Treasures of the Library

The History of Emily Montague by Frances Brooke, 1769

Frances Brooke’s The History of Emily Montague has often been described as the first Canadian novel. Indeed, it is both the first novel written in Canada and the first novel with a Canadian setting, although it was published in England.  

The History of Emily Montague was written during the author’s stay in Sillery (city of Québec) in the decade following the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. This love story is set in the newly formed province of Quebec during the mid-1760s. It is an “epistolary” novel, where the story is narrated entirely through personal letters between characters. It is also a “sentimental” novel, which places the focus on the emotions of the characters. Both were very popular literary genres in 18th-century Europe.

Through the voices of her English characters, the author describes wondrous landscapes and scenes of everyday life. The novel also contains reflections on social norms, politics, and relations between the English, French-Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

Frances Brooke lived in the city of Québec sometime between 1763 and 1768 with her husband, the Reverend John Brooke. Mr. Brooke was a chaplain in the British army, but also ministered to the civilian population. He was appointed deputy to the Auditor General. The History of Emily Montague was first published in 1769 by London bookseller James Dodsley, soon after the Brookes’ return.

Frances Brooke was born Frances Moore in 1724, in England. She was an established and well-known writer, poet, playwright, editor and translator. The History of Emily Montague was her second novel. She died in 1789.

Details

  • Dimensions: The novel is a set of 4 volumes, each measuring 17.5 cm tall and 11 cm wide.
  • Contents: 916 pages in total. The first volume includes a dedication by the author to Sir Guy Carleton, Governor of the Province of Quebec.
  • The typeface uses the now obsolete “long s”, which looks like a lower case “f” without the bar but is pronounced like an “s”.
  • The volumes are bound in full speckled tree calf leather, and red leather labels are affixed to the spine. Gold tooling adorns the spine and cover edges.
The History of Emily Montague, spine
The History of Emily Montague, spine
The History of Emily Montague, title page
The History of Emily Montague, title page
Excerpt from The History of Emily Montague
Excerpt from The History of Emily Montague