The Art and Genius of Anne Hébert: Essays on Her Works : Night and the Day Are One

By Janis L. Pallister | Go to book overview

History and Herstory in
L'Ile de la Demoiselle

ROSEANNA DUFAULT

L'Ile de la Demoiselle, a radio play created by Anne Hébert and performed through France-Culture in 1974, neatly embraces in succinct dialogues and soliloquies some of the prominent themes that emerge and recur in her more recent works. Through this drama, based on the exile of a young Frenchwoman on a deserted island near Newfoundland around 1542, Hébert emphasizes Québec's historical past and affirms the valor of an admirable female protagonist.

Hébert thus adds her own interpretation to a varied catalog of literary works devoted to this extraordinary event first documented by Marguerite de Navarre in Novel LXVII of her Heptaméron.1 In her own text, Hébert relies judiciously on legends and facts in order to explicate two interrelated themes: the historical rapport between "le Vieux Continent" and "le Nouveau Monde," and the young woman protagonist's "herstory" as she matures in a hostile environment. To this end, Hébert divides her play into two parts composed of an equal number of "Séquences." She first represents the transatlantic journey, which links France to Québec, at the same time as she exposes a pattern of patriarchal oppression. Secondly, she elaborates the experience of exile, which permits the protagonist to come of age and triumph as a courageous woman. Throughout, Hébert exploits certain mythological images of women in divergent ways: she simultaneously examines the virgin/whore double bind and acclaims the efficacy of Quebec's female pioneers.

To begin with, as Hébert sets her scene through animated dialogues between passengers preparing for embarkation, she creates dramatic interest by appealing to the reader's or spectator's modern knowledge of facts that her characters can't possibly imagine.

On the one hand, Hébert alludes to misconceptions of the New World that were prevalent in the sixteenth century. She ridicules naive passengers

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