Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Domestic Gardening: Gabrielle Roy's Bower of Innocence in Enchantment and Sorrow

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Domestic Gardening: Gabrielle Roy's Bower of Innocence in Enchantment and Sorrow

Article excerpt

"A Chinese proverb says, 'If you want a day of happiness, buy a bottle of wine and get drunk; if you want a week of happiness, get married; if you want a whole life of happiness, plant a garden' there's some truth in that, don't you think?"

Roy, Letters

GABRIELLE ROY'S DESCRIPTION OF A GARDEN as integral to "a whole life of happiness" resonates with the very form and content of her autobiography Enchantment and Sorrow, in which a garden motif traces Roy's maturation as a young woman and the cultivation of her artistic expression. Throughout Roy's fiction and particularly her autobiography, gardens are extraordinary, readily visible terrains. Within these green, flower-filled spaces, Roy's characters and Roy herself as protagonist experience security, innocence, happiness, and a lasting enchantment with their worlds. The idyllic innocence of Roy's gardens does not preclude these spaces, however, from reflecting the complexities and evolutions of adult experience, particularly when it comes to Roy's female artist figures. Within the safety and beauty of her gardens in Enchantment and Sorrow, Roy experiences moments of profound self-reflection and transformation-indeed, her gardens are not simply cultivated earth, but pivotal bowers that construct and validate her role as a woman artist. But as much as Roy's gardens provide vital space for her expression, these gardens also work to contain and to limit, revealing the problematic demands of femininity and, in Roy's case, its rootedness in the domestic.

Within her writing, Roy's gardens are clearly domestic in nature, existing as familiar, family-oriented environments that provide safe, conventional enclosures for her female characters and for Roy as the protagonist of her autobiography. Garden terrains associated with the "domestic" are of the household" or "at home" and directly related to "what concerns oneself" ("domestic"). As Mark Francis and Randolph 'T'. Hester note in The Meaning of Gardens: Idea, Place, and Action, "'The garden is [...] a source of action requiring intimate and direct involvement. We cannot dig, plant, trim, water, or harvest with detached passivity" (6). A site associated with daily work, living, and dwelling, then, a domestic garden is "an everyday place[...]. We experience it through the kitchen window or on a fall Saturday morning raking leaves" (Francis and Hester 4). The comfort of a domestic garden also lies in the fact that it is highly portable in terms of both time and space; its dynamic can be dismantled, remade, substituted, or interchanged with other locales. These features of comfort, portability, intimacy, and daily routine both align and distinguish a domestic garden from one's original maternal home, which is fixed in time and a specific place. But despite the malleability of domestic gardens, the gendered aspects of these terrains remain decidedly persistent. Because domestic gardens are "an everyday place" of the quotidian, family, and delicate nurturing, they create a veritable "natural" domain for women. One only has to think of Virginia Woolf's angel of the house-the selfless, ever-nurturing domestic goddess-and John Ruskin's queen of the garden-the beautifying force in the private sphere-in order to see how the home, the garden, and related paradigms of femininity have contained and defined women's social roles and identities. According to French philosopher Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space, inhabiting space is "how we take root, day after day, in a corner of the world'" and domestic space provides meaning and structure to the human subject: "For our house [...] is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word" (4). In the context of Roy's writing, domestic gardens carry the same cosmos-creating energy for her female characters and for herself as a protagonist, as these women subjects and their very expression spring from their homes and their related domestic roles and activities. …

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