I have been very busy putting together my blogs that deal with the history of Canada. If there is an * after the title, I am speaking about a novel, but a novel that has historical value. If there are two **, the post deals with a battle, one of the battles that lead to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.
My blogs are now protected by an official copyright, which indicates that they are my intellectual property. They may be quoted, but the source has to be given.
Yet, it is important for me to provide information to people who are not in a position to seek that information. The Internet is becoming an important source of information, information one can rely on. For people who are not able to get out and find this information in libraries, this is marvellous.
I often think of people whose mobility is impaired. Why should they be deprived of informative yet entertaining posts? They need a presence in their lives as I need the presence of others in my life.
So here is my Canada list, but it may not be complete. I may have forgotten a few posts. But we now have a little bundle, all wrapped up. However, voyageurs posts are missing, but they will be compiled. It’s a matter of time.
The order of this list goes from the more recent post to the oldest. There is a chronology.
* * *Gabrielle Roy’s Tin Flute* Parliament to the Rescue: the Hidden Solution (modified title) La Capricieuse & Crémazie’s Old Soldier* The Rebellion in Upper Canada: Wikipedia’s Gallery The Act of Union: the Aftermath The Act of Union 1840-41 Upper & Lower Canada The Aftermath: Krieghoff’s Quintessential Quebec The Canadian & his Terroir* Maria Chapdelaine* Évangéline & the Literary Homeland (cont’d)* Évangéline & the Literary Homeland* La Corriveau: A Legend* The Aftermath cont’d: Aubert de Gaspé’s Anciens Canadiens* Nouvelle-France’s Last and Lost Battle: The Battle of the Plains of Abraham** The Battle of Fort William Henry & Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans** Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Gozon, Marquis de Saint-Veran** Nouvelle-France’s Seigneurial System Jacques Cartier, the Mariner Pierre du Gua: a mostly Forgotten Founder of Canada Richelieu & Nouvelle-France Une Éminence grise: Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu et de Fonsac THE BATTLES Nouvelle-France’s Last and Lost Battle: The Battle of the Plains of Abraham The Battle of Fort William Henry & Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Gozon, Marquis de Saint-Veran A. J. Casson, The White Pine Johannes Brahms – Lullaby (please click on the title to hear the music) April 29, 2012 Micheline Walker©
Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002)
Bonheur d’occasion (1945) is one of the finest novels written in Canada. Its author, Gabrielle Roy, is often referred to as “la grande dame” of Canadian Literature in French. In 1947, Bonheur d’occasion was first translated into English by Hanna Josephson. Josephson’s The Tin Flute is a slightly abridged version of Bonheur d’occasion. In 1980, Roy’s novel was re-translated by Alan Brown, again in a slightly abridged version. It was then made into a film in 1983, the year Roy died.
Gabrielle Roy CC [Companion of the Order of Canada], FRSC [Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada] (22 March 1909 – 13 July 1983) was born in Saint-Boniface, a French-Canadian community that is now part of Winnipeg. First, she worked as a school teacher and has written fine short stories about her teaching days.Miyuki Tanobe Galerie Valentin
Bonheur d’occasion (FR), literally second-hand happiness was published in 1945, but it takes the reader back to the last days of Great Depression and the beginning of World War II. By 1945, Roy had moved from Manitoba to Montreal and worked as a journalist. Moreover, the last roman du terroir, regionalism, Ringuet’s Trente Arpents, had been published.
The Tin Flute (EN), a novel, is about a family living in Saint-Henri, in slums, on the wrong side of the track. On the other side of the track, one goes up a hill to Westmount. Given its nearness to the very centre of Montreal, Saint-Henri is now being gentrified. It was a very poor area of Montreal.
Rose-Anna is the main figure. She is married to Azarius Lacasse and is the mother of several children one of whom, Daniel, she carries in a little sleigh all the way up to a clinic. He is dying of leukemia and is sent to a hospital.
Ironically, Daniel spends the last days of his vanishing life in a comfortable bed and a warm room, cared for by doctors and nurses who speak very little French but whom he just loves. In fact, that episode, or those episodes, Daniel’s last days, epitomize the novel in that they constitute a fine example of Roy’s chief tool as the author of Bonheur d’occasion: irony. One is happy when one is about to die. Death is the solution.
