The History of Emily Montague

The History of Emily Montague

400 pages, 6 x 9 Hardcover Release Date:12 Oct 2022 ISBN:9781988963402

Frances Brooke

Introduction by Sylvia Hunt

The History of Emily Montague opens 3 years after the end of Seven Years War, with letters spanning the eighteen months between April 1766 and November 1767. The majority of the letters are written by Colonel Edward Rivers, a relatively impoverished British officer now looking to settle in the newly acquired colony, and Arabella Fermor, Emily’s witty friend who is in Quebec with her father, Colonel William Fermor. The reader is presented with a rather typical romantic story filled with the usual difficulties – lack of money, incompatible marital prospects, misunderstandings, and then a happy resolution to all problems. However, it is a unique novel in that it pulls from almost all of the aesthetic and intellectual trends of its time. 

Brooke’s life straddled the Augustan Age and the Age of Sensibility and, as a result, her writing is a combination of both aesthetics. It is an epistolary novel; a novel of sensibility in which readers are provided with an exploration of sentiment and the dangers of too much or too little true emotional response; a pre-Romantic novel (engaging with the sublime and picturesque); and an early feminist novel. Brooke represents a bridge between the novel as it was and the novel as it would be in the hands of people like Jane Austen. Between Aphra Behn and Mary Wollstonecraft, there are not many female authors who present protofeminist ideas in their novels. The History of Emily Montague can be seen as a bridge between the two eras of feminist thought. Even though Brooke appears to produce a conventional novel involving courtship and its complexities, she is also questioning social conventions and arranged marriages.

The History of Emily Montague is considered the first Canadian novel. Written by a British colonist, Frances Brooke, in an epistolary form, the novel is remarkable for its observations of the lives and traditions of Quebecers and Natives, as well as the manners of the upper-British classes. This is a scholarly edition that brings to light new information about the times and the context of the novel.

In The History of Emily Montague, we also find the author experimenting with the new aesthetic of the picturesque. The Canadian landscape is both Edenic and gothic. In fact, being cut off from the outside world advances the romance story – with the St. Lawrence frozen, letters are difficult to send; with snowstorms and deep drifts, they are kept in close quarters, engaging only with each other. The Canadian landscape is almost a character itself, affecting the characters emotionally and physically. Factual details provide the reader with a realistic account of day-to-day life in the colony. Sentimental novels were often criticized for their emotional excess. This foundation in the real separates Brooke’s novel from other contemporary fiction. Brooke’s novel presents the reader with important discourse on nationhood and identity. What The History of Emily Montague does is combine the literary and aesthetic conventions current in England onto the unfamiliar landscape of Canada. Canada offers rich possibilities as both a colony and as a creative inspiration.

Frances Brooke was born in England in 1724. She moved to Quebec with her husband, where she chronicled her life as a first-generation English colonist.

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