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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Anthe ou l'ouest canadien dans l'oeuvre de Maurice Constantin-Weyer et de Georges Bugnet Farquhar, Simone Paula

Abstract

The purpose of this thesis is to examine those works of Maurice Constantin-Weyer and of Georges Bugnet set in the Canadian West. Because both writers were fascinated by the exotic challenge of the western wilderness, it seems appropriate to apply to their works the myth of Antaeus, this giant representing, in his apparent invulnerability, the primeval forest and, by extension, the aborigine who inhabits it; the intruder who learns to master them both is therefore Hercules. The main theme of the novels is thus seen as one of struggle. Historically, we are also concerned with delimiting the Canadian West and explaining the rise of the Metis, a people whose very existence created problems which both authors set out to interpret. Constantin-Weyer’s avowed purpose in the Epopée canadienne is to paint a vast fresco of the Canadian West. The works of the series falls into two categories: novels allegedly based on history and novels of adventure, his essays being classified with the latter. In the first chapter his two historical novels are examined and evaluated. Vers l'Ouest meets with Walter Scott's standards for the historical novel, but it might also be classified as a roman de moeurs because of the predominance of exotic -description. La Bourrasque, on the other hand, is an anomaly in the ensemble of the Epopée canadienne. Louis Riel, its chief protagonist, had been dead only thirty-nine years when the book was published, yet Constantin-Weyer did not hesitate to present the participants in the Rebellion in an outrageous and shocking fashion, naming them by name. Hence, chapter two is devoted to an investigation of the problem of the author's misanthropy. In the light of historical scrutiny, the outrageous portraits are indeed found to be defamatory. Moreover, the novel often twists or suppresses the facts for sensational effect -- a clear violation of the basic rule governing the historical novel. Nor can the work be justified as a roman de moeurs, since descriptive passages and local color are almost totally absent. The novel's violence of tone can, in some measure, be traced to the influence of Naturalism, and its misanthropy to the hardships of the author's ten years in Canada. We contend that the hatred and bitterness of this novel was a catharsis for the writer, a conclusion supported by the fact that no subsequent work of his displays the vindictive tone of La Bourrasque. In chapter three, Constantin-Weyer’s novels of adventure are examined with particular attention given to the exoticism of his teeming and colorful panorama of the Canadian West, and to the Life-Love-Death theme which unifies the Epopée. Perusal of these novels uncovers two main facts: that Constantin-Weyer was an incorrigible braggart and that an aura of eroticism permeates his writing. His perception of the hundred intimate dramas of the forest and his flair for depicting the wild animal in its daily Life-Love-Death struggle make him one of the best animaliers in Canadian letters. His anthropomorphism transfigures not only the animals of the forest but inanimate natural forces as well, and it is this capacity for erotic empathy which constitutes a novel and heretofore unknown quantity in the Canadian literature of French expression. Georges Bugnet is in many ways the antithesis of Constantin-Weyer. Though a teacher and journalist, he shunned the more populated areas of his adopted country to settle in the very heart of the forest. To him, nature in Canada was a goddess to whom sacrifice was due. Chapter four explores his literary and philosophical views, especially his concept, --amounting to an original myth in Malinowski's sense, -- of nature in Western Canada. Bugnet was in temperament a classicist, by design a realist, and an avowed anti-romantic, yet elements of Romanticism pervade his verse which is essentially a vehicle for his metaphysical ideas. The latter part of this chapter assesses his prose poem Le Pin du maskeg, a synthesis of his literary and metaphysical creeds. Chapter five evaluates his two chief novels. Nipsya, an early work on the problem of the Metis and the relationship of man with Nature, is essentially à roman à thèse, the life of its characters being continually sacrificed to an abstract scheme. His last novel, La Forêt, one of the four or five best French-Canadian novels, triumphs over his earlier didactic tendencies. Its characters spring to life and dictate their own destiny, portraying the presumptuous Europeans who try to master an impassive land by brute strength rather than awe and understanding. Within this struggle, a lesser takes place: that between man and wife as they become aware of their innate incompatibility. To these and others of Bugnet's characters, Antaeus' flaw remains hidden. Constantin-Weyer and Bugnet are alike in their strong attraction to a pristine land, their predilection for Naturalism and their preoccupation with the theme of struggle -- that of man with nature and of man within himself. But the similarities are far outweighed by their differences. Constantin-Weyer, following in Cooper's tradition of exoticism, adds to it verve, humor, color and passion, qualities which won for Canada an enthusiastic audience in France. The underlying eroticism we detect is his original contribution to French-Canadian literature. Bugnet, on the other hand, deficient in these qualities, more than redeems himself by an uncompromising discipline, a sincerity and a certain mystic perception which brought forth a work of lasting value — La Forêt.

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