Beatrice Chancy


159 pages
ISBN 1-896095-94-1
DDC C812'.54




Photos by Ricardo Scipio
Reviewed by Nanette Morton

Nanette Morton teaches English at McMaster University.


This verse drama is George Elliott Clarke’s reworking of the story of
Beatrice Cenci, who was beheaded for parricide in 16th-century Italy.
Clarke transfers the story to Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley and sets
it in the year 1801, when slavery was still legal in what was to become
Eastern Canada. Beatrice is the daughter of a white slaveowner and the
black slave woman he forced to be his concubine. The result of this
violent union and her father/owner’s prize possession, Beatrice has
just returned from the convent school where she has been sent to learn
the manners and ways of white ladies. When she declares her love for a
fellow slave, her father violently asserts his power over his
chattel/daughter by raping her. Beatrice murders her master/father and
is hanged for the crime.

The slaves’ dialogue, particularly in the first scene, has a fine
colloquial lyricism. The pathologies of the slaveowner/slave
relationship and the uneasy position of white women—who, although
oppressed, are nonetheless in league with the oppressor—are
persuasively expressed. Clarke also gives a subtle nod to books that
inspired him. One character repeats the lament of Harriet Jacobs,
herself a slave: “Why does the slave ever love?” The fourth act
seems too long, however, and should be shortened to keep up the
drama’s pace. In spite of this, the language is beautiful and well
worth reading and hearing.


Clarke, George Elliott., “Beatrice Chancy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,