Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Historian as Novelist

Lest my last post paint too bleak a picture of retirement, I thought I might add a more positive note.  The name A.J.B. "John" Johnston will be familiar, I trust, to many of you.  He served as staff historian at the Fortress of Louisbourg for over two decades, retirining, if I recall correctly, in 2000.  He has been inspiringly prolific as a researcher and author in the field of eighteenth century French colonial history, with a special emphasis on the Maritimes, Louisbourg and the Acadians.  He has published over a dozen books and hundred articles.  But old historians never die.  More than one has been known to turn to fiction.

In his first novel, Johnston imagines the early life of the dastardly Thomas Pichon (1700-1781).  Born in Normandy, Pichon reached Louisbourg in 1751.  There he served for a time as secretary to the governor, before being posted to Fort Beauséjour.  Feeling underappreciated, it seems, he soon became friendly with the British officers across the river at Fort Lawrence.  In 1754 Pichon turned his coat.  He offered his services to these new friends and served as a spy for over a year, chanelling information about French activities to the enemy.  After the capture of Fort Beauséjour in June of 1755, he crossed over to England where he was rewarded with a pension.  In 1769 he moved to the Channel island of Jersey, where he died in 1781. 

Johnston, long enthralled by the man who has been described in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography as "one of the most intriguing figures in the early history of Canada" , has endeavoured to imagine young Pichon's early years in the Old Country.  Readers first encounter Thomas as a precocious twelve-year old in the small town of Vire, Normandy, then follow his adolescent adventures and his rebellious nighttime flight to Paris where he takes up the job of a lowly office clerk, aspires to literature, and sets out on his path by moonlighting as a part-time spy for the police.  I look forward to picking it up.

We all have a novel in us, or so they say.


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