There have been many books written on the 1759 conquest of Quebec, some focusing on the defeated Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, others on the victorious James Wolfe. Early in Montcalm & Wolfe, Canadian literary lion Roch Carrier lays bare his motivation for undertaking the topic: while he grew up idolizing Montcalm, “Wolfe was the person I most despised during my French-Canadian adolescence.”
Given Carrier’s gift for storytelling, I had high hopes for a strong narrative, and in this I was not disappointed. The book details the entire lives of Montcalm and Wolfe, including their respective family histories, formative years, and rises to power. Despite the abundance of names, places, and dates, Carrier makes it easy to follow each man’s struggles and triumphs.
The similarities between the two men are striking: both were loyal subjects and fastidious followers of rules, and both felt underappreciated by those they served. Both men were also increasingly fatalistic as they aged (on the eve of the Plains of Abraham, Wolfe updated his will and Montcalm lamented that he only held Quebec until the English figured out how to take it).
The above observations are strictly my own: I cannot tell you whether Carrier would agree because Montcalm & Wolfe does not include any of his own thoughts regarding his subjects. Many questions are raised, the most pressing being whether Montcalm could have held on to the colony had the civil authorities not undermined him. But Carrier never asks that question, choosing instead to simply present the facts and then move on. The book feels like more of a survey than the personal history I was expecting, given the author’s stated reason for entering into the project.
It is only in the last paragraph on the last page that Carrier elucidates the way his feelings about the title figures have changed: Montcalm and Wolfe, he now believes, “had been wisps of straw swept away by the raging currents of a war between narcissistic tribal chiefs.” I would have liked to have heard more about how the author came to this conclusion, and what this new perspective does to his understanding of our country’s history.