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Wacousta

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Wacousta

Wacousta is a novel by John Richardson. Published in 1832, it is sometimes claimed as the first Canadian novel,[1] although in fact it is preceded by Julia Catherine Beckwith's St Ursula's Convent; or, The Nun of Canada (Kingston, 1824). Wacousta is better categorized as the first attempt by a Canadian born author at historical fiction.

However, it is one of the first novels written by a Canadian-born author about Canada, and, in spite of its overwrought sentimentalism, it has been treated as a seminal work in the development of a Canadian literary sensibility.[2]

Its themes include prophecy and opposites, such as manliness vs. effeminacy, wilderness/wildness vs. civilization, sensibility vs. compassion and the natural vs. the supernatural among others.

In the period of publication, Wacousta was quite popular not only in Canada, but also in the United States. A contemporary novel it competed with was James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. Where they differ is that Cooper's novel focuses on the efforts of the individual within the whole, but Richardson's novel concerns itself with broader cross-cultural motivations.

Setting is sound in Wacousta, it takes in more than just locale. Richardson's wilderness is a place of sound - a place of curves within that auditory sound-setting. The Indians are also vehicles of sound, of whom Wacousta is a member. The constant reiteration of sound within, particularly in moments of howling, refers to the voice of an outcast culture, one that like sound does not respect borders. Auditory space is an important character within the novel.

In Survival, Margaret Atwood suggests that "man attempted to change Nature's order (which may look to man like chaos) into the shape of human civilization [...] man tends to squares [...] the Canadian pioneer is a square man in a round whole; he faces the problem of trying to fit a straight line into a curved space" (120). One observes in Richardson's use of the 'curve' within the novel as representative of the native voice. Richardson writes: "Less seen than felt"(238). This line is indicative of the British presence within a curved environment.

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