all the support of a
Romantic view of Canada it depends particularly on the philosophy of the writer.
In Ed Rivers’ description of having an estate in Canada where there is a vast property available
and his subjects would be bears and deer he alludes to Genesis invoking man’s governance over
animals. This tells us that Frances Brooke was particularly influenced by her husband’s ministry
and her religious beliefs.
In Ed Rivers’ seeking refuge in the forest to escape his melancholy – after losing, in his mind, the
most ideal woman that ever existed, to a man with whom she will inevitably be unhappy with –
he exhibits the most textbook example of Romanticism. It alludes to the work of Charlotte Smith
who also writes about wanting to get away from the problems of the world and engross oneself
in the sublime, but being unable to forget the problems that nag at the mind of the sensible
person. Often these problems are emotional ones either in the making or presently occurring,
the former being Rivers’ concern because he knows the inevitable unhappiness that awaits her.
Ed Rivers in the modern time period would be a dying breed of sensible gentlemen.