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Évangéline, a Tale of Acadie

A few years ago, I published a paper in which I told about French priests who fled to England to escape the guillotine and were then sent to Canada where many became missionaries in Atlantic Canada. 

I gathered my information from l’abbé Henri-Raymond Casgrain’s Un Pèlerinage au pays d’Évangéline (1855) and Une Seconde Acadie (1894). These books are now available online, but I had to read them under the supervision of a librarian. 

First, let me point to the title of l’abbé Casgrain’s first book: Un Pèlerinage au pays d’Évangéline. As I have mentioned in an earlier blog, Évangéline is a fictional character created by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (27 February 1807 – 24 March 1882).  She is the heroine of a long poem published in 1847. Longfellow heard the story of an Évangéline while he was having dinner with Nathaniel Hawthorne (4 July 1804 – 19 May 1864), the author of the famous Scarlet Letter (1850).

The Deportation of the Acadians by Charles Jefferys

The Deportation of the Acadians, 1755

There may have been an Évangéline separated from a Gabriel during the deportation of Acadians. The soldiers who put these victims into boats separated members of the same family. But Longfellow’s Évangéline is a fictional character whom Acadians have mythified, thereby giving themselves a symbol that bestows selfhood, an identity. Longfellow’s poem was a great success, but he could not possibly have expected that his poem would be successful not only as a literary work but as resistance. The literary homeland is resistance.

As for l’abbé Casgrain, he corralled the fictional Évangéline into the giants that gave French-speaking Canadians both a past and mythology.  In fact, he gave her a homeland: un pays and he called his trip to Atlantic Canada a pilgrimage.  The title tells the story: Un Pèlerinage au pays d’Évangéline (A Pilgrimage to the Country of Évangéline).

However, Évangéline is a metaphor. When Acadians were deported, couples were separated.  Évangéline, therefore, represents all the women who were separated from their fiancés and, for that matter, her Gabriel represents all the young men who were separated from their betrothed. 

But what makes this book particularly fascinating is the presence in Atlantic Canada of French priests: aristocrats. Many Acadians had found their way back to their former land and even though their farms had been given new owners, they started to build a second Acadie… 

(I will stop here because I lost most of this blog, by clicking on the publish button.  I have rewritten two-thirds of my blog, but I am now tired.  So I will finish it in the morning and will also send you the words and music of a second voyageur song.)

Antoine Gérin-Lajoie, 1842 
Un Canadien errant
Alan Mills
Henry Wadsworth LongfellowEvangeline: a Tale of Acadie (1847)
Love to everyone 

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© Micheline Walker
24 January 2012