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 George Cartwright--a little-known 18th-century explorer, trapper, and author of A Journal of Transactions and Events During a Residency of Nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador--died of old age at home in England in May 1819. In a stunningly rich and delicate first novel, Canadian poet Steffler posits and follows Cartwright's ghost of 170 years as it wanders the English roads in the spring of his death and reflects on a passionate life gone oddly awry at every turn. For Steffler's Cartwright--one of ten children raised by a country squire--the purpose of life itself became the pristine, powerful, perilous wilderness that he was among the first Englishmen to visit in Newfoundland and Labrador in the 1770's. Having hired ships and crew, Cartwright planned to collect furs and other bounty and return home a rich man. Instead, he fell in love with the rivers and forests, the hunting, trapping, and fishing, and the native peoples of the mountainous Labrador coast. But he couldn't build a life: The punishing winters killed his crews, fires burned his storehouses, and the ships he hired for return trips were lost or damaged. In one heartrending series of mishaps, the beloved Eskimos Cartwright brings to London as cynical inducements to his creditors to be lenient contract smallpox; they die horrible deaths on the journey back and spread the pestilence to the New World. Finally, pirates invade Cartwright's renewed stocks of furs, his workers mutiny, and even his loyal, stalwart English mistress rebels against his self-absorption, and Cartwright, bewildered, returns to England. There, he becomes a florid, tale-telling barracks-master. Steffler, however, lovingly gives him a second life--one in which, as he wanders alone through the perpetual English spring of his youth, he is permitted to discover his intentions and his mistakes and finally to die nobly, as he might have done in Labrador. Based in part on Cartwright's Journal, a keen, richly hued, and utterly enchanting imaginative reconstruction of a life.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8050-2462-X
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993