What Is Québécois Literature? Reflections on Literary History of Francophone Writing in Canada

What Is Québécois Literature? Reflections on Literary History of Francophone Writing in Canada

What Is Québécois Literature? Reflections on Literary History of Francophone Writing in Canada

What Is Québécois Literature? Reflections on Literary History of Francophone Writing in Canada

Excerpt

The question ‘What is québécois literature?’ may seem innocent and answerable. But, as is the case with many simple questions, the answer is not simple. As my subtitle suggests, the question provokes not answers but further queries and refections. The shift from ‘québécois’ to ‘francophone writing in Canada’ emphasizes the problematic nature of terminology and classification in this field. As will be seen, the term ‘la littérature québécoise’ was only coined in the mid-1960s, in the very specific context of Quebec’s Révolution tranquille. If I choose to use the cumbersome phrase ‘francophone writing in Canada’ it is because it is a rather more accurate term to refer to the historical, geographical and generic range of literature written in French in Canada, within and beyond Quebec, by authors mostly but not exclusively of European descent. What constitutes ‘literature’ in francophone Canada varies from one historical period to another. As will be seen in Chapter 3, in the nineteenth century the term might be used to include sermons, speeches and works of history, whereas literature as taught in schools in the twenty-first century falls into four main genres: poetry (and song), prose fiction (the novel and shorter forms), theatre and essay. The predominance of religious and political rhetoric in nineteenth-century Quebec highlights the ways in which literary histories are a cultural product and serve a specific, local purpose. The literary canon of one culture is not a simple transposition from another. The chapters that follow will demonstrate the ways in which religion and politics have played an active role in shaping and mediating a particular canon to francophone Canada. Literary historians also make very different choices in the balance between genres within the canon which they construct. This may result in part from the status of the literature of France in the literary education of francophone Canadians, at least up to the 1960s, for whom the fables of La Fontaine and the works of seventeenth-century French . . .

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