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The Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume IX, Number 2, Fall, 1978 Howells and the City of Quebec Elizabeth Waterston '"Quebec of the heights and spires, grey, quaint, beautiful"; "No scene in Canada, or the United States, can boast of the combination of objects, comparablein variety and magnificence, to those here presented to view"; ''Herewasa small bit of mediaeval Europe, perched upon a rock, and dried for keepmg,in the north-east corner of America." 1 The Citadel, the Plains of Abraham,the prospect of the river (see p. 156), the constrasting Upper and Lower Towns: the physical drama of Quebec city combined with the religious, lmguistic and social strangeness of this French, Catholic, monarchic city have always made it attractive to travellers and travel-book writers from the States aswellas from Britain. William Dean Howells twice produced books containing superb descriptionsof this much-described city. In Their WeddingJourney (1871)he used Quebec as one in a series of backdrops for a sprightly travelogue. In A Chance 4cquaintance (1872) he did more: he exploited the tonal values of the city's historyand scenery, integrating them into the unfolding of a subtle, realistic romance. Publishing travel accounts was a nineteenth-century addiction, and travel bookson Canada furnish a long shelf. Of these, American writers produced somevery interesting specimens: Walt Whitman, Thoreau of course, Henry James,Mark Twain and Howells himself climax a long list of American visitorswhich begins with Dr. Benjamin Silliman in 1818. "Who could approach such a city without emotion?" Silliman wrote; "Who in America 156 Elizabeth Wa ter sion DUIWA.11 TBRBAOK AND THE OITADEL. Howells and Quebec City 157 has notlongedto cast his eyes on the water-girt rocks and towers of Quebec?"2 .\merican observers, however, added one significant variant to the standard British accounts of Quebec: all visitors, of course, traced Wolfe's heroic path ofassault,but Americans included a second pilgrimage-to the chastening scenes of Montgomery's and Arnold's defeats. The difference between accounts by Americans and those by other observers of Quebec illustrates the growth of several motifs characteristic of thematuring national tone in American Letters: a developing wistfulness toward the past, in spite of the progressivist thrust; an uneasy penchant for ritual, in defiance of rationalism; a nostalgia for the peacetime decencies of military discipline and a standing army, despite dreadful memories of war; anda haunting attraction to the pre-industrial picturesque, in preference to cool-headed efficiency and materialism. For example, after viewing the "small bitofmedieval Europe perched upon a rock," Henry Ward Beecher, in the ~ew YorkLedger, 1870, went on to add: "The place should always be kept old." Similarly, an ironist and republican like Thoreau might mock the fortifications, the regimentation, the ceremonials, but even he was impressed bytheair of antiquity. "I rubbed my eyes to be sure I was in the nineteenth century," he remarked; "the names of humble Canadian villages affected me asifthey had been those of the renowned cities of antiquity." Much as he resisted, he "yielded in some degree to the influence of historical association" andto the sense of strangeness; "Well, I thought to myself, here I am in a foreign country," and he "began to dream of Provence and the Troubadours. "3 InTheirWedding Journey and A Chance Acquaintance Howells strikes all these notes of uneasy nostalgia, but he also outdoes other travel books by \\eaving the American motifs into the development of a good plot, which in turnis made richer by his use of the Quebec setting. Furthermore, because theQuebec material had so frequently been put to use by British and American writers, Howells's use of it could be delicately ironic; he could play hisown descriptions against the literary cliches about the scenes he was dehneating.When he introduced Wolfe's Cove or Montmorenci Falls (seep.158),for instance, he could count on the reader's memory of many earlier descriptions of these sites. Similarly, the Ursuline Convent (seep. 160), the Break-NeckStairs (seep. 163)and the view of Levis had many times been "done," by Isaac Weld and Bonnycastle, Vigne and Marryat, Dickens and Warburton, amongst others. Tobe more specific, in American Notes (1842), Dickens had presented a memorable catalogue...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 155-167
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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