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220 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 >doubtless seduced [Lydia Bennet] by raising one eyebrow or lifting a finger.= In this context, the cover illustration, far from evoking an Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennet, suggests nothing so much as Lydia Bennet eagerly awaiting Wickham=s arrival. (CHARLES H. HINNANT) George Nelson. My First Years in the Fur Trade: The Journals of 1802B1804. Edited by Laura Peers and Theresa M. Schenck McGill-Queen=s University Press. viii, 236. $44.95 The writings of George Nelson deserve to be more widely known. Hired in 1802 at age fifteen by Alexander Mackenzie=s XY Company and let go by the Hudson=s Bay Company in 1823, Nelson spent the bulk of his career with the North West Company in the region of Lake Winnipeg. Nelson was somewhat of a marginal figure in all three firms, but while he lacked the savvy (or ambition) to grasp his way up the fur trade ladder, as an observer and chronicler of this world, and particularly of its Native peoples, he is almost without equal. An edition of his writings on Ojibwa cosmology appeared in 1988, and the present edition provides us with Nelson=s story of his beginnings in the trade; there remain several unpublished works, and it is to be hoped that more volumes will follow. Laura Peers and Theresa Schenck present three texts in this edition, all drawn from manuscripts housed at the Baldwin Room of the Toronto Reference Library. The works are retrospective: Nelson=s journal for 1802B3 was written at an unknown date, his journal for 1803B4 was composed in 1811, and a broader autobiographical narrative dates from 1836. The first two works are presented as primary texts, while passages from the third are employed in a supplementary fashion. The narrative begins with Nelson=s engagement by the upstart XY Company in February 1802 and describes his activities over the succeeding two years at trading posts among the Ojibwa of the Folle Avoine district of the upper Mississippi (present-day Wisconsin). The historical context is one of cutthroat rivalry between the XYC and the more established NWC, and of almost constant warfare between the Ojibwa and Dakota. Keeping in mind that these are the recollections of an older man, Nelson comes across as a highly sensitive and self-reflective person. At one level this narrative is a coming-of-age story, as the naïve and impressionable young man is thrust suddenly into a world of violence and licence. Nelson is by turns sympathetic and harsh towards his younger self; he sees his distressing situation reflected in the lines of Psalms 119 and 120, yet when a rival trader attempts to stab him with a fish spear he concedes, >I deserved all this for my weakness.= Coerced into a trading-alliance marriage with the daughter of an Ojibwa chief, Nelson seems to have felt remorse for the shabby treatment this woman received, and parts of the narrative have the feel of an examination of conscience. humanities 221 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 Nelson claims that he writes >not to charm but to inform,= but in the end he does both. His journals are culturally literate, readable, and engaging, and many passages benefit from being read aloud. Nelson=s descriptions of some fur traders= attempt to replicate a Native >conjuring= ceremony, the castration of an abusive Ojibwa man by the women of his community, and the compelling tale of the haunting of Nelson=s post on the Chippewa River are tales deserving of speedy anthologization. Nelson is an acute observer of society, fascinated by the ways of the Native peoples among whom he lives, and finely attuned to the politics of the fur trade, with its patron-client relationships, family ties, jealousies, hatreds, and rampant gossip. Peers and Schenck are to be commended for their fine and careful editorial work, which is a model of how these kinds of documents ought to be presented. The editors provide a full bibliographic description of the manuscripts and an account of editorial decisions made, and the edition is supported by excellent...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 220-221
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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