Quebec Culture, History, and Politics
MOOGK, PETER N. La Nouvelle France: The Making of French Canadaâ€”
A Cultural History. East Lansing: Michigan State UP, 2000. Pp. 340.
As an English-speaking Canadian graduate student in Quebec in the 1960s,
Peter Moogk discovered that Quebec's cultural distinctiveness lies far deeper
than the linguistic concerns that usually take the forefront in current debates.
Moogk also realized that school textbooks and current popular histories of
Canada typically dismiss the French RÃ©gime as "a colorful but inconsequential
era ... an entertaining divertissement" (xiii). His purpose in writing La Nouvelle
France was to correct certain misunderstandings, and to furnish a cultural study
to complement existing political and historical works. Moogk's book seems primarily intended to help scholars and teachers of Canadian Studies to round out
their knowledge of Quebec. Nevertheless, those who are already familiar with
the history and culture of Quebec from a QuÃ©bÃ©cois perspective are also likely
to appreciate the extent of Moogk's research. The wealth of anecdotes and statistics derived from early legal documents will provide a welcome enhancement
to most lectures, seminars, and assigned readings.
To begin his study, Moogk alludes to seventeenth-century science-fictionâ€”
Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac's fantastic journey to New Franceâ€”as a pretext for
defining the geographical extent and diversity of France's preliminary colonial
claim, which reached far beyond current political boundaries. A subsequent
chapter, which focuses on Franco-Amerindian relations, includes familiar
accounts of the hardships and sacrifices of early missionaries, along with unflattering contemporary reports of how Amerindians perceived Europeans and
their doctrines. Moogk situates this section in the context of Louis XIV's ideal of
creating a divine-right Utopia in the New World. The royal plan to convert large
numbers of Amerindians to Christianity and assimilate them into New French
society through marriage obviously failed.
In chapters four and five, Moogk analyzes and documents the difficulties
encountered by the French crown in recruiting settlers for New France. He cites
Manon Lescaut's "cruel" punishmentâ€”exile to Louisianaâ€”in AbbÃ© PrÃ©vost's
novel as an illustration of the colony's reputation in France. While there were
enticements for adventurous peasants, such as freedom to hunt wild game and
avoid taxes, Moogk demonstrates that many potential settlers, such as soldiers
and indentured servants, made the journey reluctantly and returned to France
as soon as possible. Les filles du roi are mentioned in this section, as one would
expect, but some readers may be disappointed not to find a more extensive
analysis of their role, and the roles of women in general.
Next, Moogk examines records such as estate inventories, court cases, and
marriage contracts in order to reveal how social hierarchies differed from those
in Europe and how Canadians and Acadians gradually emerged as "definable
and separate peoples" (176). In a brief section on language, Moogk comments on
the "distinctiveness" of Canadian French, which was standardized by the early
1700s, whereas metropolitan French continued to evolve for more than a hun-