A World Under Sentence: John Richardson and the Interior


181 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55022-250-3
DDC C813'.3





Elisabeth Anne MacDonald-Murray is an assistant professor of English at
the University of Western Ontario.


In his introduction to the 1851 edition of Wacousta—Or, The Prophecy:
A Tale of the Canadas, John Richardson acknowledged his debt both to his
grandmother’s tales of early days in the emerging colony of British
North America and to James Fenimore Cooper’s popular and
ground-breaking novel The Last of the Mohicans. Dennis Duffy, while
noting Richardson’s debt to Cooper’s novel, asserts in his study of
the early Canadian writer that literary antecedents alone cannot
adequately account for the unique nature of his fiction. Adopting a new
historicist approach to the works of Richardson, Duffy examines the
importance of the colonial experience that informs the texts,
emphasizing the critical need to establish Richardson and his literary
output within the social, economic, and cultural context of the colonial
world he inhabited. He argues that Richardson’s works of fiction
primarily reflect “historical rather than imaginative experience.”

Duffy begins his critical analysis with a comparison of the texts of
Wacousta and The Last of the Mohicans. Despite a similar use of major
motifs by the two writers, he discerns in Richardson a peculiarly
Canadian vision and artistry that distinguish his work from that of
Cooper. Duffy explores this vision—which he sees reflected in a
pervading tone of “cultural pessimism” and in the “primacy of
personal, psychological drives” in the characterization—in terms of
Richardson’s personal experience of colonial culture. However, in
attempting to explore the historical and cultural factors that inform
Richardson’s fiction, Duffy admits that he is dealing with a period
and culture about which there is little concrete evidence. Thus, while
he explores new and illuminating avenues in the emerging genre of
frontier fiction, his analysis frequently resorts to speculation and


Duffy, Dennis., “A World Under Sentence: John Richardson and the Interior,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/5378.