The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

XI. English-Canadian Literature

§ 7. Novelists

There are some novels that have honestly died, and some that have never lived. Canada’s fiction may, with few exceptions, be classed in one or other of these categories. The Bibliography of Canadian Fiction gives the titles of nearly one hundred and fifty novels written by authors deceased.

Mrs. Brook has the distinction of producing, in 1769, the first novel, Emily Montague, which essayed a description of Canadian conditions at that interesting and remote time. Canadian fiction proper is supposed to date from the year 1832, when John Richardson published Wacousta. It is a curious book. To a certain point midway in the narrative, it holds the reader’s attention, and then breaks down into a series of wildly impossible situations without one redeeming human touch to save them from utter absurdity. The Canadian Brothers is a still weaker effort. Mrs. Leprohon was a constant contributor in prose and verse to The Literary Garland, a periodical of some repute in the middle of the last century. Her novels are gracefully written, with some idea of construction, and no little discernment of character and motive. Antoinette de Mirecourt is the best of her eight books. Catharine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie were sisters who diligently devoted themselves to writing. Mrs. Traill, whose chief distinction was gained in natural history, wrote also several novels, of which Lost in the Backwoods, published in London in 1852, under the title The Canadian Crusoes, is the best. Her sister Mrs. Moodie has been referred to for her interesting descriptions of pioneer life. James de Mille was prolific and popular in his day. His novels were extravagantly romantic.

William Kirby wrote the best Canadian novel, Le Chien d’Or, or The Golden Dog, published in 1877. It is an ambitious book, cast in a large historic mould. The scene is laid in the middle of the eighteenth century, and the actors of the drama are the notabilities of Quebec, with such subsidiary characters as are necessary to drive the plot along. Signs of an unpractised hand abound in the book, but its merits are very considerable.

William McLennan wrote two novels, a book of short stories and a useful volume of verse, Songs of Old Canada, translated from the French. Spanish John, his only independent novel, possesses much literary merit which, until recent years, has not been a conspicuous virtue among Canadian writers. The Span o’ Life, written in collaboration, is a stirring tale of the days of prince Charlie. McLennan’s collection of short stories In Old France and New is described in its title. His habitant tales are an interesting prose counterpart of the work of Drummond.