CanLit Challenge Book #19: Wacousta by John Richardson
Filed under: CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 9:49 pm on Monday, February 19, 2007

Book 19, Wacousta (1839) – John Richardson
From the back cover:
“Set in the 1760s at the time of Pontiac’s Indian alliance against the British, Wacousta combines elements of revenge tragedy and gothic romance in reconstructing a violent episode in Canadian frontier history. In Major John Richardson’s vivid depiction, Pontiac’s campaign against Fort Detroit is masterminded by the mysterious Wacousta, a Byronic anti-hero whose thirst for vengeance against the fortress commander borders on madness. Turning upon binary oppositions – garrison against wilderness, restraint against passion, mercy against justice – this suspenseful novel creates a world of deception and terror in which motive is ambiguous and the boundary between order and anarchy unclear.

First published in 1832, Wacousta anticipated many of the themes that would assume central importance in the Canadian narrative imagination.”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia article on Chief Pontiac
the Wikipedia article on Pontiac’s Rebellion

My thoughts:
This was a really great Gothic adventure story. There was plenty of graphic violence, melodramatic romanticism, and quite a bit of sadomasochism just under the surface. On top of that it was a fun adventure story set in a time when Detroit and Michillimackinac were the far outposts in a string of French turned British fortifications along what later became the border between the U.S. and Canada of which Quebec City was the most established and powerful. Neither the Europeans or the Odawa come off as being either wholly good & civilised or wholly evil & savage. Both groups contain elements of moral duality and so John Richardson, writing even at this very early time in our history, provides us modern readers with a very sophisticated story (but one has to look for it beneath all the ‘reeking scalps’ and swooning women). There were times when I had to laugh because the writing was so melodramatic, and I felt a kind of glee when reading the almost homo-erotic description of Charles & his relationship with Valletort. Richardson is also a master at suspense. Once you get past the interesting introduction to the geography and history of the setting he draws you in and as soon as your suspense is turned up he changes gears and starts off on a digression or switches to another plotline in almost comic book fashion.

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