MULLINS, ROSANNA ELEANORA (Leprohon), poet and novelist; b. in Montreal, L.C., 12 Jan. 1829, daughter of Francis Mullins, a well-known businessman, and Rosanna Connelly; d. 20 Sept. 1879 at Montreal, Que.
Rosanna Eleanora Mullins was educated at the convent of the Congregation of Notre-Dame in Montreal, which offered schooling and moral instruction to the daughters of the well-to-do. She remained there until some time after 1846 when she published her first poems. Judging from the religious themes, the moral tone, and the vocabulary employed in her poetry, she received a sound instruction in languages and religion. Her love for the teacher who recognized and encouraged her talent is obvious in a poem addressed to her.
At the beginning of her literary career, in 1846, much of Rosanna’s prose and verse appeared in the Literary Garland, a small magazine dedicated to encouraging Canadian talent. It regularly published poetry, memoirs, essays, sketches, short stories, and serialized novels of an impersonal, wholesome, and uplifting kind, and was a magazine fit to appear in the parlour of the most demanding and cultivated Canadian family. Other well-known Canadians whose work appeared in the Garland included Susanna Strickland* Moodie, Catharine Parr Strickland* Traill, John Richardson*, William Dunlop*, Mary Anne Madden* Sadlier, and Charles Sangster*. Rosanna, who then signed herself “R.E.M.,” published in other magazines and newspapers as well, for example the True Witness [see Clerk], the Journal of Education, and the New Dominion Monthly.
In 1851 Rosanna married Dr Jean-Lucien Leprohon*, of an old French Canadian family, who was then practising medicine at Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu. He was a man of culture, as well as of science, and a man of energy, who had found time to publish one of the first medical journals in Canada East, La Lancette canadienne. In 1855 they moved to Montreal, where he became surgeon to an army regiment, a city councillor, professor of medicine, member of the Catholic Committee of the Council of Public Instruction, and a leader in his social circle. He was also made Spanish consul in Montreal and was decorated by that country for his services. Through him, his family, and his friends, Mrs Leprohon came to know intimately the aristocracy of Quebec, and their values, hopes, and aspirations; much of the background for her later novels was gathered among them.
The marriage proved a fruitful one, and 13 children were born to the couple. From her portrait Mrs Leprohon appears an intelligent, self-possessed, handsome woman. Though her literary output was smaller after her marriage, her best work, the novels set in Quebec, was produced then. She died in September 1879, and was buried in Côte-des-Neiges Cemetery in Montreal.
Mrs Leprohon’s poetry was collected after her death and published in 1881 in Montreal. It is touched with moral seriousness and didacticism, and the tone of much of it is summed up by a footnote to a poem called “The Boyhood of Jesus”: “An old tradition avers that our Saviour was never seen to laugh during his mortal life.” Besides many poems of Catholic inspiration, she wrote others describing family life – its happy and its sad moments – and her country. Her best poem, “A Canadian Snowfall” evokes a picture somewhat similar to that in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Snowfall,” but the likeness may have been accidental. The influence of Thomas Gray is more easily identified, not only in the many morbid themes but in actual turns of phrase. Her nature poetry consists mainly of romantic descriptive lyrics depicting seasonal changes or giving impressions of vistas such as those at Murray Bay (Pointe-au-Pic) or the gorge of the Saguenay River. These poems are Canadian in the sense that they describe Canadian nature, but they are first of all romantic in tone. Her patriotism shows in “The Maple Leaf” and her intense interest in Canada’s past in “Jacques Cartier’s First Visit to Mount Royal,” and others. A small number of poems on Indian themes are difficult to characterize. They deal mainly with death – the deaths of Indian maidens, who somehow assume the attitudes of romantic white heroines. In “The White Maiden and the Indian Girl,” R.E.M. compares at length two life styles, and decides that the Indian leads the superior existence – a conclusion which, considering what R.E.M. must have known about the lives then led by Indian women, is romantically dishonest. R.E.M.’s poetry is good technically, and, in places, interesting in theme and content, but it must take second place to her novels of life in early Quebec.
Her first story, “The Stepmother,” appeared serially in the Literary Garland in 1847, and the next year, in the same periodical, came “Ida Beresford,” which was later translated by Joseph-Édouard Lefebvre de Bellefeuille into French and ran serially in L’Ordre (1859–60). Other romantic serials appeared in the Garland in 1849, 1850, and 1851.
