Quebec Studies

Book Reviews

Quebec Studies (1989), 8, (1), 131–137.


Québec Studies, No. 8, 1989 BOOK REVIEWS LITERATURE AND CRITICISM CHAMPAGNE, GUY, éd. L(Oeuvre poétique d'Eudme Evanturel. (Vie des Lettres Québécoises, 26.) Québec: Les Presses de l'Université Laval, 1988. Pp. 351. Eudore Evanturel (1852-1919), was not, by any criterion of judgement, a great poet. Yet, this author of a single volume of poetry, Premières Poésies 1876-I878 (1878; second ed., 1888), is not without interest or historical significance. In the eighth decade of the nineteenth century, poetry in Québec was still neoclassical; some "Romantic" poetry was being written, but mainly of the mystical or patriotic variety. Breaking with contemporary poetic habits, Evanturel drew inspiration from Musset and, to a lesser extent, Gautier and the Parnassians, to produce a poetry that appears, in the Canadian context, fresh and new. Evanturel avoids the declamatory verse that had become a feature of nineteenth-century Québec poetry and, for the most part, writes with simplicity and a lack of affectation. Some of his poetry is poignant ("Au Collège"), some is light and tender ("Les Amoureux"), and some expresses controlled grief ("Dernière Nuit"). Evanturel is successful at the creation of mood ("Pastel") and is capable of a social conscience ("Entre Nous"). Some of the verse is light and almost casual (the section "Plumes et Crayons," for example). The image that we retain from this volume is that of a young poet eager to break out of the mold of the classical poetics then in favor in Québec. If Evanturel rejected the conventions of neoclassicism, he adopted on the other hand a number of Romantic conventions: the persona of the consumptive, splenetic poet, "morne et traînant de l'aile," a high incidence of personification, and stock Romantic imagery ("lèvres de carmin"). Even within the Romantic or Parnassian aesthetic, his output is considerably uneven and contains some poetry (such as his sonnets) that is clearly quite poor. Because his verse infringes on the rules of neoclassical poetics and because his love poetry mildly alludes to the existence of sensuality, ultramontane critics of the period, led by Jules-Paul Tardivel, were outraged and railed against its immorality and unorthodoxy. Political motivations were also present in this debate, since Evanturel (whose father was a prominent Liberal politician) was identified with the Liberal party. Although Evanturel was supported by writers of the stature of Joseph Marmette, who wrote the preface to the first edition, the vituperative critics carried the day. Evanturel virtually stopped writing poetry to pursue a career in the provincial bureaucracy. When he lost his position because of a change of government which brought the conservatives to power in 1879, he moved to the United States and became, for a time, Francis Parkman's secretary. Guy Champagne has provided us with an excellent critical edition of the complete poetry of this timid, innovative voice. Such an edition was clearly needed, since the only twentieth-century edition was a photographic reproduction of the 1877 edition published in 1979 by Leméac. Some of the poetry published in periodicals had never been republished and none of the poetry left in manuscript had ever been published. Champagne has wisely chosen to use as his basic text the edition of 1877 rather than that of 1888 which Evanturel, sensitive to the criticism of conservative critics, edulcorated and self-censored, eliminating most of the love poetry. The editor gives all the versions of each poem as well as their place of publication and republication and all their extant variants. The notes include a brief commentary on each poem and a survey of critical opinion. The thoroughness of the work is such that the notes and variants section of the volume is over 150 pages long. The study of nineteenth-century Québec literature has over the past several decades emerged

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