Quebec Studies

When They Were Young: Adolescent Representations in Les Fous de Bassan

Quebec Studies (2003), 36, (1), 69–81.

Abstract

69 When They Were Young: Adolescent Representations in Les Fous de Bassan Edith Vandervoort University of Texas Pan American Les Fous de Bassan was published in 1982 and won Anne Hébert the Prix Fémina, previously awarded to Gabrielle Roy for her novel Bonheur d'occasion. Hébert's novel is about the lives of five people who recount their ver­ sion of two murders in their community on the night of August 31, 1936. The two protagonists are adolescent females, Nora and Olivia, whose com­ ing of age in Griffin Creek is the focus of the novel. While Hébert herself contends that this novel is not based on fact, the story portrayed bears resemblance to a similar occurrence involving the murder of two female cousins on August 31, 1933, which was reported on the Gaspé Peninsula where the fictional village of Griffin Creek is located (Boivin 326). The novel is composed of six books and each of the main characters—Nicolas, Per­ ceval, Stevens, Nora, and Olivia—relates a version of the night of the mur­ der. Stevens, who is accused of killing Nora and Olivia, narrates two books and relives the murders in the second one. Much has been written about this remarkable novel and many articles have been devoted to the female figures in this narrative. Roseanna Lewis Dufault's article, "Coming of Age in Griffin Creek: Anne Hébert's Ado­ lescents in Light of Les enfants de Jocaste by Christine Olivier," is a compari­ son of Hébert's and Olivier's narratives, and specifically of the different ways in which young women come of age. Dufault's study has led me to examine the expressions of adolescence in this novel in more depth to determine the significant role played by the adolescent protagonists' devel­ opment. I consider how this work fits into the literary genres that apply to development and coming of age. This novel is a novel of adolescence, in which three of the narrators undergo changes that lead them to adulthood. Initiation into adulthood may or may not occur in such novels. In this case, however, not only do the adolescents—Nora, Olivia, and Perceval—un­ dergo a process of initiation, but the village of Griffin Creek also becomes liberated. In novels of adolescence, the author often uses the story to criti­ cize the society in which the young protagonists live. As we shall see, this is the case in this novel as well. In her book Growing up Female, Barbara White discusses genres such as the Bildungsroman, the novel of initiation, and the novel of adolescence in detail. A Bildungsroman must meet several criteria: the hero or heroine leaves home, experiences adventures, often in exotic places, has a mentor, and makes new discoveries in places far away (Fraiman 6-7). Furthermore, "[w]hile the Bildungsroman requires an older hero than the novel of adoles­ cence, the initiation story might include characters of any age" (White 4). White cites Mordacai Marcus's definition of a novel of initiation as "a longer form of the initiation story where the protagonist experiences a sig- Québec Studies, Volume 36, Fall 2003/Winter 2004

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Vandervoort, Edith