Quebec Studies

When an Author Chooses/Uses French: Hébert and Chedid

Quebec Studies (1985), 3, (1), 148–159.

Abstract

When an Author Chooses/Uses French: Hébert and Chedid Marilyn Gaddis Rose It would be absurd to claim that a geographical setting or an historical event can be rendered authentically only by the language indigenous to that place or time. This would mean that countries with a colonial history, even if their populations could use the colonizer's language natively, would never be able to adapt it to their own experience. Such a claim would also preclude bilingual writers or diglossic countries from producing authentic literature. The preeminence of American literature refutes the first inference. Innumerable bilingual writers and diglossic national literatures refute the second inference. Yet on the other hand, it would be only common sense to claim that a group's language reflects the exigencies of its setting and the events of its history. The juncture of geography, history, and language cannot fail to affect a writer's expression. So, absurd as it may seem, sometimes with bilingual writers, especially writers from milieux which have experienced colonial conflicts of culture and language, we have the impression we are reading a good translation instead of an original work. Could this mean we detect a slight gap or mismatch between language and material? In any event, two superbly crafted novels, Anne Hébert's Kamouraska (1970) and Andrée Chedid's Nefertiti et le rêve d'Akhnaton (1974), gave me such an impression which subsequent personal travel only reinforced. Canada is majestic, and Egypt is overwhelming, but these novels are centripetal, if not claustrophobic. Should it make any difference that once in their lives either woman could have chosen English? that Chedid could have chosen Arabic also? that each is writing an historical novel and hence not about an era for which her own idiom was current? Should it make any difference that French is their literary medium? 1 2 3

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Rose, Marilyn