Sans l’homme la terre n’est point féconde c’est ce besoin qu’elle de lui qui le lie à la terre, qui le fait prisonnier de trente arpents de glèbe. (p. 65)
(Without man the land is not fertile. It is because it needs man that man is tied to the soil, that he is the prisoner of thirty acres of land.)
Trente Arpents (Thirty Acres)[i]
Trente Arpents is considered the last of the regionalist novels. It is a gem of a novel and won its author, Ringuet, a pseudonym for Dr Phillippe Panneton (April 30, 1895 [Trois-Rivières] – December 28, 1960 [Lisbon]), a medical doctor who went on to write more novels and became a diplomat.
However, among his other novels, none is so moving as the story of the rise and fall of Euchariste Moisan who is wedded to the trente arpents he has inherited from his uncle Éphrem. L’oncle Éphrem and his wife never had children, but they brought Euchariste whose entire family perished in a fire when he was still a tiny child.
At the very beginning of the novel not only does Euchariste learn that he will inherit his uncle’s land, but arrangements are being made for Euchariste to marry a neighbour’s daughter a neigbours’s daughter who will dutifully have “son nombre,” or the number of children she is destined to bear, as though her numerous and draining pregnancies had nothing to do with sexual intercourse.
Soon after Éphrem tells Euchariste that when he dies he will inherit the thirty acres, Éphrem dies and Euchariste finds himself the owner of the thirty acres land the habitants of New France, rented from their SEIGNEUR. Because Éphrem dies, Euchariste and Alphonsine may marry a little earlier than anticipated and occupy the large room: “la grande chambre” The household also includes “la vieille Mélie,” an unmarried elderly woman who simply arrived at Éphrem’s door and never left. Mélie helps Alphonsine until she is very old and dies almost imperceptibly in her chair. As for Alphonsine, she gives birth first to a son, Oguinase, then a daughter who dies shortly after the birth of the couple’s third child.
Il [Euchariste] les accueillait ces naissances, sans plaisir comme aussi sans regret…. Il fallait qu’Alphonsine eût ‘son nombre’. (p.67)
(He welcomed these births, without pleasure, yet without regret. Alphonsine simply had to have ‘her number’.)
In the second part of the novel, appropriately divided into the four seasons, Euchariste is more of an owner, but tilling the land and looking after the farm animals is onerous. Despite years of draught, Eucharists prospers. He puts money in the notary’s safe regularly. As for Alphonsine, she is raising her children and still “féconde” (fertile).
At this point, Éphrem is asked to see the curé, the parish priest. Oguinase is old enough and sufficiently gifted to be recruited for the priesthood by the curé. He will not have to pay tuition fees.
So Oguinase leaves for the petit séminaire, the private school, now abolished, that allowed graduates to enter the priesthood, le grand séminaire, or university (law or medicine). Euchariste talks about his projetcs. On their way home, they visit a cousin living in a village. The house is more humble than Euchariste had expected. Euchariste talks about his projects: raising hens. Two events now mark the year: Oguinase’s departure for the college and his return.
Euchariste hopes his son Éphrem will help him more and more, but Éphrem is growing into rebel. Moreover, the world is changing. Machines are being used by farmers, machines that can cut fingers off, and cars that kill Euchariste’s hens. The parist has grown to such an extent that a new parish is founded. All around him, Euchariste’s world is changing and his new circumstances cause him to stiffen.
Moreover, it seems Alphonsine is again pregnant, but she feels that something is amiss. She sees her reflection in a mirror and the woman looking at her is no longer Alphonsine. In the mirror she sees an old and sick woman. A doctor is called who tells her to stay in bed, her death-bed.
Alphonsine raises her family; there are good years and years of draught. Euchariste saves his money. Oguinase is sent to the petit séminaire. On their way to the séminaire Euchariste stops in a village to visit with a cousin and says he will be raising hens. Machines, cars, enter the picture and they are very destructive. Machines, cars, enter the picture and they are very destructive. Euchariste will be raising hens. Éphrem turns into a bit of a rebel. Alphonsine dies. An American cousin and his wife visit. We suspect Éphrem will leave for the United States.(Allow me to pause at this point as this blog is now too long. I will publish a sequel.) _________________________ [i] Ringuet, Trente Arpents (Paris: Flammarion, collection bis 1991) © Micheline Walker 27 July 2012 WordPress revised 12 January 2014 Winter Landscape