Quebec Studies

Separation, Mourning, and Consolation in La Route d'Altamont

Quebec Studies (2001), 31, (1), 97–112.

Abstract

97 Separation, Mourning, and Consolation in La Route d'Altamont By Thomas M. Carr, Jr. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Gabrielle Roy's first novel was permeated by loss and separation; its title Bonheur d'occasion (1945) even suggests the attempt at replacement that, as we shall see, often is part of consolation. However, the central role of mourning in Roy's works has only come into sharp focus with the appearance of her posthumous texts. The first part of her autobiography published in 1984 included an account of the death of her father; the culmination of the tettres à Bernadette (1988) is her anticipated mourning for her dying sister,1 and the initial stages of her grief work for her mother occupy the whole of the Le Temps qui m'a manqué (1997). In fact, the 1943 death of her mother Mélina Roy, which she relived first in the death of her sister Anna in 1964, and even more intensely through the death of her dear Dédette six year later in 1970, penetrates most aspects of her writings. In a sense, much of her corpus is structured around the sorrow provoked by separation, whether the death of a loved one, an absence caused by a departure, or a more general feeling that life itself is inevitably marked by the pain of being profoundly cut off from what one loves. The countervailing force to this distress is the quest for relief, for consolation. As she put it around 1978, "me laisser consoler de je ne sais quelle détresse qui me venait et me vient encore après m'être laissée aller à beaucoup espérer des hommes." 2 Modem psychology since Freud has theorized the search for a remedy for losses as grief work, a term that Roy herself does not seem to have commonly employed. On the other hand, she does use a related one, consolation. The strategies of consolation developed by the ancient moralists and adapted by the Church overlap to a large extent with the social and psychological domains that are studied today in terms of grief work, and the word "consolation" would have been common currency when speaking of this comfort in the Catholic milieu of Roy's youth. While she never systematically formulates her attitude toward loss in terms of consolation, and although her approach does not rely on the power of the reason and the will to overcome sorrow as is the case in many of the more traditional consolatory methods, the fact that the word appears more and more frequently in her autobiographical texts and letters when she talks about the death of her parents and sisters is indicative of its importance to her. In June 1960 she writes to Bernadette: "Combien tes lettres me font du bien toujours! Est-ce parce que tu sais voir le côté consolant de la vie" (48)? Twenty years later she will reiterate this idea in an effort to console her dying sister: "Je ne me rappelle pas une lettre de toi, par exemple, qui ne m'ait consolée. . ." (222).3 If thirteen forms of the word are found in all of Bonheur d'occasion, ten are found in the first four chapters alone of La Détresse et l'enchantement. Moreover, Roy seems to have seems to have envisaged her books as bringing consolation to her public. In her 1979 interview with Gilles Dorion she speaks of her satisfaction at learning that a lonely young Vietnamese woman in Montreal had been consoled by reading La Rivière sans repos (1970) published nine years earlier (35). My approach combines the insights of the modern reflection on loss stemming from Freud with the solutions growing out of the Greek and Roman consolatory tradition. This eclecticism is justified because neither current is Québec Studies, Volume 31, Spring/Summer 2001

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Carr, Thomas