Quebec Studies

Intentionality and Representation in Anne Hébert's Kamouraska

Quebec Studies (1988), 6, (1), 92–103.


Québec Studies, No. 6,1988 INTENTIONALITY AND REPRESENTATION IN ANNE HÉBERPS KAMOURASKA by Elaine Hopkins Garrett Anne Hébert's Kamouraska has received much attention from critics, who have recognized this novel, written in 1970, as a masterpiece of narrative technique. However, one of the most striking features of the novel is its theatricality, which is evident on several levels. Elisabeth, the novel's principal character, selfconsciously plays many roles, including that of narrator of her dream, a disorganized series of scenes from her past that centers around the murder of her husband by her lover. Many of the scenes in the dream are described from the exterior, as if Elisabeth were directing actors representing the story of her life, and the narration often reads like stage directions. After a general discussion of the theatrical elements of the novel,1 I will argue that Elisabeth removes herself from the action in an attempt to control the dream, to shape it like a tragedy in which she plays the role of tragic heroine, in order to expiate her own guilt for inciting the murder of her husband. Kamouraska is divided into sixty-five non-numbered sections of approximately three to five pages. Most of these correspond to scenes in Elisabeth's dream, her spectacle intérieur. It is revealing that at several points in the novel, she makes reference to "la vraie vie," which alternately designates the real present, that of the middle-aged Mme Jérôme Rolland, whose elderly husband is dying, and the present of the récit, that of Elisabeth Tassy, unhappy wife of the seigneur of Kamouraska and lover of Dr. George Nelson, the American loyalist. The past is painful to Elisabeth, and as narrator/ metteur en scène of her dream, she attempts 1) to distance herself from the events and emotions she is reliving and 2) to control the order and the speed of the representation: "Chasser les fantômes. Dissiper l'effroi. Organiser le songe" (97). In these ways, Elisabeth would repress distasteful memories and concentrate on the relatively brief moments of passion and fulfillment she has experienced. For instance, in an attempt to slow the action that leads inexorably to the murder of Antoine and the discovery of George's guilt, the narrator plays with language. In her mind, following George on his long trip to Kamouraska to kill Antoine, Elisabeth stops the action at Rivière-Ouelle:

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Author details

Garrett, Elaine