Shadows on the Rock Lacks Substance

Shadows on the Rock is Willa Cather’s light, historical novel about the French in Quebec around 1700.

Apothecary Euclide Auclair came to Quebec as physician to the Count de Frontenac. When his wife died, Euclide was left to raise their daughter, Cecile, by himself.

His skill at compounding drugs makes Euclide welcome in homes of the elite as well as the poor.

At 12, Ceclie keeps house for her father, does all her mother’s charitable works, studies the classics, tends the shop when her father is out on calls, and spends hours playing with her friend, Jacques.

Between them, Euclide and Cecile know everyone and everything that goes on in Quebec.

Although there is always the potential for serious trouble from the British or the Indians, daily life revolves around petty annoyances that take on monumental proportions in the closed community. People take sides in the feud between the count and the old bishop and in the feud between the old bishop and the new one.

I kept anticipating a crisis that never came.

Euclie and Cecile are pleasant, but not memorable, characters. Their only heroism is in facing the daily monotony of their lives without complaint — a heroism that makes for better lives than for entertaining reading.

Shadows on the Rock
by Willa Cather
Alfred A. Knopf, 1931
280 pages
1931 bestseller #2
My grade: C
©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I'm passionate about helping people learn through the medium of nonfiction writing. Although I occasionally have an idea of my own, I mostly build education tools by recycling and repurposing other folks' ideas.

2 thoughts on “Shadows on the Rock Lacks Substance”

  1. I agree. I love WIlla Cather’s work. But this is one that I have never gone back too. I think she writes best when she feels the connections. I am currently reading Song of the Lark (for the umpteenth time) and am rediscovering the simple beauty of her fiction. If you haven’t read anything else of hers, I recommend it, not as a page turner, but as a beautifully written story.


  2. Until this novel turned up the 1931 bestseller list, I hadn’t read any Willa Cather since high school. I should read some more of her work now: my tastes have changed considerably since then.


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