Quebec Studies

Orphic Elements in Anne Héberts Héloise

Quebec Studies (1987), 5, (1), 125–134.


QuCbec Studies, No.5,1987 ORPHIC ELEMENTS IN ANNE HEBERT'S HELOISE Janis L Pallister Although they are of a later vintage and of other genres, several texts of Anne Hkbert powerfully evoke the plays of Jean Cocteau, not so much as a source, but because the mutually surrealistic texts intersect and rearrange themselves-mnewhat like the natural phenomenon of plate tedonics-destroying and recreating each other.* Thus, not unlike Cocteau's Otphie, H6bert's gothic novel Hew& unfolds the story of Orpheus in a manner akin to surrealism taken "in its broadest sense" (Bourassa xvi), because, among other things, the work is haunted by bouches d'ombre (or talking shades). Moreover, it displays a characteristically surrealistic timelessness, an interest in cannibalism and vampires? a use of stacatto-like parataxis and litotis common to surrealist artists; and it also contains imagined occult communications of the main characters with the spirit world. As Bourassa shows, the oneiristic denial of the established world and a certain taste for the satanic have been a part of Qukbec literary tradition as far back as Philippe Aubert de Gasp6 fils and Emile Nelligan. But H6bert, while sharing in this national tradition, can also be linked to the continental automatists and lettrists (Bourassa 207). He?oi;se, in particular, exhibits sentence fragments or "phrases ca&s" and other endophasic techniques, including the litanies of the metro stations, that bespeak an objectivity or passive detachment on the part of the narrator, that seek to replicate mental processes, and that are allied with the style of the automatists. (I say "style," because an artist's automatic writing-as opposed to that of a madman-is in truth more carefully wrought than its name and its effect might permit us to initially suppose. The surrealists do not leave their art to chance. One must master or handle the accidents.) Incidentally, Hkbert's character Bernard-not unlike Cocteau's Orpheus-turns out a scrap of automatic writing (27) during the class he listlessly attends. Of course, oneirism is most immediately seen as a trait of the Hkbert text we are examining. "Ces gens-18 parlent en rke," the narrator says (52). And, later, Bernard is characterized as a sleepwalker (74). Oneirism and irrational or superreal phenomena are salient features of most of Cocteau's works, too, and although

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Author details

Pallister, Janis