TOWN HOUSE, COUNTRY HOUSE: RECOLLECTIONS OF A
Hazel Boswell. Edited by R. H. Hubbard. Illustrated by
Volume 19 Number 1
These recollections belong to Julie, the eldest of seven children of Sir Henri&345;Gustave Joly de Lotbinière, who later became the premier of Québec, as recalled and recorded by her daughter. The chronicle takes the reader through a typical year in the life of the Joly children growing up in Québec City in the 1870s. Episodes describing school days, Christmas in the Citadel, maple syrup time near Montmorency, a spring visit to the log-drive, trips up the St. Lawrence to their summer home, a visit to their father's sawmill, and a raft trip home down the stormy river form the individual chapters, which can be read independently.
The chronicle is not without interesting episodes. My favourite one tells of Julie being forced to wear her expensive lace petticoat as bathwear because good Christian girls cannot go uncovered in the tub! It also has a few memorable character sketches of people who are purely incidental to the family - for example, the tramp Barney O'Shea who attempted to nap naked in a wheelbarrel in a park!
However, the book as a whole falls short of its potential. The author was good at, and a bit too fond of, describing the changing scenery throughout the seasons and details of sumptuous meals. In describing events, she was less skillful. She had an irritating habit of not telling the reader something she had built up an expectation for. For example, in her lengthy account of the excitement of Christmas shopping and gift opening, what gifts the children unwrapped or what they bought for their mother - the main purpose of their trip - was never disclosed.
Of the main characters, Mary Anne, the children's nurse, stands out, followed by Sir Henri-Gustave and Henri, the youngest child. The others are not memorable or even distinguishable. The problem also lies partly with the perfection of the family. It was so closely knit, so financially secure and so well run that there was a total absence of conflict and challenge. There is little, except from a historical perspective, to sustain the reader's interest.
As a piece of historical documentation, this book offers authentic insight into the life of the privileged in nineteenth-century Québec. I find the preface and the introduction, which trace the origin of the Joly family, most interesting. School libraries will want this as curriculum support material. Its appeal as a piece of recreational reading is limited.
Frieda Ling, Toronto Public Library, Toronto ON.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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