Maria Chapdelaine is the next step in examining regionalism in Quebec literature. I have published a short post on Maria Chapdelaine, a novel by Louis Hémon (October 12, 1880 – July 8, 1913), a Frenchman born in Brest. After studying law and oriental languages at the Sorbonne, Hémon moved to London and, in 1911, to Quebec. In 1912, he spent several months working with cultivateurs, or farmers in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area, up the beautiful Saguenay River. He lived in a community called Péribonka and spent the winter of 1913 in that community, writing his novel.
Having completed his manuscript, Hémon sent it to France and started travelling west, probably to Edmonton, where French citizens had settled. He was killed in a train accident on July 8, 1913, in Chapleau, Ontario. He did not live to see Maria Chapdelaine become a bestseller. It has been translated into more than 20 languages in 23 countries, and it has been made into four movies.
The plot is simple, but although Maria Chapdelaine is a roman du terroir, it differs substantially from Patrice Lacombe’s Terre paternelle and Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau’s Charles Guérin. Louis Hémon’s Samuel Chapdelaine does not feel dispossessed of his ancestral land and betrayed. Moreover, Louis Hémon’s novel, Maria Chapdelaine, does not feature an ethnic conflict.
The artwork featured in this post is illustrations for Maria Chapdelaine, executed by Clarence Gagnon and housed at the McMichael Museum, in Kleinburg, Ontario.
However, Hémon worked with men like Maria Chapdelaine’s father, Samuel Chapdelaine, a name not coincidentally resembling that of the Father of New France, Samuel de Champlain. These otherwise unemployed men were trying to transform rebellious soil into arable land. They had gone north, as the colourful curé Labelle (November 24, 1833 – January 4, 1891) advocated, and were “making land” (faire de la terre).[i] Father Labelle preached “colonisation,” which was the “patriotic” choice. Leaving for the United States wasn’t.
Maria’s ‘Choices:’ F. Paradis, L. Surprenant & E. Gagnon
As indicated in my post, Hémon gives Maria Chapdelaine three suitors: François Paradis, Lorenzo Surprenant and Eutrope Gagnon. In traditional Quebec society, happiness was viewed not only as impossible but as dangerous. François dies in a snowstorm, which was to be expected. Lorenzo Surprenant has come north to find a wife and take her to the United States, but Maria turns him down. She will marry a neighbour, Eutrope Gagnon, and live as her mother lived. The names of the suitors are revealing: Paradis is paradise; Surprenant is surprising, and Gagnon’s name is close to the French verb gagner: to win.
Maria Chapdelaine also differs from Patrice Lacombe’s La Terre paternelle and Chauveau’s Charles Guérin in that, unlike Chauveau’s Charles Guérin, it does not feature an “ugly” Englishman: Mr Wagnaër. As for La Terre paternelle, although the novel does not feature an explicit “ugly” Englishman, Jean Chauvin fails where an Englishman would succeed. I believe this is the reason why Lacombe views cities as unhealthy.
Our next regionalist novel is Father Félix-Antoine Savard‘s (August 31, 1896 – August 24, 1982) Menaud maître-draveur, 1937 (translated as Boss of the River, or Master of the River by Alan Sullivan (1947). It earned Savard a Medal from the French Academy.
To view more illustrations of Maria Chapdelaine, by Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté,
please click on the link below: http://www.archiv.umontreal.ca/exposition/louis_hemon/oeuvre/oeuvre_page2-3.html
[i] Curé Labelle, a legendary figure, is featured in Claude-Henri Grignon’s (Sainte-Adèle, 8 July 1894 – Québec, 3 April 1976) novel Un homme et son péché (1933). Grignon’s novel was transformed into a popular serialised radio and television drama and made into a movie three times. The second movie is entitled Séraphin: Heart of Stone (2003). Séraphin is a miser, and he is cruel to his wife Donalda.
© Micheline Walker
7 June 2012
Patrice Lacombe’s La Terre paternelle
Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau’s Charles Guérin