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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

August 7, 2003
 Research

The French in Newfoundland: An Anthology

Dr. Ron Rompkey


Although there exists a huge body of French commentary on Newfoundland, it is not readily available to students of French and to researchers. Dr. Ronald Rompkey, university research professor of English at Memorial, is hoping to remedy that with his anthology of French writings from the 19th century, La Patrie du vent: L’Emergence de Terre-Neuve dans les écrits français, 1814-1914 (working title).

Dr. Rompkey's interest in this subject emerged from his work on northern Newfoundland and Labrador. He was curious about the attitudes and experiences of the French who, until 1904, were permitted to fish here for six months of the year but were required to return home at the end of the season. He has therefore selected writings that begin with the renewal of the overseas fishery, following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, and has focused on observations of Newfoundland that show the establishment of parliamentary government and the spread of permanent settlement. These have been selected exclusively to illustrate, as he puts it, “Newfoundland as a place and Newfoundlanders as a people.” He has also included photos by French photographers to complement the text.

From his research, Dr. Rompkey has discerned a number of themes reflect well the French attitude towards Newfoundland and Labrador at this time. French writers saw Newfoundland as an exotic place, an Arcadia, characterized by a spectacular landscape, hunting and fishing opportunities, and natural wonders such as icebergs. In addition to the early settlers of the French Shore, they were also intrigued by the possible existence of the Beothuk, and they examined closely the Micmac of the West Coast, with whom they lived on familiar terms.

The French writers in this anthology are primarily fishing captains and naval officers who came to Newfoundland year after year, but are also naval surgeons, artists, botanists, diplomats and journalists, all first-hand observers of political and social change and of the growth.

But as Dr. Rompkey cautions, “France was also going through a social transformation, shifting back and forth between democracy and monarchy. We must also bear in mind who these authors were and what political stances they represented.”

Earlier authors were educated during the Enlightenment, and they were interested in accumulating navigational and oceanographic data, as well as data on the natural world. Later authors’ writings reflect new ideas introduced by Darwin and his contemporaries.

One of Dr. Rompkey’s goals is, in his words, “to open a window." By publishing an anthology such as this, he hopes to provide students, researchers, and the general public the opportunity to read about Newfoundland from a fresh perspective, as well as suggest new areas for research. He expects the anthology to be published in 2004, both in Canada and in France.


 


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Next issue: September 4, 2003

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