Quebec Studies

Book Reviews: Literature and Criticism

Quebec Studies (1987), 5, (1), 135–141.


Quebec Studies, No. 5,1987 BOOK REVIEWS LITERATURE AND CRITICISM CAGNON, MAURICE. The French Novel of Quebec. (Twayne's World Authors Saies 776.) Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986. Pp. Xii + 157. $18.95. The Twayne's World Authors Series is intended for the general reader yet it often offers to the professional non-specialist a conase and reliable introduction to an author or a topic. The latest work of Professor Cagnon admirably meets the needs of such a varied readership. As the preface points out, this monograph is "the first English-language introduction to the Quebec novel, and the first book-length study of its development." This overall view is sketched mainly through brief analyses of mapr novels recognized by authorities in the field because of their intrinsic esthetic worth or their importance as sociological documents. Cagnon presents authors in a chronological order based on the publication date of their first novel. This scheme works quite well for the production of this century but presents drawbacks for the study of the nineteenth century where, as Laurent Mailhot has remarked, one deals with French-Canadian writers but not a French-Canadian literature. The works are too idiosyncratic, too sporadic to warrant the scientific use of terms such as "eC0l.d' or "Coolution." Professor Cagnon does not invent this Darwinian structure; he adopts the prevalent paradigms enunciated by literary historians in the last twenty years. The presentation of the chapters is based on an arrangement by century: a brief chapter on pre-nineteenth century prose to explain the absence of the novel before 1837; a ten-page chapter on the nineteenth to note the work of Boucher d e Boucherville, Aubert de Gasp6 #re, Napoleon Bourassa, GCrin Lajoie and Laure Conan; and a final chapter that takes up most of the text, on the twentieth century production. This artifiaal division is not a substitute for the widely accepted periods used to tie the development of the novel with the ideological and sociodemographic evolution of the province: the period of the trditional novel, 18371945, the age of the mman de h tern and other genres d thpse identified with a rural autarky and the reactionary ideology of mgsianism and sumiwnu promoted by the Catholic Church; the post-war novel, 1945-1960, years of transition marked by the existential preoccupations of Catholic humanists such as Giroux or me, and of iconoclasts such as Langevin who analyze evil and despair as they manifest themselves in the squalor of ghettos, among adolescents, the sick and the aged; and the contemporary novel, closely associated with the soaal and ideological upheavals of the Rkrolution trmquill. Cagnon is well aware of these demarcations, and the reader will find condensed bridge segments (titled "11950," '*195"-1984'') and notes in passim that underline the social, ideological and political realities that influenced the evolution of the novel. However, such considerations are much too broad and selective to provide the non-initiated reader with a clear and conase overall view of the soaehistorical context. Furthermore, they include errors of fact and interpretation that the intellectual or literary historians and the geographer would correct. Rimouski (p. 23), for example, is not a remote northern area of colonization, and most literary historians would have diffi-

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