But let us walk back down the hill to Saint-Henri. Rose-Anna has an adult daughter, Florentine, who works as a waitress at the restaurant counter of a dime store: le Quinze-Cents or the Fifteen Cents. Florentine is a little thin, but she is very attractive. The money she earns helps the impoverished Lacasse family and her father has a job. When Rose-Anna walks into the Quinze-Cents, Florentine is surprised to see her but treats her to a meal. Before leaving the store, Rose-Anne buys a tin flute for Daniel. So now we know why the novel was translated as The Tin Flute.
The Trip to the cabane à sucre (maple syrup)
However, everything goes wrong when, one day, Azarius tells Rose-Anna that they may borrow his employer’s truck and go visit her family who live in the country. It’s maple sugar season. Azarius had not been allowed to use the truck, so he loses his job.
Florentine and Jean Lévesque
In the meantime, Florentine has fallen in love with Jean Lévesque who has a profession and is employed. She starts to dream. During a visit to the Quinze-Cents, Jean tells Florentine to join him at the movie house, which she does, but he stands her up. Later he comes to visit her at the family’s home and seduces her.
Ironically, Florentine gets pregnant not long after telling her pregnant mother that this must end. They can’t afford more babies. Rose-Anna says: “What do you want, in life one does not do as one wants, one does as one can.”
Qu’est-ce que tu veux, Florentine, on ne fait comme on veut dans la vie; on fait comme on peut.[i]
As for Azarius, he now spends the day with the “boys,” in a restaurant. It’s their meeting-place and, together, they talk as though they could save the world, so they think.
Florentine and Emmanuel Létourneau
Florentine is being courted by another man: Emmanuel Létourneau. He comes from an upper middle-class family and wants to marry Florentine. She loves Jean Lévesque, but Emmanuel is now her only salvation. Although he is about to leave for Europe, as are his friends, they marry. She will get money every month and will live in a nice apartment.
One day, after they have moved into a humbler home—the Lacasse move every year to avoid the raise in rent or possible eviction—Azarius comes home wearing a military uniform. Like his son Eugène, Azarius has enlisted. The family now lives next to the railway tracks. When she sees her husband, Rose-Anna screams, but the deafening din of a train that seems headed for their house muffles her voice.
War kills. It is perdition. But it ‘saves’ Azarius and some of the boys. Rose-Anna will receive a pension cheque every month. Let me quote Michèle Lacombe who writes that “[t]he inhabitants greet the war as a source of salvation, rescuing them from unemployment.”
Bonheur d’occasion is an extremely compelling novel. Roy has managed to convey to the reader the degree of despair, and sometimes hope, of her characters. Roy has also managed to reveal to her readers the compassion she feels for her characters. I have seldom read so masterfully, yet subtly ironic a novel. However, Rose-Anna is not a mater dolorosa. On the contrary, few characters in Canadian Literature in French are as lucid and combative as she is. But what can she do?
Bonheur d’occasion, The Tin Flute earned Gabrielle Roy a major French literary prize, the Femina (France). It also earned her the 1947 Governor General’s Award for fiction as well as the Royal Society of Canada’s Lorne Pierce Medal. It sold more than three-quarters of a million copies. In 1947, the Literary Guild of America made The Tin Flute its book of the month. Madame Roy could barely believe the reception given the novel. She had to leave for Manitoba to avoid the attention.
In short, if Canada is still looking for its great novel, it may have been written 1945.
—ooo—Eric Satie, 18 Première Gymnopédie Gn. (please click on title to hear music)
[i] Gabrielle Roy, Bonheur d’occasion (Montréal: Boréal, 1998), p. 89.
[ii] Michèle Lacombe, “Bonheur d’occasion” <http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/bonheur-doccasion>.
[iii] David M. Hayne and Kathleen Kellett-Betsos, “Canadian literature.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 29 Jan. 2012.
Engraving by Willy Stöwer: Der Untergang der Titanic
I’ve just reread one of my favorite short stories. It’s about the Titanic and was published in 1955 by Gabrielle Roy (1909-1983) in a collection of short stories entitled Rue Deschambault, the name of Gabrielle Roy’s street in Saint-Boniface, a French-language part of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The story’s narrator, young Christine, is huddled with her parents and two visitors, monsieur Élie and his wife, in the family kitchen, next to a large stove. Outdoors, a bitter winter storm rages, but despite the storm, uncle Majorique, a raconteur or story teller, comes knocking at the door. Consequently, Le Titanic has a child narrator, as well as a story teller: innocence and experience!
