Quebec Studies

Book Reviews: Literature and Criticism

Quebec Studies (1988), 6, (1), 121–136.


Québec Studies, No. 6,1988 BOOK REVIEWS: LITERATURE AND CRITICISM HAMBLET, EDWIN. La Littérature canadienne francophone. (Collection Profile Formation/français, #419-120.) Paris: Hatier, 1987. Pp. 159. Professor Edwin Hamblet has managed a remarkable feat in this slim volume that is at once a literary history and an anthology. Restrained by page limitations and the literary manual format of Hatier's "Collection Profile Formation," he has succeeded in producing a very readable book which will appeal to the general French reading public unfamiliar with French Canada as well as to literature students at the high school or undergraduate level. With its map, chronologies, indexes, and bibliography, the book would be an excellent basic text for an Introduction to Quebec Literature course. What makes the book so enjoyable to read is Hamblet's elegant prose and his vision of the intimate relationship between Quebec's civilization and its literature. As he traces the history of Québec, analyzing social, economic, and political development, he also traces the evolution of Quebec's sense of collective identity and its nationalist aspirations as reflected in literature. Without exaggerated rhetoric, the author describes the precarious situation of a French-speaking minority surrounded by an anglophone majority in harsh geographical circumstances. In the history and literature of Québec, Hamblet seeks both the unique and the universal aspects of the Québécois people. The book is organized by chronology and by genre. Each of the three main parts is introduced by some general comments on the history and literature of the period, followed by a list of the dates of key events. The brief first section covers the period from Jacques Carrier's discovery of Canada in 1534 to the Treaty of 1763, which formalized the British Conquest of "La Nouvelle France." Hamblet gives us a general description of the early texts of the colony and then singles out key figures (Cartier, Champlain, Lescarbot, Marie de l'Incarnation, the Jesuit Fathers) for further study. For each writer, he gives biographical and bibliographical information, followed by a brief excerpt from the major work. For playwrights and novelists, Hamblet selects one work, summarizes the plot and makes some critical judgments before presenting the excerpt. The excerpts are carefully chosen and skillfully integrated into the overall scheme of the manual. The second section deals with the nineteenth century and is subdivided by genre: poetry, novel, theater, and popular songs. There are introductory remarks on the characteristics and development of each genre and then more detailed comments on a few selected authors. It is regrettable that space restraints do not allow for the inclusion of the first French-Canadian novel, L'Influence d'un livre (1837) by Philippe Aubert de Gaspé fils, or the first psychological novel, Laure Conan's Angäine de Montbrun (1882). Two-thirds of the book is devoted (and rightfully so) to twentieth-century works. In the poetry section, Hamblet groups writers by shared themes and subject matter. For example, Nelligan and Saint-Denys Garneau are coupled under the subheading "l'aliénation intérieure"; Grandbois, Lasnier, and Hébert are grouped under the rubric "un souffle nouveau"; Miron, Giguère, and Chamberland are 'les poètes du pays." Hamblet divided the novel section by subject matter: 'la vie rurale

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