Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
Publisher: Vintage Books
Number of pages: 229
This delightful story traces a year in the
life of Cecile Auclair, a devout girl of twelve, who lives
with her father, the apothecary and physician for the governor
of New France. The setting is 17th century Quebec,
a French settlement built atop a bare grey rock overlooking
the St. Lawrence River. For many of its inhabitants it is a
place of exile, cut off from the rest of the world during the
long winter months, but for Cecile the rock is home.
The story begins with a note of sadness as
the last ship sails for France and the long winter begins.
Cecile’s days are busy ones and she takes pleasure in
preparing tasty meals for her father and keeping the rooms
behind the shop clean and beautiful, maintaining the customs
and manners of life as it was in France. The winter months are
spent looking after Jacques, the neglected child of an immoral
woman in the village, visiting the Reverend Mother Juschereau
at the Hotel Dieu and the Count de Frontenac in the governor’s
palace. She learns that the stern old Bishop Laval is really
very kind and she and Jacques are invited to visit him in his
Central to the plot is the long standing
feud between the two bishops, old Bishop Laval, stern,
austere, concerned with the spiritual welfare of his flock and
his successor, Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier, selfish, worldly
and desirous of obtaining the comforts and luxuries of life.
Pierre Charron, the French Canadian born trapper who provides
strength and support to Cecile and her father in times of need
also plays an important role.
As the year ends Cecile’s father is happily
preparing to return to France with the Count who has been
expecting his recall from some time. Cecile is saddened at the
thought of leaving the home she loves and is concerned about
leaving Jacques with no one to look after him. However the
summons to France does not come and the death of the Count
casts Euclide Auclair into hopelessness and deep despair. The
unexpected and timely return of Pierre Charron, their strong
and devoted friend, brings joy and restores hope for the
The epilogue reveals a humble and chastened
Bishop Saint-Vallier who returns to Quebec after an absence of
many years with plans to live in a small apartment at the
Hopital General serving as chaplain for the remainder of his
life. He finds Euclide Auclair preparing to visit his
grandsons, and the children of Cecile and Pierre Charron.
- The story portrays homemaking as a pleasant and
- It encourages virtuous acts of unselfishness and charity
in young girls.
- It provides many examples of great devotion and
sacrifices for the faith as exemplified in the lives of
Bishop Laval and the recluse, Jeanne Le Ber.
- The book contains many passages beautifully written in
French, which contribute to the enjoyment and charm of the
story and may create a desire in the young reader to study
The circumstances in which the two women,
‘Toinette Gaux, La Grenouille, mother of Jacques, and
L’Escargot conduct their business should be handled discreetly
by the teacher.
This is a wonderful story to study with
young girls giving them an example of a truly Catholic
girlhood where simple pleasures provide happiness and the
importance of family is emphasized.
The book provides an excellent source for
preparing a written composition introducing comparison and
contrast as suggested by the lives of the two bishops or the
apothecary and the French trapper, Pierre Charron.