Uncle Majorique has credibility and loves progress. He owns every volume of the Encyclopædia Britannica and looks forward to the day man will land on Mars and the Moon. So he speaks of the Titanic in a somewhat detached manner, but, as his name suggests, Majorique, he embellishes the prairie storm by telling the story of the Titanic, making the Titanic a rather oversized metaphor.
The story of the Titanic differs substantially from accounts of natural disasters. The sinking of the Titanic is a man-made tragedy and the chief sin is vanity: hubris. The Captain did not decrease the speed at which the ship was travelling. Yet, he knew there were icebergs in the vicinity. Icebergs are mountains of ice only the top of which is visible. They are therefore an invisible danger. Moreover, given the presumed invincibility of the ship; given also that its owners, The White Star Line, had not put the required number of lifeboats on deck, humans had played God. About 1,500 people died during that fateful night, 15 April 1912.
There are very few links between the sinking of the Titanic and the prairie storm except that both are images of humankind’s vulnerability. However, in both cases, we see the hand of a punitive God. Indeed “the poor people were rich.” It was very “wrong”, says Majorique, for them (an all-inclusive “them”) “to believe they were sheltered from God’s anger.”
Earlier in the story Christine mentions that above her mother’s sewing machine there hangs a picture of a severe God hovering above the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph and Jesus, who resemble ordinary people.
In 1955, a French-Canadian family might indeed have seen the hand of a punitive God in the sinking of the Titanic and it might also have seen the hand of God in natural disasters, such as Katrina and Irene. I remember being warned by a priest that if I wore shorts during the summer, I would go to Hell and my thighs would be burnt by Satan. As a result, God was terrifying to me.
However, the reason I am writing this blog is encapsulated in one sentence. When Christine hears that there were rich people on the Titanic, she says, as quoted above: “So the poor people were rich! (Ainsi les pauvres gens étaient riches!).” Sincere compassion for those who suffer is expressed in most of Gabrielle Roy’s works and, in Le Titanic, the compassionate character is the child narrator.
“Hammerstein!… Vanderbilt!…” says one of the friends of the family, monsieur Élie, trivializing the sinking of the Titanic. These names do not appear on the Titanic’s passenger list. However, among the lives reaped by the sinking of the Titanic are those of Benjamin Guggenheim and Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, both of whom were in their mid-forties, 46 and 47. Astor put his pregnant eighteen-year old wife in a lifeboat and Benjamin Guggenheim acted likewise. He made sure his mistress was ensconced in a lifeboat.
Some men may have jumped into the few lifeboats, but, theoretically, only women and children were permitted the relative security of lifeboats. So Benjamin Guggenheim and John Jacob Astor IV both died in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic and their death was as painful, cruel and useless as the death of the poorer passengers, including servants and members of the liner’s staff.
In other words, rich or poor, we are all alike and, if anything is wrong, it is as Majorique put it. It was wrong (mal) of them “to the think they were sheltered from the wrath of God (de se croire à l’abri de la colère de Dieu).”
We are nearing the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Flying airplanes into the towers of the World Trade Centre was a man-made disaster that killed indiscriminately. The terrorists were human beings who debased themselves. But what of the United States’ reaction: two wars, torture and near-bankruptcy.
In the end, Bin Laden was found and killed by commandos, the élite Navy Seals. All that was needed were highly–trained commandos and a dog named Cairo.
And now, just after the debt-ceiling crisis has been temporally resolved, the hurricane season is proving deadly and repairs will be expensive. But, please do not deplete social programs to finance the repairs. It is time for the US to make the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes and to promote a sense of “common purpose” (US Army Retired Lt General Russel L Honoré’s wording).
All are at risk. It’s the human condition. However, nothing prevents the US from fixing its problems without prompting anxiety attacks among grandmothers, the disabled, the veterans, the children, and destabilizing an increasingly global economy.
I have empathy for President Obama, and I agree with Lt General Russel L Honoré, (ret). It may not be a bad idea to send to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, those politicians who do not have a sense of responsibility, no more than a sense of nationhood. If Camp Shelby doesn’t suffice, have them roll up their sleeves and help Irene’s, Katrina’s, Rita’s and Katia’s victims.
Make the Titanic unsinkable.
P. S. Gabrielle Roy is the author of the internationally-acclaimed 1945 novel Bonheur d’occasion (The Tin Flute)
“My heart will go on”
from The Titanic
© Micheline Walker
4 September 2011