Quebec Studies

Book Reviews

Quebec Studies (1998), 25, (1), 105–123.


105 Book Reviews Literature GILL, CHARLES. Poésies complètes, ed. Reginald Hamel. (Cahiers du Québec, 116.) Montréal: HMH, 1997. Pp. 283. Scholars interested in the literary history of Québec will be grateful to Reginald Hamel for publishing the first critical edition of Charles Gill's poetry. Gill, a minor poet and painter of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was a contemporary of Nelligan and Lozeau as well as a member—and for sev­ eral years, president—of l'École littéraire de Montréal. Hamel is eminently quali­ fied to undertake this task: not only did he write his master's thesis on Gill, but his previous work includes an essay on Gill as a prose writer, a critical edition of his correspondence, and a book on Gill's wife, the writer Gaétane de Montreuil. The only previous edition of Gill's poetry was Le Cap Éternité, poème suivi des Étoiles filantes published in 1919, the year after his death, by the poet's sister, assisted by Albert Lozeau (who contributed a preface), and Mgr. Olivier Maurault. The current edition includes a number of poems not included in the 1919 edi­ tion and provides numerous variants as well as extensive publication and bib­ liographical information. It will likely stand as the definitive edition. Hamel's preface is, however, disappointing, consisting of a flat, occasionally repetitive narrative of Gill's life, personality, and artistic activities. Hamel's mas­ tery of this material is evident, yet some minor errors do occur. While it is true, for example, that Gill learned to write alexandrines from Joseph Melançon in 1896, Melançon was not then an abbé and would be ordained only in 1900. It is also unfortunate that Hamel did not use this occasion for a critical assessment of this poet he knows so well. In his final paragraph, he specifically states that he leaves esthetic considerations to others. Even so, a discussion of Gill's place within the literary climate of his times would have been welcome, since a few of his pieces are clearly not in the mainstream of turn-of-the-century Montréal. In "Belle-de-Nuit," a long narrative poem composed of ten sonnets, the poet ex­ presses his continued love for his childhood sweetheart who during his pro­ longed absence has become a prostitute. Another poem is dedicated to a syphilitic prostitute who generously revealed her illness to him. These poems might have been an opening to discuss the existence and role of a kind of sous-littérature at this time. It is clear in rereading Gill that a reassessment that would raise his stature as a poet is not in order, for his poetry, which shows occasional virtuosity (see his acrostics) and some technical mastery (especially in his sonnets) remains prosaic and largely uninteresting. Gill's imagery tends to the neoclassical and especially the stock Romantic. His models are clearly Romantic as shown by his poems to Lamartine ("Poète aux chants divins!"), Hugo ("ô roi de la pensée humaine"), and Crémazie ("sur notre Parnasse il reste le plus grand"). Sadly, Gill's verse seems bound to French poetic practice of a half-century earlier. This critical edition, then, was necessary not for a réévaluation of the status of this poet, but rather to provide materials for scholars to arrive at a fuller assessment of the poetic scene in Montréal at the turn of the century. Emile J. Talbot University of Illinois, Urbana

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Talbot, Emile