Frances Brooke has been called the first novelist in Canada and, for that matter, in North America. She was born in 1724 and died in 1789, and during her prolific adult years she was not only a novelist, but also a journalist, playwright, and translator. She also co-managed a theater and was once described as “perhaps the first female novel-writer who attained a perfect purity and polist of style”.
Though Brooke was a native of England, she spent the last six years of her life in Canada, where her husband was a chaplain in the British Army. It was there that Brooke wrote her most enduring novel, The History of Emily Montague. The book is one of the earliest, if not the earliest, novels written in and about Canada .
The History of Emily Montague reflects Brooke’s own observations and experiences about Canada. It has an unusual style, written as a series of fictitious letters that contain humorous comments on politics, religion, society, and the Canadian landscape.
The main writer in the novel is an “Ed. Rivers”, who is the supposed author of many of the 205 total letters. Here, Brooke shows not only her sense of humor, but also her knowledge of the landscape of North America and the practices of both the colonists in Canada and the indigenous people.
Brooke makes a sharp political statement in Letter II, where she sounds like a modern-day environmentalist:
“It is impossible to behold a scene like this without lamenting the madness of mankind, who, more merciless than the fierce inhabitants of the howling wilderness, destroy millions of their own species in the wild contention for a little portion of that earth…”
Unlike the above novel, The Excursion is about a woman named Maria Villiers, a member of London’s elite society and an important part of its balls and other affairs. The theme is not unlike that portrayed by Henry Fielding and Frances Burney, who also wrote about London’s privileged people, but unlike them, Brooke concentrates instead not on romantic adventures, but rather on unusual treatments of unconventional characters. What really makes The Excursion unique for its time is that Maria is portrayed as wanting to make her fame and fortune as a writer, rather than as a member of high society in London. This type of theme was later emulated by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice.