Quebec Studies

Conversion and Reconversion in the Writings of Marie De L'Incarnation

Quebec Studies (1988), 6, (1), 65–77.

Abstract

Çhiébec Studies, No. 6,1988 CONVERSION AND RECONVERSION IN THE WRITINGS OF MARIE DE L'INCARNATION by Mary M. Rowan Marie Guyard (1599-1672) of Tours, known in religion as Marie de l'Incarnation, left voluminous writings, including two versions of an autobiography and nearly 8,000 letters that address both spiritual and worldly concerns. In the letters to her son, to relatives in Tours, and to notable members of devout circles in France, Marie told of the rude but exhilarating daily lives of the founders of Québec in forceful language filled with earthy images. Historians comb these descriptions of the ravages inflicted on the pioneer settlements by fire, plague, and Iroquois raids for poignant details of the colonists' hardships. Of special interest are her struggles to educate the women of New France—whether French or Canadian, Montagnais, Algonquin or Huron—and to learn their languages, a topic mat has attracted critical attention only recently. Although much of the factual information in Marie's writings duplicates the contents of the Jesuit Relations and Dollier de Casson's history of the founding of Montreal, she attracts readers today because of her inimitable style and, I would insist, her particular feminine slant on the beginnings of Québec.1 Marie's spiritual writings relate all the stages of her lifelong mystical quest, which inspired her Jesuit confessor, Jérôme Lalement, to name her the "Saint Theresa of Canada." This title was embellished by Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, who proclaimed Marie de l'Incarnation to be the "Saint Theresa of our day and of the New World."2 The modern reader can only be awed by the energy of this nun who shaped the cultural life of women in new France while engaged in brutal physical and intellectual labor. Her worldly tasks never interfered with her spiritual duties and, in the fashion of the day, she subjected her body to long hours of prayer, fasting and rigorous chastisement, as she sought divine favors in visions and continued union with her sacred spouse. Her literary work occupied the late evening hours, and sometimes the whole night, as she rushed to finish letters before the ships sailed for France in late autumn. She mixed details of her daily round with reluctant ac-

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Rowan, Mary