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UBC Theses and Dissertations

La reception critique canadienne des romans d'Anne Hebert Ferguson, Bruce George


This thesis is a study of the reception by critics in Canada of Anne Hébert's novels. We base our investigation of the critical texts upon the reader reception theory as articulated by Hans Robert Jauss, member of the "School of Constance" in Germany. Jauss explains the process by which a literary work acquires meaning as a fusion of two horizons. The first horizon is that which the reader brings to his reception of the work and contains all of his cultural, political and social attitudes as well as all of his previous experiences remembered either consciously or unconsciously. The second horizon is set up by the literary text itself and guides the reader's attention in certain directions in order to establish expectations and to evoke memories of past reading or experiences, and then sustains breaks, alters or reorients these expectations. Our thesis undertakes a definition and an explanation of the first horizon as pertaining to the reception of Anne Hébert's novels. From our analysis of these critical texts we find that critics from certain periods favour particular types of analysis which lead them to bring out of Anne Hébert's novels specific aspects related to these approaches. The approaches were, in their turn, influenced and even determined by the horizon of expectation of the critic, product of his time and environment. We find that the first type of criticism of Anne Hébert's novels is hermeneutic, favouring the analysis of themes. Through the 1960's and 1970's this criticism takes the form of several approaches such as the psychoanalysis of literature and the study of symbolism among others. However, these critics interpret Anne Hébert's works according to their pertinence to the Québec experience, whether it be in its psychological, religious, social, symbolic or even mythological implications. At a time when Québec society is undergoing a quest for a new collective identity, facing the transformation of a traditional society dominated by the jansenist messianic myth into a modern society, the literary community looks to Québec's contemporary writers to give direction in this process of transformation. Therefore, literature is seen as being subversive of the old order and defining a new collective identity for the Québec people. This is what the critics of this era expect to read about and so it is for this that they search in Anne Hébert's novels. During the early 1980's, the literary community undergoes a transition, perhaps due to the resolution of the independance issue in the 1980 Referendum. The new movement is internationalist, and Canadian critics follow suit by adopting the formalist approaches of literary criticism in vogue in Europe and the United States, and assign Anne Hébert a place in international literary currents such as postmodernism. These critics still see thematic importance in Anne Hébert's work, but as it pertains to man's universal experience rather than only to the Québec situation. The evolution in the works of Anne Hébert is certainly the other principal cause of this changing interpretation. We study the reorientation in the critics' horizon of expectation and leave to future undertakings the investigation of the role played by the original texts in this transition.

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