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Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers

Bride of New France (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Suzanne Desrochers

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1992059,063 (3.36)75
Title:Bride of New France
Authors:Suzanne Desrochers
Info:Penguin Books (2011), Paperback
Collections:Read in 2012

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Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers (2011)


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Bride of New France, the debut novel from Canadian author Suzanne Desrochers, is set in Paris and New France in the latter part of the 17th century. As the novel opens the reader is introduced to Laure Beausejour, a young woman living at Paris' notorious Hospice de la Saltpetriere. Skilled at embroidery, Laure dreams of becoming a renowned seamstress and marrying well. This dream, however, is shattered when Laure is sent to New France as one of King Louis XIV's filles du roi (King's girl), a group of young women sent to the French colony to marry and raise a family.

The greatest strength of this novel lies with Desrochers' rich imagery, which leaves the reader with an astounding sense of time and place. These vivid descriptions are especially pronounced when the setting of the novel shifts to New France. Indeed, the reader can almost feel the cold air and hear the wind whistling through Laure's cabin during her first winter in the colony. In her new surroundings, her sense her isolation and loneliness is palpable. Through Laure, the reader gets to experience the hardships faced by the filles du roi and the colonist in general as they tried to tame the harsh and unforgiving environment in which they settled.

Although fluidly written, the manner in which this story is told makes it difficult to connect with Laure. A connection with the protagonist is also made difficult due to her lack of charisma. I was interested in Laure's struggles, but indifferent to the outcomes. Nevertheless, these facts did not impact in any overly negative way on my enjoyment of the novel.

Bride of New France is a worthwhile read for any fan of historical fiction, especially those interested in novels told from the perspective of ordinary individuals rather than famous historical figures. Suzanne Desrochers is a writer to watch and I look forward to hearing more from her. ( )
  Melissa_J | Jan 16, 2016 |
I wanted to like it. The book has elements of true stories, but some elements are too far-fetched to seem real. It tells the story of the Filles du Roi (“brides” – orphans, poor, and mad girls and women) sent from France to wed fur traders and soldiers in Canada to further settlement there, but the protagonist is entirely unlikeable, and many of her actions seem entirely unlikely. As for the historical facts, yes, I was glad to read more about that period in the history of France and Canada. As for the way Laure was portrayed, not a fan. ( )
  countrylife | Jul 21, 2015 |
I am extremely conflicted about this book. On the one hand, I loved the premise and found the book difficult to put down. I’ve always been intrigued by the Filles du Roi, girls send over to Canada by the French king to provide husbands for the fur-traders and soldiers there, in an attempt to develop permanent settlements rather than just trading outposts.

On the other hand, the protagonist is pretty unlikeable and hard to relate to. I had expected initially that there would be more character development, that she would eventually take to her new life and be happy in Canada, that she would work to build a better life for herself. None of that really happens. Laure seems determined to be miserable. She can’t imagine a good future for herself, so she just sort of limps through life passively. The author says in a note that this is deliberate: “How there could have been any excitement or hope in such a dangerous and terrible venture is really beyond my imagining…. I wanted to create a counterpoint to this grand narrative of the filles du roi as founding mothers.”

I can appreciate what she was trying to do, and in many ways it succeeded. But I also seem to believe more than she does in the human capacity to hope. I can easily imagine that someone previously confined to a poorhouse in France would be optimistic about the freedom of building her own life in a new country, even if that new life might involve hard work and lack of comfort and a husband who wasn’t her intellectual equal.

More importantly, though, reading about someone who’s consistently unhappy and hopeless just wasn’t particularly enjoyable or satisfying for me. I wanted to cheer with Laure as she embraced and succeeded in a new life. I *wanted* the grand narrative of heroism with its happy ending. Desrocher is a historian, and I appreciate her efforts to craft an informative, historically-accurate novel that makes the reader question prior assumptions about a traditional narrative. As a story read for enjoyment, though, I found that something was lacking here. ( )
  _Zoe_ | Sep 17, 2013 |
I am so conflicted about this book!

