Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Jacques Godbout and the Quebec Writer: Engendering the National Text

Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Jacques Godbout and the Quebec Writer: Engendering the National Text

Article excerpt

Although the 1960s saw an explosion of women's writing, the Quebec intellectual circles that most actively defined a new Quebecois identity in the era of the Revolution tranquille were strangely impervious to the participation of women as gendered subjects. The two women writers whose work was praised for its contributions to the Quebec identitary problematic, Anne Hebert and Marie-Claire Blais, were by then geographically distanced from Quebec itself and did not feel moved to return during this period. The one woman writer who consistently took an active role in the nationalist publications and manifestations of the era was Michele Lalonde, in the process seeming to shed the feminine persona that had marked her earlier poems to blend her voice in Speak White with a larger, gender-neutral "nous."

The 1960s witnessed a rapid expansion in the publication of women's writing, but surprisingly few of their texts were admitted to the new Quebec identitary canon. Even texts by the recognized writers like Blais and Hebert were subject to marginalization or, as in the case of Blais's Manuscrits de Pauline Archange, praised for their attacks on outmoded institutions without being recognized as important autobiographical statements about Quebec identity.(1) Given the canonical status of Gabrielle Roy and Germaine Guevremont in the last decades of la grande noirceur, it is somewhat surprising that in the new, supposedly liberal era of the Revolution tranquille women writers continue to be insidiously excluded from the dominant literary discourse.

If Quebec women intellectuals of the 1960s could not easily see themselves as gendered subjects, and if the feminist writers of the 1970s felt they needed to define themselves in opposition to what Nicole Brossard termed "la thematique du pays" (71), it is not only because female characters played minor roles in the fiction produced by young nationalist writers like Hubert Aquin and Jacques Godbout, portrayed as objects of desire if not as appropriate victims of an admirable masculine violence, as both Lori Saint-Martin and Patricia Smart have pointed out. The feminine was excluded not simply from a role of agency in fiction, but from agency in the arena of literary production itself. If the intellectual discourse of the period was creating a new vision of Quebec itself, it was also implicitly engaged in engendering a new model of the Quebec writer, and engendering is an oddly appropriate term for this highly gendered process. As the new Quebec writer is being defined and constructed, in critical texts as well as fictional representations, he is engendered as a masculine figure who demonstrates unmistakable signs of heterosexual prowess. If women could not easily see themselves as participants in the Quebec nationalist circles of the time, it is perhaps because they found it hard to recognize themselves in the masculine figures that were emerging as models.

Much intellectual discussion in the 1960s was devoted to the need for the newly defined Quebecois to assume a manly role. Robert Schwartzwald has traced a concern with the failure of masculinity in the thought of Hubert Aquin, particularly in his famous elaboration on Michel Van Schendel's lamentation on the inability of Quebec literature to represent a successful example of heterosexual love.(2) As Schwartzwald has observed, the fascination of Quebec intellectuals with the work of theorists of decolonization contributed heavily to what he has termed a "discourse of virilization" that is apparent throughout the writings of Quebec intellectuals in this period.

An assertively masculine construction of the writer is evident in the work of important Quebec nationalist poets of the period, particularly Gaston Miron, who place themselves in continuity with the poetic figure created by Aime Cesaire, a formative influence on the Quebec nationalist poetry of the 1960s. The feminine is clearly excluded from the poetic figure constructed by Cesaire in Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, his most influential poetic statement, where the poet identifies himself explicitly as a father, a lover to his people. …

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