There appears to be a gap in Mrs Leprohon’s output of fiction from 1851 (the year of her marriage and the year the Garland disappeared) until 1859 when “The manor house of Villerai” appeared in installments in the Family Herald. A French translation, by de Bellefeuille, Le manoir de Villerai, came out in book form in 1861. (It was published again in French in 1924.) The story is set in Quebec prior to the English conquest; in it Blanche de Villerai, heiress to a seigneury, finally renounces her aristocratic husband-to-be to a beautiful, saintly peasant girl, Rose Lauson, who has just nursed her through a case of small-pox. It is a romantic novel, marred by intrusions of large wedges of history and folk-lore. The second novel in this new series, which also shows the results of Mrs Leprohon’s introduction into the upper levels of French Canadian society, was Antoinette de Mirecourt (published by John Lovell* of Montreal in 1864), which was translated into French and published in book form the following year. It also appeared serially in French in Les Nouvelles, soirées canadiennes in 1886 and 1887. A well-to-do country girl comes to Montreal immediately following the British occupation. Her relatives welcome British officers into their society, and the heroine falls in love with one of them, who turns out to be a villain from whom she has to be rescued. This is a romantic, stilted novel, the worst of the later group. Four years later, Armand Durand appeared serially in the Daily News of Montreal. It was published in book form by Lovell in 1868, and in French the following year. This novel concerns two sons of a farmer, one of whom inherits the farm dishonestly; the other becomes a lawyer and he is made the centre of attention as he struggles first to qualify and then to support a silly wife. Mrs Leprohon’s final fulllength novel, Ada Dunmore, appeared in 1869 in the Canadian Illustrated News and was followed by several other stories in the Canadian Illustrated News and in the Canadian Monthly.
Mrs Leprohon’s early fiction, and indeed almost all of it, is filled with tearful partings, broken engagements, timely and untimely deaths, chance meetings, and happy reconciliations: obviously the outpouring of a romantic fancy fed on the novels of her time. But though her novels have little appeal now, they retain some of their charm if taken for what they were: amusement for women readers of early Canada. They are readable, if not believable, episodic (because of publishing demands), but not boring, especially Armand Durand. In her later novels more serious themes appear. Most common is love between people widely separated by background, temperament, or wealth. Her knowledge of Quebec and its history, and her psychological insight into strained domestic arrangements (both of which seem to have appeared after her own marriage) give a refreshing realism to many parts of these novels. She made shrewd use of her observation of her French in-laws, her own sense of class, and heir talents as a story teller. In her major novels, she: appears in the role of peacemaker between the; French and the English, trying to make good manners smooth over ruffled feelings, seeking to explain the feelings of the French Canadian and to make the English appear in an acceptable light. The measure of her success in both languages is to be seen in the number of her publications and in the fact that her works were found worthy of translation and were being reissued as late as 1924. As the first Canadian widely read in both languages she is the precursor of William Kirby*, Horatio Gilbert Parker* and Hugh MacLennan*.
Among the writings of Rosanna Eleanora Mullins are the following: Antoinette de Mirecourt: or secret marrying and secret sorrowing, a Canadian tale (Montreal, 1864); Armand Durand; or a promise fulfilled (Montreal, 1868); “The manor house of Villerai,” Family Herald (Montreal), 1859, published in French as Le manoir de Villerai, roman historique sous la domination française (Montréal, 1861; [1884?]; 1924); The poetical works of Mrs. Leprohon (Miss R. E. Mullins) (Montreal, 1881); and two works that she signed “R.E.M.”: “Clarence Fitz Clarence,” Literary Garland (Montreal), Jan.–May 1851; “Florence, or wit and wisdom,” Literary Garland (Montreal), Feb.–Dec. 1849.
The following works provide a complete list of Mme Leprohon’s writings: M. M. Brown, An index to the Literary Garland (Montreal, 1838–1851) (Toronto, 1962), 24. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis. Watters, Check list. Watters and Bell, On Canadian literature.
Archives paroissiales de Notre-Dame (Montréal), Registres des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures. Morgan, Sketches of celebrated Canadians. A.-H. Deneau, “Life and works of Mrs. Leprohon,” unpublished