The setting (17th century Paris and 'New France'/Canada) and premise (government-made orphan shipped with dozens of other girls to frontier Canada for forced marriages to French settlers) are fascinating, but I just couldn't stand the novel's narrative style (third person, present tense).

Our heroine, Laure, comes from a poverty-stricken family, and in 17th century Paris, by the King's decree, the poor were not allowed to be seen on the streets. When her family is seen, Laure is seized and sent to the Salpêtrière, a compound of imprisoned prostitutes, orphans, and other undesirables, where she's trained in lace-making. Her aspiration is to become a celebrated Parisian seamstress, a vocation she thinks will allow her to meet, and marry, a Duke.

Instead, she becomes a fille du roi, part of a convey of unwanted women -- some sick, some mad, some simply too poor to protest -- shipped to the French colony in the 'New World' in order to marry the wild single men there. Unsurprisingly, Laure's life is predictably grim and horrifying.

I'll admit to being shocked at how long it took Laure to get to Canada; from the jacket copy, I presumed it would be immediately, but it wasn't until about page 95 (of a 288 page novel) that Laure departs France. The story leading up to it didn't feel particularly necessary: as I noted on GoodReads, I wasn't 'close' to Laure, despite the immediacy of the present tense narrative. She always felt a bit standoffish and odd. I'd rather the story lingered more with Laure in Canada as I found some of her decisions and the events that happened between her and an Iroquois man to be baffling and confusing.

In her Historical Notes, Desrochers indicated the inspiration for this novel came out her thesis on the women who emigrated to the Americas as well as her desire was to show the realities of the women who colonized Canada -- to counter the mythic, patriotic, and admiring stories she'd been told as a child. She's successful in that: with each step in Laure's journey, my heart sank further and further.

Ultimately, despite my frustration with the style of the story, I was unable to put it down. Those curious can check out the novel's opening at the US publisher's website (although I should note it is missing the novel's prologue, weirdly enough. But you'll get a sense of Desrochers' writing style.) A great historical novel for those who like their historicals to articulate the grim reality women faced in the past or Francophiles who want to read about a less novelized era of French history. ( )
1 vote unabridgedchick | Aug 13, 2013 |
Laure Beauséjour was taken from her beggar parents by the Paris authorities when she was just seven years old and placed in the Salpêtrière, a catch all institute for poor, sick, mentally ill, or criminal women (and by criminal read prostitutes). She was lucky enough to spend a few years as the serving girl of an elderly matron, who treated her as if she was her own daughter. The matron taught her to read, dressed her up in fancy clothes, doted on her. When the matron died, Laure found herself back in the Salpêtrière where she had to work her way up to the dorm of the bijoux, the model girls of the institute. there she works on her needlepoint and dreams of getting out and being a seamstress.

Her hopes are dashed when one of her dorm mates falls ill and dies. Laure, who never like the girl, is shaken to her core and writes a letter to the king to ask for better and more food for the girls. For her trouble she is sent on the next boat to Canada as a Fille du roi.

Desrochers has given us a historical novel with a capital H, with this glimpse into the before and after life of one of the poor girls shipped from France in order to populate the colony. Laure and all the other poor waifs from Paris were malnourished, uneducated and without any of the skills needed for their new life. Yet, the roughness of the new land is softened a little bit (not by much) by the new found freedom. There is nobody watching over her anymore- no superiors , no police, not even any of the old social norms that used to keep the women in place in the old world. In Laure, Desrochers has painted us a picture of a young, bitter woman who was not happy with her lot in Paris and is definitely not happy to find herself in Canada, which rings true to my ears. Yet she survives and soldiers on even if she never really reconciles herself to her fate. The plot gathers speed when she gets to the new world and she meets a young native man who seems as between two worlds as herself. Yet, the new world has its own rules and Laure must follow them even if it goes against her own heart.

