Shadows on the Rock: Book #10 Intro

Read all 12 of Willa Cather’s novels in chronological order of publication, one each month, throughout 2012. For details about the challenge click here.

Our tenth novel of the challenge is Shadows on the Rock. Read it sometime over the next three weeks and we’ll start our conversation about it on Monday, October 22nd (this is the 4th Monday of the month, not the third, but with the 1st falling on a Monday and then the holiday on the 8th I thought everyone might appreciate an extra week).

About Shadows on the Rock:

  • The novel is historical fiction set in early Quebec, Canada.
  • Cather visited Quebec for the first time in June 1928. It obviously captured her imagination as she started writing Shadows on the Rock in the fall of 1928.
  • She finished writing the novel in the fall of 1930 and it was published in August 1931 by Knopf.
  • The initial print run was 25,000 copies. By late December over 160,000 copies had sold. The retail price was $2.50.
  • It won the first Prix Femina Americain, a French literary award.
  • The only home that Cather owned was a cottage that she and Edith Lewis built on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada in 1928.

Description from the Vintage Classics paperback:

“Superbly written, with that sensitivity to sunset and afterglow that has always been Miss Cather’s.” –The New York Times

Willa Cather wrote Shadows on the Rock immediately after her other historical masterpiece, Death Comes for the Archbishop. Like its predecessor, this novel of seventeenth-century Quebec is a luminous evocation of North American origins, and of the men and women who struggled to adapt to that new world even as they clung to the artifacts and manners of the one they left behind.
In 1697, Quebec is an island of French civilization perched on a bare gray rock amid a wilderness of trackless forests. For many of its settlers, Quebec is a place of exile, so remote that an entire winter passes without a word from home. But to twelve-year-old Cècile Auclair, the rock is home, where even the formidable Governor Frontenac entertains children in his palace and beavers lie beside the lambs in a Christmas crèche. As Cather follows this devout and resourceful child over the course of a year, she re-creates the continent as it must have appeared to its first European inhabitants. And she gives us a spellbinding work of historical fiction in which great events occur first as rumors and then as legends-and in which even the most intimate domestic scenes are suffused with a sense of wonder.


  • Not often available at new bookstores, but some larger used bookstores might have a copy. Almost always available at your local library.
  • Support the Willa Cather Foundation and order it online here. Plan ahead and buy a copy of Lucy Gayheart, November’s book, while you’re at it.

Shadows on the Rock is the only Cather novel that I’ve not yet read. As I mentioned in the introductory post to the challenge, I’ve been rationing out Cather’s novels because once I read them all, that will be it. No new Cather novel to read. As much as I enjoy re-reading great novels, there’s nothing quite like the experience of that first reading. 

First edition (image source)

What I didn’t mention in that introductory post is why I decided 2012 would be the year to read the last unread Cather novel. It’s because last year I became enthralled by Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny‘s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, specifically the sixth novel in the series, Bury Your Dead.  

Have you heard of Louise Penny, Cather fans? I think many of you would enjoy the Gamache novels because Penny takes such care in conveying setting, mood, and characters’ sensibilities. Bury Your Dead is set in modern day Quebec City and the plot revolves around early Quebec history. I know Shadows of the Rock is a historical novel set in Quebec during its early days and that’s the extent of my knowledge. I don’t like to know a lot about a book before I start it. 

During my reading of Bury Your Dead I started thinking about Shadows on the Rock and wondered how Cather handled the early history of Quebec. By the time I finished Bury Your Dead I couldn’t stop thinking about that unread Cather novel. And so, here we are.

Would Bury Your Dead have led me to Shadows on the Rock if I hadn’t already been a Cather fan? Have other readers come to Shadows on the Rock via Bury Your Dead? Would fans of Louise Penny be interested in reading Shadows on the Rock? I don’t know. But I’m glad to have read the mystery novel and am really looking forward to reading Shadows. There is, I must admit, the smallest twinge of a feeling that I’m going to lose something with this reading, even though I’m sure much will be gained by it.

What lead you to read Willa Cather? Was it a book by another author that led to you one of her novels? Has one of Cather’s novels ever lead you directly to a specific novel by another writer?

I’ll share my thoughts on reading Shadows on the Rock in a new post on Monday, October 22nd. At that time let’s start our conversation–simply post your thoughts about the novel in the comments section of that post so we can have everyone’s thoughts in once place.

Happy Reading!


  1. Thank you for hosting this challenge in 2012. I am having the opposite experience, having only read one Willa Cather novel, The Song of the Lark, before this year. Now I'm being a book glutton and loving it. I think I might save her short stories for another year.

    My family led me to Willa Cather. She's a beloved author of many of my relatives. (In fact, my cousin is her namesake.) We often exchange her books at Christmas.

  2. I'm so thrilled that you've jumped into reading Cather, and how fabulous to come from a family of Cather readers! I've read a handful of her short stories (Paul's Case is my favorite so far) and was thinking about reading them all next year–just bought her collected stories last month.

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