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Julia Catherine Hart

(1796—1867) novelist


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(1796–1867) Julia Catherine Beckwith was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, of New England and French ancestry, and gathered many stories and travel impressions on her childhood visits to relatives in Quebec and Nova Scotia. A number of these were incorporated into her first novel, St. Ursula's Convent; or, The nun of Canada (Kingston, 1824), the first novel published in British North America written by a native-born author. In 1820 she moved from Fredericton to Kingston, Upper Canada, where she lived with her aunt, the mother of Quebec historian Abbé Ferland. Between 1822 and 1824 she married George Henry Hart; conducted a girls' boarding school in Kingston; and moved to the United States with her husband. In 1831 the Harts settled in Fredericton, where George Hart held a position in the Crown Lands office. Mrs Hart remained in her native city for the rest of her life, contributing short fiction to the New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser and working on an unpublished two-volume novel, Edith; or, The doom. In all her writing she revealed a heightened romantic sensibility and a strict adherence to the conventions of popular fiction. St. Ursula's Convent is therefore typical in introducing shipwrecks, kidnappers, exchanged babies, and a false priest into a sentimental story of Quebec seigneurial and convent life. A less sensational novel is Tonnewonte; or The adopted son of America (Watertown, N.Y., 1824–5), a two-volume romance published in three different editions in the United States after the Harts had moved there in 1824. Set in France and in upper-state New York, Tonnewonte appealed to American patriotic feelings by contrasting the democratic opportunities and naturalness of American life with the chaos and class-consciousness of France during the Napoleonic era. Like St. Ursula's Convent, it also reflected Mrs Hart's interest in incorporating North American history and landscape into her fiction. This interest was extended into her writing of Edith; or, The doom, which focuses on a family curse and its expiation during the time of the American Revolution. In her preface to St. Ursula's Convent Mrs Hart noted that the ‘dawn of literary illumination’ had not yet come to British North America. For the rest of her life she saw her fiction as part of a process of literary awakening, and as an encouragement to ‘others of real and intrinsic merit’ to write.

From The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.


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