Did I enjoy this book? Yes, but...I am struggling to understand my own lukewarm reaction to it. Perhaps it is because, though Laure's bitterness was understandable, it made it hard to empathise with her. I never felt directly affected by her plight, but more as if I was reading the Typical Trajectory of a Filles du Roi for social studies class. Though I found it interesting enough to keep reading, all the visceral reactions you have when you are reading a good book were not there: I did not feel horrified when I should have felt horrified, I did not feel the terrible loneliness of her first winter though I know it was terribly lonely. I did not feel too bad or worried for Laure when she made her bad decisions.

Perhaps my humming and hawing comes from the fact that it probably would be a good compliment for a Social Studies Class. I just wish I liked it more than I did. ( )
1 vote wiremonkey | Jan 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
In the 17th century, hundreds of girls and women were sent from France – often against their will – to populate the New World. But little is known of these filles du roi, as they were dubbed, and they left almost nothing behind in the way of stories or documents of their experience. In her debut novel, Ontario-born Suzanne Desrochers weaves together history and fiction to dramatize the life of one imagined fille du roi, Laure Beausejour....Desrochers’ descriptions are vivid and unforgiving; any romantic notions the reader may harbour about pre-revolutionary Paris disappear...Desrocher’s portrayal of her characters is sympathetic, despite their obvious flaws...Laure’s story weighs heavily on the reader, but in her, Desrochers has given history’s silent filles du roi a voice


The 17th century in France and New France presented huge challenges for women, especially women with no money or status. In Bride of New France, Suzanne Desrochers delineates those challenges for Laure, the main character in this historical novel....
Desrochers brings to life the dismal conditions under which the girls laboured..
Desrochers seems to heap on the difficulties for Laure, and the New France part is less engaging than the Old France part.

But both give an excellent look at the struggles for existence and the struggle for meaning in what can be a terrifying life.

. Never has such familiar lint been picked to greater effect than in Bride of New France, by Susan Desrochers, a trained historian who has boldly appropriated fiction to expand a vision of life gleaned from painstaking study of often overlooked evidence....As a graduate student at Toronto’s York University, Desrochers chose to study the well-known but little-investigated story of the filles du roi, women of uncertain origin exported by royal decree into the faltering, almost wholly male colony in the late 17th century to serve as breeding stock for a new European population. Over the course of some virtuous process, her thesis blossomed into a fully imagined but deeply grounded novel about Laure Beausejour, the fictionalized daughter of Parisian street people who is swept up by police and incarcerated for years in the nightmarish Salpêtrière Hospital, a prison housing thousands of indigent, ill and insane women, before resigning herself to an even more appalling fate: exile in Canada....As much as her feeling for Laure and her companions gives the book heart, professional discipline keeps it real. It is a powerful combination.

Bride of New France will not silence critics of the new social history, nor is it meant to. But if they do want to bring the past alive for a new generation, as they typically claim, they could never find a text more likely to engage the minds and imaginations of young people, especially girls, who have grown immune to the conventional narratives

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from amazon ca:Product Description
Laure Beausejour has grown up in a dormitory in Paris surrounded by prostitutes, the insane, and other forgotten women. She dreams with her best friend, Madeleine, of using her needlework skills to become a seamstress and one day marry a nobleman. But in 1669, Laure is sent across the Atlantic to New France with Madeleine as filles du roi. The girls know little of the place they are being sent to, except for stories of ferocious winters and Indians who eat the hearts of French priests. To be banished to Canada is a punishment worse than death.
Bride of New France explores the challenges Laure faces coming into womanhood in a brutal time and place. From the moment she arrives in Ville-Marie (Montreal) she is expected to marry and produce children with a brutish French soldier who himself can barely survive the harsh conditions of his forest cabin. But through her clandestine relationship with Deskaheh, an allied Iroquois, Laure finds a sense of the possibilities in this New World.

What happens to a woman who attempts to make her own life choices in such authoritative times?

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Follows the life of Laure Beasejour, a young, French orphan who is transported to the new, but primitive, Canadian colony as part of a program sponsored by King Louis XIV that sent eight hundred young women abroad to marry settlers.

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