Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My favorite Christmas Present in 2013: A Book on Hélène Desportes!

My #1 item on my Christmas Wish List this year was a book on Hélène Desportes, by Susan McNelley:  Hélène's World.

The book doesn't chronicle Hélène's life (since there are very few source of stories about her life), but basically tells the story of the founding of Québec and the overall lives of the original settlers using Hélène as a point of reference wherever possible.   In doing so, one gets an incredibly detailed picture of both life in the early 17th century, and life in a remote frontier land far from home.

Reading this book completely changed my mental image of early Québec.   I knew that the colony was very slow to grow at first, but I now better understand why this was the case; the political and economic influences from Europe, the complete remoteness of the colony and the difficulty of getting supplies from France, piracy, troubles with England, and so on.

One particular aspect of the colony that had a great impact on Hélène and the other families in Québec was its smallness - roughly sixty people lived within the one compound for several years before there was any expansion.   This contrasts greatly with the New England colonies, which spread all over eastern Massachusetts (and beyond) over the same period of time (albeit starting over ten years later).   Ms. McNelley's book does a remarkable job of accomplishing so much.

The book is also heavily sourced and footnoted.   For anyone with an interest in Québec history, or who wants to get a clear perspective of that time period outside of the Pilgrims, etc., this is definitely a resource worth having!

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