Contextualizing 1759

  • Katherine Morrison
    Loyalism and the Conquest. Legas (purchase at
  • Frans De Bruyn (Editor) and Shaun Regan (Editor)
    The Culture of the Seven Years' War: Empire, Identity, and the Arts in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World. University of Toronto Press (purchase at
Reviewed by Michel Ducharme

Even though the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) was a global war, American and Canadian scholars have traditionally focused on the Conquest of New France when writing about the War. These two books approach the conflict from a different angle; they do not focus on the Seven Years’ War itself, but rather on what Frans De Bruyn and Shaun Regan have called the “cultural and political myths engendered by the . . . War.”

The essays included in The Culture of the Seven Years’ War concentrate on the cultural representations engendered by the war in Britain and North America. The authors discuss the cultural impact of the war on nations and individuals, as well as on literature and visual arts. The first section focuses on the evolution of the British Empire in the eighteenth century and the importance of alliances with First Nations in the struggle for the control of North America before 1763. But while the inclusion of two excellent essays about Aboriginal peoples’ participation in the war between France and Britain in this collection is noteworthy, the absence of any serious discussion about Acadians and French Canadians is more puzzling. The second section discusses the patriotism of some British authors in the eighteenth century as well as the ambivalence of others, such as Oliver Goldsmith, towards the war. The third section focuses on the wartime experiences of three individuals (the fifth Baron Berkeley of Stratton, Lord George Sackville, and Olaudah Equiano); the authors address issues of class, race, and gender in these chapters. The last section focuses on the commemoration of the war in monuments and paintings. While the book never really gets around to discussing “cultural and political myths” as promised in the introduction, it introduces the readers to a diversity of cultural representations engendered by the war. It also decentres the history of the war and makes for an interesting contribution to the recent scholarship about the Seven Years’ War.

Although Katherine L. Morrison also addresses the cultural and political implications of the Conquest in Loyalism and the Conquest, she does so from a different perspective. Less preoccupied with the past than with the present, Morrison tries to find the historical roots of the antagonism that has poisoned French and English Canadians’ relations over the last two centuries. She argues that these roots can be found in the national myths adopted by both groups. According to the author, these myths were based on two different ways of conceptualizing the “Great Chain of Being” linking heaven to earth. In other words, the roots of the antagonism could be found in the opposition between French Canadian Roman Catholicism and British/English Canadian Protestantism. The author’s main argument seems both unoriginal and unconvincing. It is unoriginal because it states the obvious: French Canadians, who were Roman Catholics and therefore shared a Roman Catholic worldview, did not want to be assimilated by British settlers and, later, English Canadians with their Protestant worldview. Even if the author’s main point cannot seriously be disputed, her demonstration is nonetheless unconvincing. First, even if the book is supposed to be structured around the concept of “myth,” it is not: Morrison barely refers to it in the different chapters. Furthermore, she gives different meanings to the word “myth” in different contexts: it refers alternatively to “the Great Chain of Being,” to some religious beliefs, or to political principles and ideology. In the end, Loyalism and the Conquest is mainly a political history of New England, New France, and the Canadas up to Confederation.

The book is also unconvincing because it compares two different things: a historical event (the Conquest) and a political principle (Loyalism). On a more practical level, the author also fails to explain how the Conquest became a national myth, simply assuming that it somehow did. This assumption is historically inaccurate. Until the 1837-38 rebellions, the Conquest had seldom been mentioned by French Canadians or had been celebrated as a providential event or for the political freedom it had brought to the colony. The author has the same problem with Loyalism, as she never even introduces the loyalists, not all of whom had moved to the remaining British colonies for political reasons. Finally, it is worth noting that the author has used very few primary and secondary sources to make her point. In the end, a real comparison between French and English Canadian national myths has yet to be written.

This review “Contextualizing 1759” originally appeared in Radio, Film, and Fiction. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 225 (Summer 2015): 129-130.

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