GILL, CHARLES. PoÃ©sies complÃ¨tes, ed. Reginald Hamel. (Cahiers du
QuÃ©bec, 116.) MontrÃ©al: HMH, 1997. Pp. 283.
Scholars interested in the literary history of QuÃ©bec 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 memberâ€”and for sevÂ
eral years, presidentâ€”of l'Ã‰cole littÃ©raire de MontrÃ©al. Hamel is eminently qualiÂ
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 GaÃ©tane de Montreuil.
The only previous edition of Gill's poetry was Le Cap Ã‰ternitÃ©, poÃ¨me suivi des
Ã‰toiles 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 ediÂ
tion and provides numerous variants as well as extensive publication and bibÂ
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 masÂ
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 MelanÃ§on in
1896, MelanÃ§on was not then an abbÃ© 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 MontrÃ©al. In
"Belle-de-Nuit," a long narrative poem composed of ten sonnets, the poet exÂ
presses his continued love for his childhood sweetheart who during his proÂ
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-littÃ©rature 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 ("PoÃ¨te aux chants divins!"), Hugo ("Ã´ roi de la pensÃ©e
humaine"), and CrÃ©mazie ("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 rÃ©Ã©valuation of the status
of this poet, but rather to provide materials for scholars to arrive at a fuller
assessment of the poetic scene in MontrÃ©al at the turn of the century.
Emile J. Talbot
University of Illinois, Urbana