Only a Fisherman’s Daughter, by Stacia English

This is the first known novel ever published by a Newfoundland woman, and it’s amazing that I only heard of it last year. Just because of its place in history, it deserves to be better known, and the editor of this edition, Iona Bulgin, has done an excellent job in the footnotes and preface of putting Anastasia English’s work in its proper context in the history of Newfoundland literature.

For its own sake, divorced from its historical context, the book is a bit forgettable, as the story is quite a cliche romance about a young girl from a humble family background who wins the friendship of a girl of higher social status and the love of a well-off young man — but not without the usual amount of hardships, misunderstandings, tears and trials. Everything works out perfectly predictably, but what makes the book worth reading are the glimpses of social history you get between the predictable lines of the romance. A modern writer could write a historical novel that’s a far better story with more believable characters, set in this time period (and I hope I have done just that, with That Forgetful Shore…), but there’s something a later writer composing historical fiction can never capture as well as a contemporary writer, something about the essential feel of a time and place, not only small domestic details (which you can research) but attitudes and values (which are so much harder to reproduce without imposing one’s own values upon them). Only a Fisherman’s Daughter won’t rock your reading world or anything, but if you’re at all interested in Newfoundland literature or the history of women’s writing in this part of the world, you definitely should not bypass this book.

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2 Comments

Filed under Fiction -- general, Fiction -- historical, Newfoundland author

2 responses to “Only a Fisherman’s Daughter, by Stacia English

  1. Kathy Keegan

    Anastasia English is my great Aunt. I would love to know more about her…If you can tell me anything at all you’ve learned about her I would love it.

    I visited her house when I was in Newfoundland about 25 years ago. I also visited a bar she used to own with her sister.

    Not sure if you are receiving this letter. But if you do please let me know and let me know if you can tell me anything or refer me to anyone who can tell me anything about her.

    Thank you so much
    Kathy Keegan

  2. Kathy, unfortunately I don’t know anything about Anastasia English other than having read this book. However, you might want to try getting in touch with Iona Bulgin, who edited this edition … I think she has done a good deal of research on your great-aunt. She is a professor at Memorial University so her contact information should be on the university website.

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