Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers

This is a fantastic first novel - a fictionalized account of the young orphan girls plucked from Paris's poorhouses in the 1600s and sent to be brides of soldiers and fur traders in New France.  Though fiction, it is clearly very well researched as it began as a Master's thesis about these filles du roi.

The book was recommended to me as a companion piece to Joseph Boyden's Orenda, and it really was interesting to read about this similar period in Canadian history from a different perspective.  The story is told from the perspective of Laure.  At six years old she was plucked from the arm's of her father, a street entertainer, and put into a poorhouse for orphan children while her parents were banished to the French countryside, never to be seen again.  She lived three pleasant years as a servant girl to an old woman who took a liking to her and taught her to embroider and read.  But when the woman died she was returned to the poorhouse, though because she was relatively educated she was placed with a group of girls who made lace for sale so were treated mildly better than other women.

At 17 Laure sends a note to the King complaining of the meagre rations in the poorhouse.  The letter is intercepted by the Superior of the poorhouse and as punishment Laure is banished to New France to become a bride for any poor settler who will have her.

We read about Laure's harrowing two month crossing on a sailing ship.  But on the ship we also see her strength of character and fiery spirit come to life when she is finally given a bit more freedom.  Once in New France she is sent beyond Quebec City to a small settlement where she is married off to a man who abandons her for most of the year to pursue his illegal trapping activities.  Laure's only real friend is a "savage", Deskaheh, who helps her survive her first winter.  However, relationships between French women and savage men are unheard of so she must keep the it secret.

Further tragedies strike Laure but in the end we are left with the feeling she is a survivor and will definitely go on the fulfil her duty to the French King in one way or another by helping to build his new colony.

No comments:

Post a Comment