Quebec Studies

The Letter of the Law in Anne Hébert's Kamouraska

Quebec Studies (1989), 8, (1), 17–26.

Abstract

Québec Studies, No. 8, 1989 THE LETTER OF THE LAW IN ANNE HÉBERT'S KAMOURASKA by Karen S. McPherson Anne Hébert's Kamowaska is, among other things, about the way in which language and law support (and may therefore also subvert) one another's authority. Kamouraska is more than the story of a crime; it is the story of the narrating of that crime. In fact, in this novel, the criminal process of bringing to justice, of trying an accused, is directly reflected and challenged in and through the narrative process. Seeming to obey a law of its own, this narrative drives and pursues its narrator, and in the resulting tensions between reconstructing and refuting, interpreting and deferring, remembering and forgetting, we may read a struggle for narrative control, a struggle for the authority to produce or prevent a definitive reading of the crime. Both criminal and narrative processes realize the inherent antinomy between plea and verdict, between testimony and sentence, between the still-developing and the irrevocable. Both criminal and narrative processes imply the pre-existence of some kind of law. In my reading of the novel, I will examine what seem to be some of the particular difficulties of determining where and what the law is, and show that the added dimension of gender seems to complicate the already complex and problematic relationship of language to law. The narration of Kamouraska is a complex fabric of accusations and defen­ ses, témoignages and appels, but more than that, the novel is marked by the insistent inscription of geographical and mental spaces cut by borderlines whose crossing signals both transgression and evasion. There is, of course, the dominant image of the border between the United States and Canada (Elisabeth on one side, her lover George Nelson on the other, having fled to Burlington to escape arrest and prosecution). There are also those dangerously vague yet crucial delin­ eations between reality and dream, present and past, innocence and guilt, the house back in Sorel and the faraway snow-covered cove of Kamouraska. The world seems to be made up of lines that one crosses, recrosses, or resists crossing. Finally, and emblematic of all of these thresholds, there is the metaphorical borderline that rules the entire narration: that mince passerelle between life and death. This fragile boundary line is the place of Elisabeth's vigil at the bedside of her dying second husband, Jérôme Rolland. This is the place to which she clings and from which her mind uncontrollably wanders; and this is, most importantly, the place of the narration.

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Author details

McPherson, Karen