This book presents an overview of what I consider the most important milestones in French-Canadian literature. It is not intended to be a comprehensive a history of French-Canadian literature; such an enterprise is far beyond the scope of a short monograph. Inevitably, much is left out, but I hope that what is included will enable the reader to delve further into the subject and to make some interesting personal discoveries.
In the field of literature, the terms French-Canadian and québécois are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not entirely synonymous. French- Canadian most properly refers to the literature of Quebec (it can also refer to the literature of "French Canada," that is, of Quebec and other French-speaking parts of Canada) before the 1960s, when growing nationalist sentiment throughout Quebec called for the substitution of French-Canadian by the adjective québécois (which I keep in the French, because no suitable English version exists, although the noun form has been anglicized). A collection of essays published in 1972 by Jean Bouthillette, titled Le Canadien français et son double (The French Canadian and His Double), put the problem succinctly: "The Canadian identity is a mirror which reflects the image of the Other when we look at ourselves in it." In an attempt to look at themselves directly, rather than through the mirror of a Canadian identity, many French Canadians, especially those involved in literature and other cultural enterprises, defined themselves simply as Québécois, and, in the 1970 s, this adjective came to imply a new nationalist consciousness. The term québécois has more or less endured, and I shall use it here except when referring to the earliest periods of literary production.
It is not facetious, before embarking on this brief voyage into the literature of Quebec, to ask whether or not there really is such a literature. Isn't the literature of Quebec simply a branch of Canadian literature? Or could it not be said to be a part of French literature, conceived in its widest sense (after all, Georges Simenon, a Belgian, was considered a French writer)?
Without attempting a definitive answer to a thorny philosophical question, I think that the existence of Quebec literature as its own entity can be shown in a number of ways. Common themes, a common reality, and a common language (French) have inspired writers in Quebec for more than a century, and even if some of these themes are shared by other Canadians, there are enough differences (the use of the French language is alone an enormous difference), and the differences are important enough, to have mandated a distinction that is recognized by most scholars as cultural, if not also "national." To be sure, the fact that . . .