Quebec Studies

Teaching French-Canadian Civilization through the Literature: Hemon, Roy, and Blais

Quebec Studies (1984), 2, (1), 82–93.

Abstract

TEACHING FRENCH-CANADIAN CIVILIZATION THROUGH THE LITERATURE: HEMON, ROY, AND BLAIS Marjorie A. Fitzpatrick Many of us who teach in American undergraduate insti­ tutions, especially outside New England, do not have the luxury of devoting separate courses to the civilization of French Canada and to its literature. At the same time, we recognize our stu­ dents' need for at least some acquaintance with the former fully to appreciate the latter. With that problem in mind, I offer in this paper a plan for using the literature itself as a vehicle for introducing students to some of the major features of FrenchCanadian society from the beginning of this century to the Quiet Revolution. The three novels I have chosen for this purpose— Maria Chapdelaine, Bonheur d'occasion, and Une Saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel —are all acknowledged literary masterpieces, though it is perhaps even more important in the context of the plan proposed here that they are also vivid representations of three very different social, philosophical, and chronological milieux. While all of us in the field of French-Canadian literature and civilization know these works nearly by heart, they have been the subject of surprisingly few explicitly comparative studies. As a basis for comparing them while at the same time demonstrating how they serve collectively to represent a rapidly evolving society, I will examine four themes of great historical importance in French-Canadian culture: the church, the family, nature, and death. If we take the four themes as the pillars of a comprehensive code, we might schematize our study as follows: Maria Chapdelaine, the code as codified, or idealized; Bonheur d'occasion, the code weighed and found wanting; finally, Une Saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel, the code rejected. We will now see how this schéma works out as an analytical tool. Ever since the Quiet Revolution Maria Chapdelaine has suffered the slings and arrows, if not of outrageous fortune, at least of cynical hindsight. In an understandable but occasionally 1

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Fitzpatrick, Marjorie