Marc Shell attended Mount Royal High School (MRHS) in Montreal's sheltered Town of Mount Royal suburb from 1960 to 64, years that corresponded with Quebec's Quiet Revolution, and with the broader international cultural revolution of the decade. In The Last Class, Shell recounts the experiences and the significance of this final cohort of students raised under the old educational and political order in Quebec, before the impact of social and institutional changes transformed Quebec society in general and it's English-lanuage community in particular. The book is a collective account in which Shell combines the experience and memories of his fellow students with his own. The story moves beyond memoir into a more complex and nuanced treatment of the identity of English-Quebecers in the postwar period, one which, through close attention to the dynamics of person and place, leads readers to question categories that have hitherto marked a good deal of commentary about the culture of English-speaking Quebec. Shell shows not only how society changed in these years, but also its enduring effects: many classmates from MRHS went on to leave Montreal, becoming the first wave of a large-scale English-language exodus from Quebec - one of the largest voluntary urban dispersions in world history. A collective memoir of adolescence at a critical time in the history of Quebec and Canada and in the wider history of North America, The Last Class opens a window onto the experiences of an anglophone community coming to terms with Quebec's Quiet Revolution and the fight for liberty and equality.
Marc Shell is Irving Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University.