the upper midwest / in Exsules Filii Evae

Echoes of history still resound in the part of the United States where Exsules Filii Evae takes place.  If one of the distinguishing facts about the upper midwest is the expansiveness of the prairie and the difficulty in populating it with any density, a related one is that it's frontier history is closer than that of much of the rest of America.  Between 1850 and 1880 the European population of what is now the state of Minnesota rose from 5,300 to 780,000.  During this period, Yankee kings of industry, notably the owners of the railroads, sent agents to northern Europe to sell the virtues of the area to prospective immigrants.  It was in 1876 that the first archbishop of St. Paul, John Ireland, founded the Catholic Colonization Bureau, and as a land agent for the railroads, drew thousands of European Catholic immigrants to colonies he established in southwestern Minnesota.  Adrian's grandfather, Jude Heaney, came to America at Archbishop Ireland's urging and lived in one of these colonies. 

For Adrian's family, therefore, Catholicism was more than just religion--it was the vehicle that brought them out of England to the U.S. 

Adrian's response to his mother not wanting ever to belong in her adopted town of Ryder, Iowa, seems to be twofold:  feeling identified with her, he imagines himself an alien in Ryder; yet he longs for an identity he can hold onto as well, and finds one in his imagination, as the grandson of a church builder, and great grandson and great great grandson of church builders. 


It was not until 1881 the last of the Sioux surrendered with Sitting Bull at Fort Buford, in what would become in 1889 the state of North Dakota.  After two years of confinement, Sitting Bull and his immediate followers were sent to live on the Standing Rock reservation.  Although the Chippewa of North Dakota were evangelized by Roman Catholics starting in the 1830s by Father Belcourt, and the Mandan in 1840 by Father DeSmet, the Sioux of that area were not evangelized until the Father Genin established a mission at Ft. Totten in 1865.  The Grey Nuns opened a school on the Fort Totten Reservation in 1874, and Benedictine priests and nuns opened a school on the Standing Rock Reservation in 1877.  When Eileen goes to teach on the Standing Rock Reservation, she is following a tradition that is approximately a century old, and a living remnant of the frontier era.  

The frontier lives on as well, in Exsules Filii Evae, not only in the antique shops that Adrian frequents, but in the cultural institutions and practices that appear in the novel.   Although Adrian was a town kid, he was socialized in childhood by means of the local 4-H club, and Eileen notes that the principal cultural alternative she has to the altar society at Fort Yates is the local Homemaker's Club.  Elsie Seaman, at the age of 80-something, persists in gathering wild gooseberries for jam, stocking up for winter with home-grown root vegetables, and assisting the ladies at the old age home in procuring scraps of fabric for their quilting groups.   As there is in every small town in America, there is assuredly a 7-11 down the street, but it coexists with these throwbacks, as it were, to a time when Manifest Destiny was not quite a fait accompli