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UBC Theses and Dissertations

L'absence d'amour dans la litterature canadienne-francaise Shillih, George Igor


This study purports to explain why French Canadians, in spite of their heritage of French culture and literature, have failed over the past four centuries, to create one single masterpiece, to give birth to one literary genius. In examining the various productions of the literature of French Canada, whether they be poems, novels or plays, one cannot but notice that they are almost completely devoid of those analyses of love, of the great passions which constitute the basis of life, and consequently of the great world literatures. It is generally conceded that literature faithfully mirrors the customs and habits of a nation. The first French colonists, who settled along the Saint Lawrence River, had not brought to the New World only Civilization and Christian faith, but also French culture and literary genius. In spite of frontier conditions, there gathered together in Quebec a small, but witty, gay and brilliant society, and the masterpieces of Racine, Corneille and even Moliere were performed. The first works written about Canada appeared by and by, almost all of them of a considerable literary value. However, in spite of the strong influence of France and of the French spirit, there was another influence slowly growing in the scattered settlements and villages, and struggling with all its might and resolution to get control over the spiritual and temporal life of the population: the influence of the Church that was far more concerned with the souls of its flock than with a national literature, which, after all, might even become dangerous. The Catholic Church did not lose its dominating influence over the French Canadians after the British conquest; on the contrary, the Clergy became their virtual leader. Thus, for almost two centuries after the English victory on the Plains of Abraham, Quebec lived behind a spiritual and intellectual iron curtain dropped by the ecclesiastics who controlled the colony’s thinking, acting, writing until the first decades of the twentieth century. French Canadian literature, of course, bears the indelible imprint of this clerical domination, and nowadays, when the Church has lost a great deal of its former power and influence, the change in French Canadian literature, is obvious. Literature - for the Canadian Clergy - was nothing but a handmaid of their religion. It follows that history, the novel, poetry, criticism and drama, became a means, and a means only, for religious propaganda. History - less dangerous from the moral point of view - was, in consequence, the most popular. French Canadians can boast of many "Histoire du Canada", where their historians reveal with few exceptions, of course, their own philosophy which is essentially religious. The novel, so much read and admired in Europe, was considered in French Quebec as a "weapon forged by Satan himself to destroy Mankind". It was almost non-existent until the beginning of the twentieth century. Only two types were allowed: the historical novel and the "propaganda novel". Poetry was tolerated, yet the poets were not allowed to sing of anything else but of the soil, the race, the glorious past, God and the altar, simple piety, idyllic country and community life and nature... All other objects - love and passions generally, were condemned as immoral. The rôle of "criticism" - if we can speak of criticism - , was decidedly militants the Canadian "official" critics fought against "liberal ideas", against "Voltairiens", "philosophes"… A French Canadian National Theatre was allowed in Quebec but recently. Thus, the internal struggle between Free Thought and a rather narrow-minded "Canadian Catholicism" is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of French Canadian literature, and can, to a certain point, give some inkling of its future development.

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