Shadows on the Rock Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1931

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 1697-1713

Locale: Quebec, Canada

Characters DiscussedEuclide Auclair

Euclide Shadows on the RockAuclair (ew-KLEED oh-KLAR), a temperate, humane, and philosophical apothecary living in Quebec at the end of the seventeenth century. Although loyal to his patron and friend, the Count de Frontenac, whom he accompanied to Canada in 1689, he feels that he has lived in exile for eight years, and he makes little effort to adjust his thinking or habits to life in a new land. At night, when he draws the curtains of his shop and sits down to dinner with his daughter Cécile, he likes to imagine that he is back in his beloved home on the Quai des Célestins in Paris. When he learns that the count expects to be recalled by King Louis, Auclair looks forward to returning with his benefactor. The count, neglected by his monarch, dies in Quebec, and in the end, Auclair stays on. His daughter has married a Canadian, and to the old apothecary it seems that the future may after all be better in Quebec, a place where change comes slowly, remote from the designs of kings and their ministers.

Cécile Auclair

Cécile Auclair (say-SEEL), the apothecary’s thirteen-year-old daughter, who has taken over the household after her mother’s death. She is an appealing child because of her quaint mixture of youth and maturity. She is deeply pious but with no sense of a religious vocation; instead, she resembles a household vestal guarding domestic rites that stand for the order and grace of a transplanted culture. Unlike her father, she is a Canadian; the river flowing below the rock, the mountains to the north, and the dark pine forests stretching away as far as one can see frame everything that is familiar and dear to her. She grows up to marry Pierre Charron, her father’s friend, a famous hunter and scout.

Pierre Charron

Pierre Charron (pyehr shah-ROH[N]), Euclide Auclair’s young friend from Montreal, a wilderness runner and hunter. Disappointed in love when the daughter of his employer became a religious recluse, he had taken to the woods; now he has made a name for himself among the traders and Indians all along the Great Lakes. Whenever he is in Quebec, he visits the Auclairs. The apothecary admires him because the young man combines the manners and tradition of the Old World with the bravery and resourcefulness needed to survive in the new. Cécile loves him first as a child, then as a woman. They marry and have four children to make the apothecary satisfied with his growing family in his old age.

The Count de Frontenac

The Count de Frontenac (deh froh[n]-teh-NAK), the governor of Canada, a stern but just man who has alienated many civil authorities and churchmen in France and Canada through his tactless actions. An able administrator and soldier, he dies neglected by the king he has served faithfully.

Bishop Laval

Bishop Laval (lah-VAHL), the first bishop of Quebec, now succeeded by Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier. The old prelate is unsparing of himself, devoted to the poor, and ambitious for the church. Gruff in manner, he is capable of great generosity and kindness to the deserving. In the past, he and the Count de Frontenac had clashed on many matters of policy, and he carries on a feud with his ambitious young successor.

Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier

Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier (deh sah[n]-vahl-YAY), the young bishop of Quebec, who since his appointment has spent most of his time in France. Clever and ambitious, he often acts more like a courtier than a churchman; Euclide Auclair thinks that he looks like an actor. He appears determined to undo the work of his predecessor, old Bishop Laval. After having been captured and imprisoned by the English and later detained in France, he returns, a much chastened man, to Quebec in 1713.

Jacques Gaux

Jacques Gaux (zhahk goh), a street waif befriended by Cécile Auclair. He grows up to become a sailor. Between voyages, he stays with the old apothecary.


’Toinette (twah-NEHT), called La Grenouille (greh-NEW), meaning “the frog.” She is an unsavory, shrewish woman, the mother of Jacques Gaux and the keeper of a sailors’ boardinghouse.

Nicholas Pigeon

Nicholas Pigeon (nee-koh-LAH pee-ZHYOH[N]), a baker and a neighbor of the Auclairs.

Noel Pommier

Noel Pommier (noh-EHL poh-MYAY), a cobbler.

Madame Pommier

Madame Pommier, the cobbler’s mother. A woman of great piety, she is responsible for the location of her son’s shop on Holy Family Hill.


Jules (zhewl), nicknamed Blinker, a disfigured, cross-eyed man who tends the fires of Pigeon and the baker and empties the Auclairs’ refuse in repayment for a bowl of soup and a small glass of brandy each night. He tells Euclide Auclair a strange story. Apprenticed to the king’s torturer at Rouen, he had brutally compelled a woman to confess to the murder of her son. A short time later, the young man reappeared. Unable to sleep at night because of the burden on his conscience, Blinker asks the apothecary for a drug that will allow him to rest.

Mother Juschereau de Saint-Ignace

Mother Juschereau de Saint-Ignace (zhew-sheh-ROH deh sah[n]-teen-YAHS), the superior of the Hotel Dieu, who tells Cécile Auclair many tales of miracles and saints. She regrets that the girl shows no signs of a vocation in religious life.

Father Hector Saint-Cyr

Father Hector Saint-Cyr (ehk-TOHR sah[n]-SEER), a Jesuit missionary to the Indians, Euclide Auclair’s friend.

Jeanne Le Ber

Jeanne Le Ber (zhahn leh behr), the daughter of a wealthy merchant in Montreal. Rejecting all suitors for her hand, including her old playmate, Pierre Charron, she becomes a religious recluse.

BibliographyCarlin, Deborah. “Tales of Telling Fictions of History: Casting Shadows on the Rock.” In Cather, Canon, and the Politics of Reading. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. Reads the novel as a narrative instead of a history. Says the novel is about the trans-lation of French sensibility into Canadian character.Greene, George. “A Colloquy with Clio: Willa Cather’s Shadows on the Rock.” Dalhousie Review 70 (Summer, 1990): 219-228. Praises Shadows on the Rock as one of Cather’s best works. Examines the treatment of the northeast wilderness and the Iroquois Indians.Jacobs, Wilbur R. “Willa Cather and Francis Parkman: Novelistic Portrayals of Colonial New France.” In Willa Cather: Family, Community and History, edited by John J. Murphy et al. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Humanities Publications Center, 1990. Traces the influence of nineteenth century Canadian historian Francis Parkman on Cather.Nelson, Robert James. Willa Cather and France. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1988. Discusses the fascination that Willa Cather had in writing about the French on both sides of the Atlantic. Deals with Cather’s tour of France and what influenced her to write about the people and their customs.Stouck, David. “Willa Cather and the Indian Heritage.” Twentieth Century Literature 22 (December, 1976): 433-443. Claims Shadows on the Rock is a historical novel. Sees the Indians as a recurring theme in Cather’s novels.
Categories: Characters